Audio Listening Trends During Covid-19

By BingeWith Content Team

15 May 2020

Listening to audio content surged as our lives changed in a matter of weeks.

Commutes to the office gone, weekly family shopping trips gone, fun jaunts at the mall and movie theatres gone. In moved the bedroom offices, video meetings on top of video meetings, and the dishwasher rising as an invaluable and member of the kitchen crew.

It’s been two months since the good ol’ days of our collective pre shelter-in-place lives and we’re taking stock of the broad trends we’ve seen.

Below are the top 3 trends we’re following in audio marketing and audio listening.

Commute podcast listening is down, or is it?

Podcast Analytics

During the first weeks of the pandemic podcast listening rates dropped anywhere between 8 to 20% depending on the podcast genre. The drop primarily happened during regular commuting hours of 5 to 10am suggesting that with the commute gone so was the time spent listening to podcasts. The small (4%) increase in podcast listening during non-commute hours was not enough to balance the sharp (20%) decrease during commute hours.

Depending on the podcast genre though there are large variations in downloads and listen rates. According to iHeartMedia people are listening to more news, financial and business podcasts as well as music and comedy. The effect was particularly acute in regions where governors issued strict “pause” or “shelter-in-place” orders early on like New York and California. Listening increased by 8% and 13% in each region respectively.

The change in listening rates is important not only for those producing great audio content but also for audio advertisers. During the same period iHeartMedia reported a 26% drop in revenue from sponsorship (aka ads) and events. As some regions begin easing the strict shelter in place orders some advertisers are easing their way back to familiar ad channels. Over the next weeks we’ll see if the sales from advertising in these newly opened regions will return to the pre-pandemic levels seen at the beginning of March.

Traffic is back, and then some

Team forming chart progression

As with any bad news, to an extent we’ve collectively gone through a cycle of acceptance and team development. From the initial shock we entered a period of adjustment and storming where we sorted our lives under the new constraints and restraints. By our count by the end of April most of us are in the norming phase. Jury is still out on if we’ll collectively reach the performing part of the curve or skip directly to adjourning as restrictions ease.

Tied with this curve is one that matches B2B site traffic. From the content publishers we are fortunate to work with we’ve seen a similar pattern. At the end of March we saw a sharp drop in traffic as folks entered the storming period and fought their way through the 180 degree turn their lives took. April on the other hand was night and day with most publishers seeing a 30% increase in traffic month over month.

The increase in traffic can be attributed to many things including:

  1. Adjusted marketing tactics to account for new circumstances
  2. If digital was king before, it’s become emperor now. With in person events gone a lot more emphasis has been placed on driving traffic to the primary business content to showcase their leadership in the industry.
  3. As the storming phase ended a return to normal work routine came with it
  4. The storming ad adjustment period of the initial shock of so many of us working from home may have lasted a little but we’ve to the the old work patterns albeit adjusted to working from home. That is if your site was for example frequented by design and UX&UI professionals for inspiration on their day to day work, odds are as they got back into the groove of working now from home. With that adjustment their reading patterns likely returned also.

This is important since it suggests that the adjusted marketing tactics are working and more importantly that at least a portion of the audience has reached a new “normal” in which they’ve returned to a good chunk of their prior work activities.

Your loyal followers stayed through the tough times

What surprised us most of all through the dip in podcast listeners and the corresponding dip in traffic to most B2B sites is the impact on site engagement. At BingeWith we’re in a unique situation where our audio is served alongside content marketing blog posts. Without people visiting a blog post with our audio available we have zero chance for audience engagement. No traffic = no people to listen to cool audio articles. As a result of that we expected a decrease in traffic to also reduce the amount of people listening to the audio present on the blog posts.

We were surprised to be 100% wrong on this.

BingeWith Performance March

While traffic to most blog sites decreased at the end of March, people listening to blog posts stayed constant or increased. On average in February we saw anywhere between 4 and 11% of blog post viewers listen to audio. We were more than surprised to see the same and then some in March. This validates that audio is a feature to drive retention and reach your most loyal audience. While some traffic will come and go, your loyal base will stick through and listen.

There are other trends we could follow and we’ll keep an ear to the ground to see how some of those on our shortlist continue to develop over the next few weeks. For example we’d love to see some stats around webinar effectiveness and how the ROI of those efforts is compared to in person conferences. We’d like to say that the worst for podcast listeners, and site traffic has passed but we’re not ready to cast that stone yet.

In case you’re looking to learn more about audio articles and increasing your blog engagement, we’ve got you covered: