Forget iTunes’ Billion Songs Sold, Pews’ News Is Podcasting

You know you’re going fast, you can see the lampposts fly by, but it’s still fascinating to glance at that speedometer from time to time. Pew Research’s groundbreaking Internet and American Life Project gave us that glance recently when they updated their February-April 2006 numbers on podcasting. The bottom line, podcasting is big and growing bigger every day.

How big? How fast? In the spring of this year Pew found that 7% of adult American internet users had downloaded – not just viewed, but downloaded – a podcast. In November of this year Pew found that the number had grown to 12%. (That’s a 71% increase in less than six months!)

In the spirit of holiday retail, let me add… “And there’s more!” The highest rate of growth (from 5% to 12%) was in the most influential (ca-ching) part of the American demographic – boomers, age 50-64.

What does this mean to online marketers? Is this growth real? I decided to ask the source and recently contacted the author of the latest report, Mary Madden, Senior Research Specialist for Pew Research. Ms. Madden was kind enough to address a number of my questions:

OUWYour latest update on podcast downloads shows some pretty large jumps in a very short period of time. Were you surprised by the rise from 7 to 12 percent in less than 6 months? What factors do you think best explain this rise?

M. MaddenThe increase in podcast downloading that we observed between April and August of this year was significant when you consider the initial size of the audience. However, there’s no guarantee that this pace of growth will continue. Two data points over the course of a year is a good start, but we need to continue to ask this question in future surveys to learn more about the trend. The addition of podcasts to the iTunes store was clearly a crucial moment in the podcast adoption phase. When podcasted content becomes simply one more option on a menu at a restaurant you’re already familiar with, you’re more likely to try the new dish. iTunes has made it exceedingly easy to subscribe to and organize your favorite podcasts, and there’s just so much more content being produced now — by both mainstream and traditional outlets — that you potentially have many more entry points for consumers to get interested in this medium.

(This is another reason Oneupweb was so excited earlier this year when we introduced podcast tracking that could track podcast consumers who come from iTunes – the numbers are very big, but until recently nearly impossible to access.)

OUWIt appears that the largest jump in downloads occurred in the baby boomers (age 50-64). Why do you think that is?

M. MaddenThis 50-64 segment are avid consumers of online news, so I suspect that some of the growth here is related to the increase in podcasted material from major news outlets like ABC, CBS and NPR.

OUWEducation still seems to affect usage even more than income – those with some college or more seem to use the most and grow in usage more. Do you see that trend leveling off or continuing?

M. MaddenTeasing out the effects of education versus income, and how they relate to other influencing factors warrants additional analysis that wasn’t part of this study. However, given that so many universities are using podcasting as a way to deliver course material, I think we can anticipate continued growth among college-educated young adults.

OUWLooking at your actual questions, you asked how many in your survey had downloaded a podcast for later consumption. Many people stream a podcast on their desktop without downloading. Did you ask how many had viewed a podcast generally, rather than just downloaded to view later? If so, what was that number?

M. MaddenIn this survey, we were limited to asking about podcast downloading only. We asked specifically if respondents were downloading podcasts in order to listen to them or view at a later time because we wanted to get a sense of how many people were using podcasts to time-shift their listening and viewing.

OUWWhen will you be doing your next research on podcasting in American life and what do you think that will encompass?

M. Madden We will likely do more work on podcasting in 2007 that will look at the different ways people consume podcasts — downloading, streaming, subscribing and transferring to portable players. We are also eager to get a better national portrait of the type of content that podcast consumers seek, and how podcasts fit into their larger media diet.

My thanks to Mary Madden and the many good people at Pew Research’s Internet & American Life Project who continue to provide the public solid, unbiased data and analysis of changing consumer behaviors in the marketplace.

We’re all looking forward to the next glance at the racing podcast speedometer. If recent growth is any indication, seat belts are no longer optional.