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Radio giants NPR and iHeartRadio dominate podcast listening

Podcast analytics company Podtrac released its rankings for the top 10 podcast publishers, and it’s dominated by traditional media. What does this mean for smaller podcasts?

Radio giants NPR and iHeartRadio dominate podcast listening
[Photo: rakhmat suwandi/Unsplash]

It’s estimated that there are more than 700,000 active podcasts today. While the low barrier to entry has given rise to the running joke that everyone has a podcast, the saturated market can make it difficult to grow an audience.

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One thing that might help: Build a multi-million-dollar radio empire first and then segue into podcasting.

Podcast analytics company Podtrac released its rankings for July’s top podcasting publishers in the U.S. Podtrac only tracks companies that sign up for their service, allowing them access to their data—and according to their most recent figures, NPR came out on top with a unique monthly audience in the U.S. of 20,775,000 and global downloads or streams of 141,376,000 across 60 shows. iHeartRadio came in second, with 18,419,000 uniques and 127,873,000 downloads/streams across 244 shows.

While PRX, the distributor of This American Life and The Moth, took the No. 3 spot, there’s a sizable gap between its figures and the radio giants, with 9,369,000 uniques and 62,045,000 downloads/streams.

Still, the results show the top three podcast publishers come from the traditional radio business, 6 of the top 10 have significant radio distribution and audience, 7 of the top 10 are traditional media businesses, and 9 of the top 10 are part of existing media enterprises that extended their reach into podcasting. Only Wondery is a pure-play podcasting company, albeit one designed to get its shows turned into TV.

It’s no mystery that radio organizations with such wide reach would also pull in sizable podcast audiences. For better or worse, it’s that kind of numbers that have made advertisers take notice of the podcast industry. Podcast ad spending is projected to double to $1.6 billion by 2022, according to research firm WARC. But that number still pales in comparison to how much advertisers are willing to spend on other forms of media, like TV ($74 billion by 2021). The reason: There’s more data on who’s consuming what.

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This is where smaller podcasts can make their mark.

The conventional wisdom of advertising is going where there’s the biggest audience. However, what’s still very nascent in the podcast industry are metrics, more specifically, those that can signify specific audiences. Smaller, more niche podcasts may not pull in the same numbers as NPR or iHeartRadio, but they could provide the targeted focus that some advertisers are looking for—a concept similar to brands flocking to microinfluencers on social media. There seems to be some traction in this space, with platforms like Anchor rethinking brand monetization options for smaller podcasts.

But for all the talk about radio being disrupted by the rise of podcasting, seems like thus far radio is making the transition quite nicely.

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About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America," where he was the social media producer.

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