Over the last few years, much has been written about a so-called golden age of podcasting, which many date from the launch of the true crime show Serial (2014) and a subsequent wave of ‘deep dive’ news podcasts such as The Daily from the New York Times (2017). But outside a few top shows, we still know very little about which podcasts are being consumed across countries, who uses them, or even how engaging they are for consumers. This is partly because of the lack of mature, publicly available measurement systems, with consumption fragmented across proprietary platforms such as Apple, Spotify, and YouTube. In some countries, such as Australia, the United States, and Denmark, there are published lists of top news podcasts, but these depend on active participation from news organisations and often do not provide a complete picture.
Our podcast on the chapter
In this chapter, we rely on online survey methodologies to understand how news podcasts fit into the wider ecosystem and to identify some of the most popular news podcasts across a number of countries.
News podcast use stable as overall podcast market grows
Since 2018, our survey has tracked monthly podcast use in 20 countries1 with a well-developed podcast industry. Across these markets, overall usage has grown from just over a quarter of our sample to about a third (34%), but news podcasts have grown more slowly despite a significant increase in supply identified in multiple studies (Newman and Gallo 2019). News jostles for attention with lifestyle and specialist shows, many of which also deal with news-related subjects such as business, technology, and health.
Podcasting may not yet be a mass market medium, but its audience profile is extremely interesting to publishers and to advertisers. Listeners tend to be richer, better educated, and crucially much younger (see chart below). As we showed in the Executive Summary, younger people in most countries are more likely to say they prefer to listen to news content when compared with older groups – partly because they spend so much time with mobile phones. But people of all ages find podcasts a convenient format when commuting, walking the dog, in the gym, or doing mundane tasks at home such as cleaning.
Overall consumption of news podcasts is highest in the United States (19%), but lower in many European countries such as France (9%) and the United Kingdom (8%). This difference reflects the vibrancy and range of news podcast production and monetisation in the United States, which in turn has driven public awareness and strong consumption. In many European countries, the existence of high-quality output from commercial and public service radio may have made it harder for an independent podcasting sector to gain traction.
Different types of news podcasts and country comparisons
In addition to exploring levels of consumption, we asked survey respondents in 12 countries to name the news shows they used most often and coded these responses by publisher, type, and origin country. Typically, between 200 and 700 shows were mentioned in each country, but it is important to note that we left the definition of news and current affairs podcast open to respondents, so it is likely that some popular shows were missed. Recall methodologies will inevitably produce different results from industry data.
In categorising these shows, we extended a typology first developed for our 2019 report News Podcasts and the Opportunities for Publishers (Newman and Gallo 2019; also in Newman and Gallo 2020), which identified four podcast groups in ascending length order: news round-ups, deep dive podcasts, narrative documentaries, and extended chat.
News podcast typology with examples of each
Across countries, we find that personality-led ‘extended chat’ programmes like The Joe Rogan Experience are mentioned most often, along with ‘deep dives’ such as The Daily from the New York Times. Short news round-ups like Tagesschau’s News in 100 Seconds from German public service broadcaster (PSB) ARD or 5 Things from CNN are also popular, often forming part of morning routines. By contrast, longer documentary series such as the investigation by ITV News into lockdown parties in Downing Street (Partygate: The Inside Story) are mentioned more rarely. In some countries, we find uneven distribution, with a few big shows dominating and a very long tail, but in others listening is more evenly spread. There is considerable cross-border listening – around 50% in some English-speaking markets.
The United States seems to be replicating a long tradition of outspoken radio talk shows in this on-demand format. This genre is dominated by male hosts, most often from the right (e.g. Ben Shapiro, Dan Bongino), but sometimes from the left (e.g. Rachel Maddow). By contrast news round-ups (e.g. Up First, Apple News Today) and deep dives (e.g. The Daily) tend to have a more neutral tone. Hosting duties are often shared between men and women, but overall, we found these shows to be equally gender-balanced.2
In the UK, the top three podcasts are politically focused extended chat shows, two of which are daily. The BBC has created a number of original podcasts, such as Newscast and Ukrainecast, as well as repackaging versions of popular radio shows, but is facing competition from commercial broadcasters, newspapers, and other disrupters. The Rest is Politics is hosted by a former Conservative politician and a former Labour spin doctor, while The News Agents (Global Radio) is presented by three former BBC correspondents who were lured from the Corporation with big money deals and the opportunity to express more of their personal opinions. ‘The News Agents podcast format feels like they're directly speaking to you’, said a participant (F, 23, UK) who took part in our qualitative research this year. Another who also listens to the same show loves the convenience of the on-demand format: ‘I prefer to catch up on a Saturday, so I can binge all episodes at once while doing Saturday stuff’ (F, 42, UK). With the exception of Joe Rogan, the bulk of shows in the list are created and produced in the UK.
We find a slightly different position in Australia, another country where publishers have invested heavily in original podcasts in the last few years. Here, deep dive, explanatory podcasts make up the bulk of the top-ten listings, including Full Story from the Guardian, ABC News Daily, and 7am from independent media company Schwartz Media. A wide range of US and British podcasts make this a particularly crowded market, with 46% of the most-listened-to shows originating from outside Australia. National broadcaster ABC News makes up around a quarter of the mentioned podcasts, ahead of the BBC (in second place).
Other English-speaking markets we analysed show a similar profile, with a mix of deep dive and extended chat podcasts as well as a strong male bias in hosting. In Canada and Ireland, we find that the percentage of consumption from outside the country is even higher (about 50% in each case). In Canada, the two most mentioned podcasts were The Joe Rogan Experience and The Daily, despite domestic deep dive alternatives such as Frontburner and Ça s'explique from public broadcasters CBC and Radio-Canada.
Domestic podcasts outperformed by many US-based rivals in Canada
News podcasts in France are dominated by public and commercial radio networks such as France Inter and RTL, along with 24-hour news networks France Info and BFM. Many of these adapt existing news programming, but there have been some notable podcast-first disruptions. La Story from financial newspaper Les Echos was one of the first to adopt the explanatory single-story format, and Le Monde has started an explanatory podcast with funding from Spotify. However, in terms of raw numbers, both of these were eclipsed in our data by journalist and YouTuber Hugo Décrypte, who produces Actus du Jour, a ten-minute podcast in audio and video that explains the news of the day for a younger audience.
Native podcasts in France are often eclipsed by radio output
We find a similar situation in Spain, where many radio shows have been repackaged as chat-based podcasts. The most well-known newspapers, El País and El Mundo, have developed deep dive podcasts similar to The Daily, along with digital-born outlets such as elDiario.es. Younger journalists are also making an impact with hybrid audio/video shows. The Wild Project, an extended chat show presented by YouTuber Jordi Wild (11 million subscribers) covers news, sports, science, and philosophy, with episodes lasting up to four and a half hours.
Emerging native podcasts in Spain are often eclipsed by radio output
The large German market is developing in interesting ways. Public broadcasters such as ARD dominate with repurposed radio as well as native news podcasts. T-Mobile has a successful news briefing show aimed partly at smart speakers. Former print publishers such as Die Zeit have developed a range of podcasts, including interview show Alles GeSegt (All Is Said), which only finishes when there is nothing left to say. One interview lasted for eight and a half hours.
Smaller countries may take a different path
Some of the highest levels of podcast listening in Europe are taking place in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. In all these countries strong public broadcasters have led the charge, creating successful native podcasts in addition to reworking radio output. Danish public broadcaster DR’s deep dive Genstart, launched just before the Coronavirus lockdowns, stands head and shoulders above any other, with 24% of news podcast mentions compared with 5% for the next most popular show. Overall, DR podcasts account for half (51%) of all cited news shows and are bringing a significantly younger audience. Broadcaster TV2 and commercial publishers Berlingske and Politiken compete for upmarket news audiences, while BT and tabloid Ekstra Bladet are also engaging audiences with true crime and entertainment podcasts.
In Norway, public broadcaster NRK holds the top spot with its daily news podcast Oppdatert but faces competition from commercial publishers. Three of the top ten podcasts come from Schibsted brands, including Forklart (Explained), produced by upmarket Aftenposten, and Krimpodden, a true crime series from the tabloid Verdens Gang (VG). Schibsted recently bought a podcast platform, PodMe, while another large publisher, Amedia, has invested in a podcast production company. Both have started to bundle podcasts with subscription products, with data suggesting that audio is particularly effective in building loyalty. NRK has also started to restrict access from open platforms, encouraging more people to consume via its NRK Radio app.
Platform access for news podcasts and the rise of video podcasting
In larger countries, it is proving harder for publishers to compete with tech platforms as they struggle to offer the comprehensive range of content or the level of user experience desired by consumers. One exception is BBC Sounds in the UK, which has a similar reach to Spotify for podcasts, partly due to very strong promotion via its other channels. Spotify may be pulling back from some of its eyewatering investments in content3 but has already established itself as the dominant platform in most countries but not in the United States, where YouTube is number one. This reflects the growing importance of video podcasts – partly due to the extra reach and revenue that YouTube provides, though also because video promotion tends to be more effective in attracting attention via social media. In the United States, cable talk shows are routinely repackaged as podcasts, while the BBC’s Newscast is now filmed for television and digital distribution.
Categorising the variety of news podcasts across countries is a complex and imperfect task, but it gives us some sense of the relative state of news podcasting. In the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Nordic countries, we find that most consumption is of high-quality ‘native’ podcasts, while elsewhere, repackaged radio output tends to dominate and there is much less investment in original content.
Across markets, ‘extended chat’ formats seem to attract most audience attention and are attractive to publishers because they are relatively cheap to produce. In a few countries, ‘deep dive’ podcasts – such as The Daily from the New York Times and Genstart from Danish Radio – are attracting significant reach, partly due to early mover advantage and/or sustained investment – but these are very much exceptions. In most cases, attention is highly fragmented, with a relatively small audience for any one news podcast or publisher. This, in turn, makes podcasts hard to monetise through direct advertising, especially in smaller markets, leaving all but the biggest providers dependent on large platforms such as Spotify or YouTube. In some English-language markets, such as Canada and Ireland, domestic providers face further competition for attention from better-resourced US or UK podcasters. In this context, it is not surprising to see some publishers focusing less on immediate financial return and more on using podcasts as a way to attract younger audiences or deepen relationships with subscribers.
In most countries, public or commercial broadcasters continue to lead the way, but their market share is challenged by legacy print organisations, digital-born outlets, alternative media, former comedians (e.g. Joe Rogan) and academics (e.g. Jordan Peterson). Low barriers to entry in podcasting have also enabled younger voices to be heard, bringing a fresh, more informal tone, and often adding video to the mix.
Our data capture the vibrancy of the podcasting scene across countries, but current levels of audience growth are unlikely to match the amount of content now being produced, let alone the new shows in the pipeline. In this context, it is vital that news podcasts stand out – with high-quality content, strong formats, and engaging hosts still being the most important ingredients for success.
1 The countries are UK, USA, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Japan, Singapore, Australia, Canada, plus Argentina (since 2019).
2 Many programmes have dual male/female hosts, but for the purpose of this exercise we identified the first voice heard on each podcast on a particular day and categorised accordingly.