Team: Caroline Gomez, Haasini Sai P, Hailee Kenney, Nisha Jain, Xuny Haley
Project Timeline: 8 Weeks
Number of Participants: 5
Research Methods: Diary study, semi-structured interviews
Podcast listenership has grown in recent years. According to Edison Research, 80 million Americans are weekly podcast listeners as of a report published in March 2021, up from 68 million in 2020. This is in spite of, or perhaps even caused by, the disruptions to many people’s lives that came with the COVID-19 pandemic. From delivering daily news updates to enriching a monotonous commute, podcasts fulfill a variety of needs for listeners. Despite their popularity, there are few refined best practices or guidebooks for producing podcasts like there are for media like books and film. Inspired by the work of one of our team’s researchers, a longtime podcast producer for KUOW, we set out to examine the lives, habits and preferences of podcast listeners in an effort to help podcast creators create content that fit users’ needs, constraints and interests.
Due to a desire to examine the specific details of listeners' daily routines, we conducted a dairy study where participants submitted daily surveys and audio logs exploring their listening habits. After analyzing the available data, we came away with several interesting trends for podcast producers to consider. We found that podcasts are companions for listeners' daily lives, and both listening time and focus level are at the mercy of individual schedules. While listeners do turn to podcasts for content and information, they also turn to them to enhance a desired mood, emotional state, or “vibe”. Ultimately, there are opportunities for podcast producers to consider their audience and the needs that their podcast can meet for potential listeners.
Based on some informal exploratory research and literature review, we chose to address the following research questions through this study:
To recruit participants we created a screener exploring participant listening habits, demographics, and interest in participating in the study. Due to time and budget constraints we recruited from our personal networks at a podcast listserv. We chose to work with participants who were all avid listeners (listened more than 3 times per week) and also tried as much as possible to have a mix of gender and racial diversity.Pre-study Interviews
To create a profile of each participant, we conducted semi-structured pre-study interviews to understand their existing relationship with podcasts. The interview explored what types of podcasts participants enjoyed, how they tended to listen, and how podcasts fit into their routine. We also used this opportunity to brief them on the study.Diary Study
The diary study lasted for a total of 7 days. Every participant was sent a daily email reminder to complete a survey which addressed their podcast listening habits for that day - for example, what podcasts they listened to and when, their focus level while listening to podcasts, how they felt while listening, etc. In addition to daily surveys, participants were asked to submit at least three supplementary voice memos over the course of the study in response to the prompt:
“While you were listening to your podcast tell us about the range of emotions you felt. This could be related to the episode, or it could be feelings toward something that occurred at the same time while you were listening to the episode.”Post-Study Interviews
For some participants, we reached out for a 30-minute semi-structured post-study interview to better understand their listening habits over the course of the study. We chose not to interview all participants due to time constraints, and focused on participants whose survey responses and unique listening habits we wanted to better understand.Data Analysis
Unlike other forms of media like books, film, or TV, podcasts do not require listeners’ full attention and are perfect aids for multitasking. Throughout the study, participants almost exclusively listened to podcasts while doing something else, including driving, cooking dinner, or making art. Throughout the study, participants reported an average podcast focus level of 3.9/5. There were very few instances where participants were exclusively listening to podcasts and devoting their full attention. Not only were participants able to listen to podcasts while doing something else, podcasts were also assistive - listening to a podcast at the same time sometimes made it easier for participants to accomplish other tasks.
Due to the ease of listening, podcasts often fill in the gaps in listeners’ days and are most commonly listened to before or after major activities take place. Participants listen to podcasts while commuting, while getting ready in the morning, and between meetings.
Participants listened to podcasts within the confines of their daily schedules. If they became too busy, they were unable to listen to podcasts - this was true for over half of participants, whose schedules were prone to to change, interruption, and inconsistency. Listeners' predictions on their next day podcast routine ranged from 20% - 60% accurate, and participants also could not always predict what might derail their plans.
Podcasts do not only serve as a means to convey information or provide entertainment. Podcasts are also a tool that people utilize to enhance a desired mood or emotion. This “enhancement” is personal and varies from individual to individual, but each participant chose podcasts in order to derive specific emotions or evoke an environment conducive to their desired activity. This included but was not limited to a feeling of companionship, a sense of comfort, or creating the right atmosphere to allow participants to fall asleep or work on projects.
Each participant had various motivations to regularly listen to podcasts. Some of those motivations were content-specific, and others were emotion-specific. These needs were variable and highly personal to the specific listener, ranging from keeping up on current events to personal enrichment to seeking comfort. There are opportunities for podcast creators to not just consider the target audience when creating podcasts, but to have a deeper understanding of the various goals podcast listeners have, as well as how their podcast could help fulfill those goals.
Based on these results, some valuable questions for podcast creators to ask themselves when designing content may be -
Due to time constraints and available resources, there were significant limitations on the scope of this study. Based on these limitations and lessons learned, here are some considerations for the study if it were to continue.