Podcasts vs. broadcasts: an iTunes Top 200 battle

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Making the iTunes Top Podcasts page is every podcaster’s goal. The chart is a continually updated list of the 200 most popular casts, based on downloads, subscriptions and a slice of Apple’s algorithmic secret sauce.

How many of these top 200 are public media productions? Which networks and which genres make the most popular podcasts? To answer these questions, I downloaded the iTunes top-podcasts feed, busted out my data-diving tools and began exploring.

Make ’em laugh

First discovery: Comedy casts dominate. Almost 20 percent (39) of the top 200 listed “Comedy” as their primary genre. Quite a bit behind, tied for second place, were “News & Politics” and “Society & Culture” (27 each).

Chart of iTunes Top Podcasts grouped by primary genre

Individuals (Oprah, Marc Maron, etc.) produce many top podcasts (84 of 200). Media networks help make the rest.

Fourteen of these networks had three or more casts in the iTunes top 200. Of those, six were public radio productions by a network, station or series. Pubradio-produced podcasts tended to place near the top of the chart: NPR’s 13 top-200 casts had an average rank of 61. The Ira Glass Empire’s three chart-toppers ranked sixth (Serial), seventh (S-Town) and ninth (This American Life). Serial is extra impressive: Their last cast was May 2016, yet their downloads still consistently rank them in the top 20.

Networks with 3+ podcasts in the iTunes Top 200

NetworkCastsAvg. Rank
The New York Times579
The Ringer5111
Parcast Network5122
This American Life37
Crooked Media367

A cast-type competition

Do podcasters perform better than broadcasters? Who has more hits: commercial or noncommercial broadcasters? To find out I loosely grouped the networks by their main media type.

Podcast networks produced more top-200 shows than broadcasters. But broadcast shows had a slightly higher average chart position. And pubcasters creamed commercial broadcasters in both number and average rank.

Here’s the big bucket for medium types. I made lots of judgment calls, so take these results with a grain of statistical salt:

iTunes Top 200 by type of network

Network TypeCastsAvg. RankNetworks
Podcast5399Cadence13, Crooked Media, Earwolf, Gimlet, HowStuffWorks, Loud Speakers Network, MaximumFun, Pacific Northwest Stories, Panoply, Parcast Network, Radiotopia, Stitcher, The Last Podcast Network, The McElroys, The Moth, The Ringer, Wondery
Broadcast4791A&E,American Public Media, BBC Radio, CBC, Comedy Central, Conservative Review, ESPN, FOX Sports Radio, HBO, iHeartRadio, MSNBC, NPR, On Being, This American Life, WBEZ, WBUR, Westwood One, WFAE, WNYC
Other media2191Audible, Barstool Sports, Cincinnati Enquirer, Duolingo, L.A. Times, People Magazine, Reddit, Slate, TED, The Daily Wire, The New York Times, The Roanoke Times, Warrior Empire

Many of these networks fit into these smaller containers:

Network TypeCastsAvg. RankNetworks
Broadcast: Public Radio3678American Public Media, BBC Radio, CBC, NPR, On Being, The Moth, This American Life, WBEZ, WBUR, WFAE, WNYC
Podcast: Pubmedia-related1191Gimlet, MaximumFun, Radiotopia, The Moth
Broadcast: Commercial12124A&E, Comedy Central, Conservative Review, ESPN, FOX Sports Radio, HBO, iHeartRadio, MSNBC, Westwood One
News: Print992Cincinnati Enquirer, L.A. Times, People Magazine, The New York Times, The Roanoke Times
News: Online-only394Reddit, Slate, The Daily Wire

Notice how legacy media is kicking new-media butt. Five newspapers and one print magazine produced nine of the top 200 podcasts, while only three online-only news sites made the grade. Also, while public radio was a podcast hit-making machine, no public TV productions ranked in the top 200.

The above figures are just a snapshot of a single day in June. The iTunes top 200 churns often. For instance, the chart from a few days ago had only 57 percent of the podcasts that were on the June chart (the source of the above data).

One more statistical insight: Podcasts are indeed a freer medium than broadcasts. Foul language doesn’t seem to affect ranking, with 25 percent of the top 200 labeling themselves as “Explicit.” So, podcasters, say whatever the f*#k you want.


Thanks to iTunes Charts for cluing me into the iTunes RSS Feed Generator, which give you access to all of Apple’s current charts. I grabbed the XML-formatted data for their iTunes top 200 podcasts on June 18, then again, for comparison, July 9.

If a podcast listed multiple production agencies, I sometimes grouped them into multiple network-type categories. For instance, the “Artist Name” of two podcasts was “The New York Times and WBUR.” I included these casts in both “Broadcast: Public Radio” and “News: Print.”

For multiple-media networks, I used their original medium as their network type. So MaximumFun is grouped with podcasters and This American Life with broadcasters, though both make public radio series and podcasts.

I grouped some casts with their network rather than their artist name listed at iTunes (e.g.,”Radiotopia” not “Roman Mars”). The Google sheet with my data shows how I categorized — or maybe miscategorized — the 200 casts. YMMV.

This table has the raw data for the “By Genre” bar graph at the top of the page.

iTunes Top 200 Podcasts by genre

GenreCastsAvg. Rank
News & Politics2791
Society & Culture27105
Personal Journals1281
Science & Medicine7104
Management & Marketing697
Sports & Recreation6118
Performing Arts5127
TV & Film5150
Kids & Family3120

Now, a treat for you brave souls who waded through my tech talk: a final table of the two longest Artist Names in the iTunes Top Podcasts, both admirable examples of old-school SEO keyword stuffing:

iTunes Top Podcasts: Longest artist names

Artist NamePodcast
Millionaire Interviews & Austin Peek | Inspired by: Tim Ferriss Show, Dave Ramsey, Gary Vaynerchuk, Tony Robbins, Lewis Howes, Jocko, Pat Flynn, Adam Carolla, NPR Live, Joe Rogan, Y Combinator, Passive Income, Real Estate, 30 B2B, & Business StartupsEntrepreneur Stories 4⃣ Inspiration: Millionaire Interviews
Krista Williams & Lindsey Simcik | Lifestyle Bloggers, Actress Duo, Entrepreneurs, Spiritual & Wellness Seekers, Creative Content Curators, Lifestyle & Fitness ModelsAlmost 30 | Real Talks On Health, Wellness, Spirituality, Entrepreneurship, Sexuality, Humor, + so much more

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