Podcast ‘super listeners’ are big public media consumers — but are they loyal?

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Podcast “super listeners” are also fervent public media supporters. They listen to an average of 13 shows a week, including six produced or supported by public media, according to a report released Tuesday by the Knight Foundation.

The report by Edison Research, “Understanding Public Media’s Most Engaged Podcast Users,” summarizes the preferences of 28,964 podcast listeners who participated in online interviews in April and May. Respondents were 18 years of age or older and listened to at least one podcast from one of six outlets: NPR, WNYC, American Public Media, WBUR, Public Radio Exchange and Gimlet Media. Results were compared with the 2017 Edison/Triton Infinite Dial research series, a “nationally representative survey tracking consumer use of media and technology.”

Podcast “super listeners” are eager to support public media: nearly one-third of the podcast “super listeners” told researchers they had donated money to their local public radio stations in the last year. Twenty-eight percent had donated directly to a podcast or radio program, the report said.

However, the report found that their willingness to support public media financially doesn’t mean “super listeners” are loyal to public media podcasts over commercial. “There is not necessarily a universal ‘halo effect’ for public media podcasts,” the report says. “Fifty-one percent said they like public and nonpublic media podcasts ‘equally,’ and another 15 percent indicated that they ‘couldn’t tell the difference.’”

“Super listeners” can be counted on to recommend podcasts to their friends, according to the report. They prefer in-depth national and international news, as well as digital consumption over broadcast.

The report builds on Knight’s previous research and its philanthropic support for projects exploring journalism’s digital transformation. In January, Knight released “From Airwaves to Earbuds: Lessons From Knight Investments in Digital Audio and Podcasting,” which found that legacy public radio organizations are struggling to adopt an audience-first orientation.

“Everyone in the business of news and information is asking the question, ‘How are people informed in 2017?’” Sam Gill, Knight’s VP for communities and impact, said in a release. “This survey offers a unique glimpse into the audience most plugged into mobile, on-demand content. It provides media organizations with important insights on emerging audiences and their preferences.”

Here are other key takeaways:

1. The “super listener” consumes twice the content.

“Podcast listeners in the Knight sample consumed just over 10 hours of podcast content per week, compared to a little over five hours per week reported in our Infinite Dial data.”

2. The “super listener” prefers a subscription-based model that gives them flexibility to listen when they want.

Eighty-one percent of respondents told Knight that they “subscribe to podcasts and download automatically to listen later.” Conversely, “click and listen immediately” was the primary method for both Infinite Dial data and a national online panel sample Knight conducted with a partner last year. Among respondents to both of the earlier studies, subscription behavior ranked third.

3. The “super listener” prefers mobile content, and listens on the go.

Ninety-three percent said they listen to podcasts on their smartphones, and 84 percent told researchers that smartphones are their primary means of listening to podcasts. However, Knight notes that its national data and other public media data collected over the years shows “somewhat higher desktop/laptop/web listening.”

4. The “super listener” trusts digitally distributed content.

Podcasts are “very trustworthy,” according to 33 percent of respondents, while 49 percent said they were “somewhat trustworthy.” “This level of trust was nearly tied with the first place medium (national newspapers) and ahead of radio and local newspapers,” the report said. “Network TV news, cable TV news and social media were the bottom three in terms of trustworthiness.”

Read the full report.