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News podcast boom as 12,000 released within nine months this year, Reuters Institute report finds

News podcasts are booming with nearly 12,000 launched globally between January and October this year, an increase of one third, according to a new study by the Reuters Institute.

The rapid growth follows the success of New York Times podcast The Daily, which has built an audience of 2m listeners and “substantial” annual revenues since launching in February 2017.

Reuters Institute has identified almost 60 daily news podcasts in five countries – US, UK, Australia, France and Sweden – the majority of which have launched within the last 18 months.

In the UK these include Beyond Today by the BBC, The Leader by the Evening Standard, The Intelligence by the Economist, Sky News Daily, FT News Briefing, and Today in Focus by The Guardian.

The Reuters Institute report, out today, finds publishers are making “significant investments” in news podcasting in the hopes of attracting younger audiences and bringing in new ad-driven revenue.

Lead author Nic Newman said news podcasting is a “rare bright spot” for the media industry, which continues to face disruption to its traditional business model as a result of the digital revolution.

Newman said: “Bigger audiences, better measurement and easier access have combined to change the economics of news podcasting.

“In turn this is encouraging publishers to invest in creating more quality content, and platforms to invest in better distribution and monetisation, in a virtuous circle of growth.”

Although the term podcasting was coined some 15 years ago, the runaway success of true crime series Serial in 2014 is credited with having “kicked off this current wave of excitement” in the medium, the report says.

It identifies three sub-categories of daily news podcasts:

  • Micro-bulletins: News bulletins between one and five minutes long
  • News round-ups: Briefings between six and 15 minutes long
  • Deep-dives: Analysis from 20 minutes long and more

The research shows that publishers from print or digital backgrounds have focused more on single-subject “deep dives” that play to their strengths in analysis and explanation, which often delves into a single story.

Deep-dive news podcasts are among the most popular in the UK, according to the study.

Print journalists have “enthusiastically embraced these new forms of storytelling, finding them a natural add-on to existing workflows” the report says.

“By contrast, many broadcasters have focused on producing micro-bulletins and redistributing existing radio programmes as podcasts.”

But the growing influence of tech companies on the podcasting market – Spotify has doubled its market share in the last year – means publishers are again concerned that they could help platforms build profitable business on the back of their content, as with the likes of Facebook and Google.

Others fear losing their direct relationship with audiences, and first-party data, as platforms take the credit for content, the report warns. Public broadcasters have begun publishing in their own platforms, e.g. BBC Sounds, or are withholding content from third-party platforms.

The Reuters Institute report is based on interviews with some 30 leading publishers, including the New York Times and the BBC, FT, Guardian and Economist in the UK, as well as platforms such as Spotify and Acast.

Growth data is provided by Chartable, which specialists in podcast analytics, and popularity from the Apple Podcasts charts in July, using only content tagged as news and politics by publishers.

The study found that news podcasts make up six per cent of the 770,000 existing podcasts on Apple, with news making up 16 per cent of the most popular podcast episodes in the UK, compared to a fifth in the US.

Of the 200 most popular news and politics podcasts in the UK, 16 per cent are “catch-up radio” style, which are scheduled programmes often already broadcast on radio or TV, and 84 per cent are “native podcasts”, which are on-demand and unscheduled programmes.

More than half (57 per cent) of the UK’s top 200 podcasts are made in the UK, with the remaining 43 per cent created elsewhere.

Listener numbers for popular podcast shows in the UK are generally smaller than in the US, but remain substantial, the report says.

The New York Times employs around 15 dedicated people on The Daily. The Guardian employs ten for Today in Focus and The Economist eight.

The Economist said The Intelligence now reaches 1.5m people each month, with up to 7m individual monthly downloads, while the average listener downloads or listens to three to four episodes each week.

In less than a year the Guardian has built a bigger audience for its Today in Focus podcast than buys the newspaper. “It’s hundreds of thousands every day,” the Guardian’s head of audio Christian Bennett said.

The podcast attracts younger people who are listening to the vast majority of each 25–30 minute episode, with an 80 per cent completion rate.

“It’s younger than people that buy the paper and it’s younger than people that come to our website as well. It’s opening up a new audience as opposed to cannibalising,” he said.

Picture: Pixabay

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