In an industry that is rapidly evolving, podcasts have come up on top in social media as a powerful and influential medium. The fundamentals allow a diverse library of content that covers an array of subject matter, meaning there’s something for everyone.
Interestingly enough, in a study conducted by PEW Research Center, the team looked into the world of podcasts and examine the top 491 top-rated podcasts in the United States.
This study was created to give us insight into the wide range of topics that have been capturing the attention of audiences. Everything from true crime, mysteries to social issues and political discussions, there is something for everyone to listen to in order to further their insight and get advice.
While going through the findings, there’s evidence that not a single topic is dominating more than a quarter of the market at a time, specifically in the top-ranked podcasts. The most popular of the categories in podcasts being True Crime, with 24% of listeners, the other genres of politics, entertainment, and self-help follow pretty closely after it.
In this article, we’re going to jump into the study findings and take a closer look at what is grabbing the attention of the masses in the podcast space and why.
Research Shows Top-Ranked US Podcasts Key Data
While the rise is impressive, it needs to be noted that this has been an upward trend for quite some time.
Since 2013 the space has been growing and evolving with more and more platforms now understanding how to utilize the genre of content it seems that it’s here to stay.
One great example of the adoption of podcasts comes from Spotify, they were the first big platform to adopt the concept with open arms along with Apple. Now more competitors of the two are jumping on the bandwagon and signing big names from the podcasting community to get in on the action.
Like anything new, in the beginning, stages of development, there will always be some quirks and kinks to straighten out. This is why Pew Research Center has offered some valuable insight and looked deeper into the world of the top-ranked podcasts.
Their team hopes to shed some light on the market’s behaviors and audience preferences of some of the best content that the rapidly evolving space has to offer.
1. Podcast topics
Around a quarter of the podcast, 24% are in the genre of True Crime – investigative, murder mysteries, or scandals. Many of these types of podcasts will focus on a particular crime over the course of 1 to two episodes.
There are others that go into a few different stories of crimes that are related, but not connected in any way. A good example of this is the Mr. Ballen Podcast where he focuses on anywhere from 1-3 different crimes or mysteries per podcast.
Other topics that are popular for podcast listeners include politics and government which has around 10% popularity, the entertainment/pop-culture and art genre which has 9%, and then the self-help and relationship advice podcast which sits at around 8% respectively. Another 6% of top podcasts are about sports, while 4% focus on history.
When looking at the political and government space, you can find a number of different podcasts that talk about an array of topics from history and current events. They’re not all on one or the other side of the political spectrum though, the space is pretty well split and has a lot of variety of entertainment from former Trump advisor, Steve Bannon with his Bannon’s War Room to Pod Save America, which is a top-ranked podcast hosted by Obamas former staffer. That being said, there are many that lean either left or right, and finding one with the ideologies that you support shouldn’t be hard.
As for the entertainment podcast, they mostly cover pop culture news and other niche markets from tv, movies, games, etc. Podcast that seems to have a cult following are ones like The Officially Game Of Thrones Podcast which allows listeners and viewers to see behind the scenes of their favorite tv series, and podcast by Brain Structure, which is a show that’s hosted by the gamer Hideo Kojima.
It’s interesting that this genre is so vast with various topics that more often than not have nothing to do with one another, that being said it will eventually become a bigger market because as time goes on some of the more dominant content and niches will start to grow because creators will see the value in filling the gap in the market.
Self-help podcasts are podcasts that have to do with anything from personal finance, leadership, or motivation. Some notable ones are Dave Ramsey’s The Ramsey Show (Personal Finance), Dare to Lead with Brené Brown(leadership), and The Mindset Mentor (Motivation).
It should be noted that one in five of the podcasts in this study are focused on multiple topics. The trends often follow a format and for some shows, they change the subject on a regular basis meaning every show will be different.
On the other hand, there are some podcasts that host may or may not have a guest and discuss a multitude of topics. A great example of this style is the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast or Suburb Talks.
2. How podcasts connect with their audiences
Finding and also preserving an audience for a podcast can be time-consuming and challenging. To reach as many listeners as possible, most top-ranked podcasts make sure all of their content is easily available. The vast majority of these podcasts are available on multiple platforms, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Stitcher.
About half of the top-ranked shows (51%) release some kind of video that pairs their episodes, almost always on YouTube. The vast majority (97%) of podcasts with a video feature make it available on YouTube.
A small share of podcasts use other sites, including 6% that use Rumble, the next most common site. At the same time as being available on major platforms and video-sharing sites, many shows use additional methods to engage with their audiences. Approximately 3/4 of top-ranked shows have a self-hosted website (73%), and 8% have some kind of community forum.
The availability and distribution of top-ranked podcasts are constantly evolving. As more and more people listen to podcasts, it is likely that we will see even more ways for podcasts to reach their audiences.
Specifics on platforms for audience availability
- 99% of top podcasts are available on Spotify.
- 90% of top podcasts are available on Apple Podcasts.
- 82% of top podcasts are available on Google Podcasts.
- 73% of top podcasts have a website.
- 8% of top podcasts have an online discussion forum.
- 97% of podcasts with a video component make it available on YouTube.
- 6% of podcasts with a video component make it available on Rumble.
The vast majority of top-ranked podcasts are available on several major listing sites, with few podcasts exclusive to one site. Additionally, many podcasts are making use of video components and other methods to connect with their audiences. As the podcast industry continues to grow, we can expect to see even more ways for podcasts to reach their audiences.
3. Various Podcast Formats Used by Creators
Podcast hosts have a wide variety of formats in order to share information, and hold the listener’s attention effectively. These methods vary from podcast to podcast, like the number of hosts, the frequency of episodes, the podcast’s overall format, and the length of each show.
Most top podcasts (58%) will feature a single host. A smaller share of the top-ranked podcast, (37%) feature multiple hosts. While just 6% of top podcasts do not have a host at all.
The overall format has to do with how you are presenting information to your listeners and conveying your message. The most common format is deep reporting (38%). Other common formats include interviews (23%), commentary (16%), and recaps (4%). About 18% of top podcasts use another type of format.
The frequency of episodes has to do with the amount of content you upload and the time between uploading. Most of the top podcasts (61%) released an episode at a minimum of once a week during the study period. About a quarter of the top-ranked podcast released multiple episodes per week.
Top podcasts that are in the sports reporting and talk genre are more likely to release more than one episode per week (57%). The frequency of episodes can also affect how listeners interact with a podcast. For example, podcasts that release episodes weekly may be easier for listeners to keep up with, while podcasts that release episodes daily may require more commitment from listeners.
The length of episodes is pretty self-explanatory and has to do with how long your content is.
Just 6% of top-ranked podcasts averaged less than 20 minutes per episode in 2022. Just over half (54%) were longer than 20 minutes but less than 50 minutes. About four-in-ten top podcasts (37%) averaged about an hour or more per episode, including 18% that averaged more than 70 minutes.
The length of episodes can also affect how listeners interact with a podcast. For example, shorter episodes may be easier to fit into a busy schedule, while longer episodes may be more suitable for listeners who have more time to listen.
Topics and formats of various podcasts are quite interesting because some podcast topics are more likely to be tied to specific formats than others.
For example, the majority of true crime shows (95%) use a deep reporting style like Mr.Ballen’s Strange Dark and Mysterious Podcast. Political shows, however, are about evenly divided among interview (33%), reporting (28%), and opinion commentary (28%) structures, with an additional 9% that are news roundups. Recaps are the most common form among entertainment shows (36%), while most sports podcasts (82%) use the reporting format.
The different formats that podcasts use can affect the way that listeners interact with the content. For instance, reporting podcasts may require listeners to pay more attention and engage with the material more deeply, while commentary podcasts may be more casual and allow listeners to tune in and out as they please.
What This Means For Creators
With the uptrend of podcasts a huge game-changing across the social media industry, due in part to the widespread appeal and the versatility of the medium for creating content, it’s safe to say that podcasts are here to stay. The study conducted by PEW Research Centers really sheds light on the market and answers some very interesting questions in regard to the podcast landscape as a whole.
With an established and dominant niche like true crime at the head of the pack, it should be noted that it doesn’t mean it will always be the industry leader. As time goes on and people start becoming more comfortable with the idea of putting themselves out there we’re going to see an influx in all categories and topics. With big platforms like Apple, Spotify, and Amazon at the forefront, signing and promoting new and young talent in order to encourage more content creation, it’s safe to assume that’s exactly what will happen.
This is all key for the industry to become larger and help mass adoption to occur. The structure is there for people to jump on board and join in the tsunami that’s coming.
Podcasts that can resonate and build a connection with their audiences due in part to their friendly format are key for their success as well. With so many different users from all demographics and parts of the world, it’s necessary to create variety in order to cater to different listeners and their preferences, ensuring that they are having an engaging and compelling experience every time they tune in. It’s also important to make everything available for all listeners so that no matter what device they have they are able to tune in to the same podcast at the same time every week/day effortlessly.
The “A Profile on Top US-Ranked Podcasts” by Pew Research Center can be found on their website, along with other interesting studies, research reports, and blogs that share interesting insights into upcoming social media trends, data, platform-specific news, and strategies.