Now They’re Listening, Now They’re Not


If you’ve been following the latest podcast news you’re no doubt seen this chart. I found this one on Westwood One’s blog. It displays the result of recent podcast audience research that shows how dramatically listenership falls off as a function of the length of the podcast.


I’ve long been a fan of shorter podcasts, so I feel strange advocating for longer ones, only I fear things have gotten slightly out of hand. In the past few days I’ve heard from podcasters who asked if they should cut their episodes to 7 minutes to retain their audiences to the end of their episodes.

Okay, everybody take a breath. That reasoning is counter-intuitive. Some of the most popular podcasts are an hour, or more, long and I doubt they will be scaling back to 7 minutes any time soon. If these podcasts are losing 70 percent of their audience, why can so many listeners reference content at the end of an episode? Has anybody mentioned that disappearing 70 percent to the sponsors? Let’s look at the data again, this time from a different perspective.

Common Sense

Who in their right mind begins listening to an hour podcast they want to hear knowing they only have 7 minutes to listen to it? Sure, they may be planning on returning, possibly in 7-minute chunks, and never get the chance; but honestly, 70 percent of an audience turns on a podcast knowing they’ll only catch the first 7 minutes? To me, that’s a hard sell.

Stretching is Incremental

Often, long podcasts are short podcasts stretched in time. When you stretch a podcast you don’t do it with one, big filler moment the end. Every minute is infused with filler. That means listeners can make an early determination that the level of entertainment or information per minute is too low for them. If the data show this happens in 7 minutes, that’s as good a number as any. If you take out the filler and your one-hour podcast now runs 30 minutes and you’re still losing your audience, then maybe it’s not your audience you’re losing.

We’re Still Experimenting

Podcasting listening habits are fluid because the medium is young. It’s somewhere between novelty and maturity, a space that invites both sampling and rejection. Listeners experiment. They make a quick determination about the episode. If it’s not for them, they move on. That 30 percent left at the end of 30 or 60 minutes? That’s your core audience. The challenge is growing that core, and there’s only one way to do it.

The great radio comedian Jack Benny had this saying about his radio (and subsequently television) show: if it’s always interesting it’s always good. You can’t do much better than that. If your show is interesting to your audience your audience will hang around to the end. If it isn’t, then cutting your podcast to 7 minutes only means that both your and your audience agree on when enough is enough.


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