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Podcast growth doubles every year, over 7 million hours uploaded in 2019

Podcasting has exploded in recent years and while Covid-19 caused a blip, it doesn’t seem the medium will be otherwise slowing down. According to Edison Research, more than half the U.S. population has listened to a podcast and roughly 90 million people are monthly podcast listeners. With ad revenue growing rapidly, the industry is expected to produce more than $1 billion in revenue by 2021.

Big names are inflating the podcast industry. Spotify spent a reported $396 million to become the second biggest provider behind Apple Podcasts. Major content providers like Warner Media launched their own podcast networks, Sony acquired multiple podcast properties, celebrities host their own podcasts, and even Barack and Michelle Obama are producing podcasts for Spotify.

Although we’ve mainly reported data on social media and UGC sites, the technology we’ve built at Pex is applied to many content platforms. Recently, we began analyzing podcasts to see how the medium is progressing and what opportunities it holds for rightsholders, creators and platforms.

Podcast growth is off the charts

By the end of 2019, we counted 819,496 unique shows, of which 264,104 were started just last year.

To date, we’ve indexed 32,402,790 unique podcast episodes, which are growing at an exponential rate, essentially doubling every year.

The average length of each episode is currently at 35 minutes and 27 seconds, down from 2015 when the longest was 45 minutes and 44 seconds.

Nearly 7 million hours of podcasts (6,967,370) were published in 2019. For comparison, this represents around 8 days of newly uploaded content to YouTube.

Christianity dominates podcasts

There are 112 categories within Apple Podcasts. Perhaps surprisingly at first, the fastest growing and largest category is Christianity, which is separate from the Religion and Spirituality category. This is largely driven by an abundance of sermon uploads. With some churches holding daily mass, sermons are being given constantly, and they fit the podcast medium perfectly.

If Christianity is the largest category, what’s the smallest? It turns out that Swimming podcasts are the least produced. While swimming may not immediately come to mind as a great podcast channel, the industry is using the medium to discuss pro swimming, water polo, and just general techniques for swimmers. As podcast growth explodes, it looks like Swimming is a little fish in a big pond.

Excluding Christianity, the rest of the top 20 categories are of similar size. Comedy, Society & Culture, Music, and Sports round out the top five.

Nearly 17% of podcasts contain music

Of the 32.4 million podcasts we’ve indexed, 5,447,823 (16.8%) contained at least 10 seconds of music (of any kind). Since podcasts are audio only, it’s convenient to include music to spice up a long talk track, and some podcasts may even be dedicated to commentary about music, making it hard to produce an episode without a song. Podcasts often leverage music in their intros and outros or as part of their advertisements. Simply put, music plays a significant role in podcast content.

Why does it matter that 17% of podcasts contain music? Because compared to YouTube, this number seems small. We previously published that a staggering 84% of videos on YouTube include music. Is this a reflection of how difficult it is for podcast producers to license music appropriately? Producers don’t currently have a seamless way to license music for podcasts, and the inherent beauty of producing podcasts quickly does not lend itself well to music’s traditional licensing practices. With ad revenue projected to hit $1 billion in 2021, the music industry has a huge opportunity to increase revenue through podcasts.

We’re just getting started with podcast data and insights. Follow us on Twitter @Pex to get the latest insights.