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Understanding Podcast Users: Consumption Motives and Behaviors

After a slow start, podcast listening has exploded with more than 50% of Americans older than 12 having listened to podcasts and more than 30% having listened in the past month, according to research by Edison Research and Triton Digital.

To understand this exploding medium, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communication Telecommunication Professor Sylvia Chan-Olmsted and doctoral student Rang Wang completed the nation’s first comprehensive study on motivations and consumption of podcasts, as well as the interaction between podcasts and other audio media. As with other media platforms, they recognized that podcast usage is multidimensional and needed to be studied from multiple aspects and in various settings.

Chan-Olmsted, who is also the College’s Director of Media Consumer Research, and Wang looked at what drives people to listen to podcasts and why they choose to listen to them over other forms of media. They found that podcast listeners prefer the entertainment value and information provided by podcasts and the superiority of the platform itself. Those frequently listening to podcasts use them in different settings depending on whether they are listening for information or for pleasure.  The researchers explain that when people listen to podcasts at home, they tend to want information-driven content but when they are out of home, they want content that helps them past time and escape the real world. When listeners are home, they feel more able to engage with the content, and when they are out, listening is more of a ritual.

According to the researchers, “Although information and entertainment were found to be two primary drivers of podcast consumption in general, out-of-home podcast consumption seems to be less about these two needs, but more about the platform’s advantages in content, control, and mobility, and its utility to escape, to connect and socialize, and to affirm self-identity. In comparison, when at home, podcasting’s superiority over other audio media may be less evident because consumers have easy access to different media options for various needs. In this case, podcasting might serve as a platform for active, individualized content that delivers more cognitive value.”

In terms of podcast usage, the researchers found that emotional, entertainment-related motives play a more significant role in the actual usage level, while cognitive, information-related motives lead to more continuous engagement with the podcast content/host (i.e. subscription). Also, users who perceived podcasting as superior to other audio media tended to be heavy users of online radio, suggesting that podcasting shares many of its audience with online radio and that podcasting and online radio both offer a more active listening experience in comparison to traditional radio. They also found a complementary relation between listening to podcasts and using music streaming services, since information is a primary motivation for podcast listeners but not music listeners. Podcast users seek out the  audio format that better matches their media habits to fulfill information needs.

Chan-Olmsted and Wang also found  that subscribers develop a strong attachment to their favorite programs and their hosts. As a result, they suggest that future research look at this loyalty in terms of marketing and potential sponsorships. Also, most research to date on podcasting has used very narrow demographics to understand what attracts listeners, which has limited findings. Chan-Olmsted and Wang explain that it is important to broaden those demographics to gain the full picture of who is consuming podcasts and how to market to them.

The original article, “Understanding Podcast Users: Consumption Motives and Behaviors,” was published in New Media & Society, Oct. 20, 2020.

This summary was written by Dana Hackley, Ph.D.


Posted: March 25, 2021
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