From witnessing the invasion of Russia in the Ukraine, living through the death of Queen Elizabeth, to currently experiencing the effects of an economic recession made worse due to leadership under three different Prime Ministers in the UK - it’s no surprise that news podcasts climbed to the top of the podcast charts in 2022 as people struggled to get a grasp on the rapidly-changing political climate.
According to leading UK media company Global’s latest report on News Podcasts Making Headlines in Brands, 66% of survey respondents said that they consumed more news podcasts in 2022 compared to the year before and 71% said that they are intending to listen more this year.
“We’re living in what’s described as a ‘permacrisis’ - a constantly rolling news agenda - so we’ve seen a trend towards people wanting to get behind the headlines, to understand more about the world they live in and how the news might affect them and the people around them,” said Global Player’s director of podcasts and global strategy, Megan Wastell. “They also want insight to come from trusted sources and for information to be delivered in a way that makes engaging with the news feel accessible, enjoyable, and entertaining where possible.”
Just taking a look at today’s Chartable list of Apple's top podcasts in the UK, three out of the top five most-listened to are all about current affairs - ITV News’ PartyGate: The Inside Story, GoalHanger’s The Rest is Politics, and Global’s The News Agents. Even BBC Sounds reported that Newscast was its top most-listened podcast during the festive period and daily podcast Times news briefing ranked in sixth place in last year’s Spotify UK wrapped list.
News podcasts are not a new phenomenon by any means. According to Reuter’s ‘News Podcasts and Opportunities for Publishers’ report published in 2019, the number of new news podcasts globally rose by 12,000 between January and October 2019 and made up 16% of the UK’s most popular podcast episodes at the time. It has become undeniable, however, that podcasting is changing the way that news is being consumed today and that it has its own set of advantages that traditional media can’t compete with.
Building a multi-platform media strategy
As podcasts continue to grow in popularity, more news leaders are planning to invest greater resources into podcasts and digital audio as part of their publication’s media strategy this year - 72% more to be exact, according to the annual ‘Journalism, Media, and Technology Trends and Prediction 2023’ report by Reuter senior research associate Nic Newman.
“The future of media companies is having a direct relationship where people value what you do, and if you’re in commoditised news, they’re just not going to value you enough,” said Newman. “Just text is not enough to build a relationship and build time.”
By not taking advantage of the podcasting space as an expansion of their brand, publications are at risk of losing part of their audience. Global’s report reveals that almost half of the news consumers surveyed did not have time to read newspapers or articles anymore but the advantage of podcasts is that they “fit perfectly into busy lives”.
“Podcasts are an established media format and it’s been proven that they have the ability to reach huge audiences and generate significant revenue, so publishers would be missing a trick if they didn’t look at how they can leverage talent and content via podcasts,” said Wastell. “As we’ve highlighted in our whitepaper, podcasts help make sense of the news in an engaging way and are available when people are choosing to listen.”
Printed newspapers and magazines are also rapidly losing their audiences as more people turn to online resources to get their news. Ofcom reports in its News Consumption in the UK 2022 survey that news consumption via printed newspapers was down by 24% and printed magazines were down by 6% while podcasts increased by 10% last year.
Additionally, Newman noted a trend in which broadcasters such as the BBC are reinvesting their resources into podcasts that play on radio channels on-demand, rather than spending on live radio, in order to reduce costs. The BBC has become more audio-forward in the past few years with the success of in-house news podcasts such as Newscast, Brexitcast, and Ukrainecast.
Newman, who previously played a significant role in launching the BBC’s initial podcast service, said that the popularity of podcasts is expected with the rise of competition in the audio space and that publications now have to think clearly about the strategies they will use to move resources from live radio to podcasting without risking the loss of their traditional audiences.
“One of the things that changed is that podcasts have become multi-platform, accessed by a much wider group of people and have become just much more popular,” said Newman. “.... podcasts are now a critical and still growing part of the audio landscape and the way you commission content for on-demand needs to be a bit different but trying to find those sort of synergies to have… built podcasts on the one hand, and flow radio, on the other hand, is I think what most broadcasters are really struggling to work out how to do.”
Additionally, another advantage of podcasts is that they act as an alternative revenue stream for publications through podcast advertising, which saw a 61% year-on-year increase in the UK in 2022 and delivered £54 million in revenue, according to the last IAB Podcast Revenue report.
Global’s report also proves how successful ad campaigns can be for brands, especially when trying to battle the issue of short attention spans from audiences. The report revealed that 97% of the survey respondents already expect to hear advertising when listening to a show and that over half feel like they’re informative, useful and memorable and have taken direct action like visiting the website after listening to an ad.
Reaching a younger, more engaged demographic
Although younger people don’t tend to be the leading demographic when it comes to engaging with current affairs, there has been an increase in listenership with this age group when it comes to news podcasts. Over 80% of people aged 16-24 are likely to get their news from the internet - including podcasts and social media - while only 25% of them would listen to the radio, and 30% would go to newspapers, according to Ofcom’s News Consumption Survey 2022.
“The main difference that we found in our data and the various research that we've done over the years into audio is that young people really like audio because it is broadly easy and fits that lifestyle when you're on the move a lot,” said Newman, “and younger people generally are just very natural with smartphones and headphones, in a way that older people are less comfortable with.”
However, he also points out that it may not be the most favoured podcast genre amongst young people and that radio still manages to reach a wider audience. “I think that your news podcast space is younger, but it's also a relatively small group of people who are really interested in news in that younger demographic, which is smaller than the portion of all people who are interested in news, per se,” he said.
According to a Edison Research’s Spoken Audio Word report in 2022, made in collaboration with non-profit media organisation NPR, news was the fourth most popular podcast genre for weekly listeners aged 18-24 with 13% of respondents having listened to one in the last week while Sports and Education followed behind on the list.
Incorporating compelling storytelling and likeable personalities
There are numerous reasons why more people are favouring news podcasts over traditional media formats. 71% of Global’s survey said that they find news podcasts easier to understand, 80% agreed that they are more personal, and 69% said that they find them more uplifting.
“One of my frustrations in the way that we talk about news is that we seem to kind of mention things in passing and never really get time to understand a big topic in detail,” said marketer Shelina Janmohamed whose newly-announced news and current affairs podcast The Shelina Show - produced by Global - launches tomorrow. “More frustratingly, I think over the last few years because of all the polarisation in the conversation, there is a kind of assumption that if you believe this, then you must automatically believe this, and it all kind of feels very tribal.
“What I found in the conversations that I have with colleagues and friends is that actually we try and work out what is going on. Like, what is the subject? What is the framework? What is the context? But that information simply doesn't exist, and it felt like a podcast would be a really great format to spend a bit more time thinking about that.”
The host’s personality and credibility also plays a big part in making news podcasts more appealing than other traditional media resources as Global reports that 43% of its survey respondents say a good current affairs host is one that is “engaging” and “experienced”. Additionally, 41% said that they prefer the hosts to be “experts in their field” while still having the ability to be “great” story-tellers (39%).
“I think it shows that people want to be informed and I think it shows that they feel they're not necessarily getting that from…mainstream media,” said co-host of The Rest is Politics Alastair Campbell in a previous episode of PodPod, although he points out that he hates the phrase “mainstream media” as it can mean different things to different people. “I think people now feel that newspapers are not really newspapers, I think they do feel that with a lot of broadcast media that it almost feels like you're watching people inside a straight jacket a lot of the time.”
Listeners are also more likely to be drawn to news podcasts hosted by personalities they already like (36%) or from a programme that they like (35%), according to Global. That’s why it’s common to see familiar faces leading news podcasts, such as The Rest is Politics and The News Agents, which is hosted by Emily Maitlis, Jon Sopel and Lewis Goodall.
“I don't actually feel that John and Emily and Lewis [have] become different sorts of journalists,” added Campbell. “I just think they express themselves in a slightly different way but I think they're very different to what we do.”
“... Rory [Stewart, co-host of TRIP] and I both see ourselves as people who are trying to kind of bring together both what we do, what we know from what we've done, particularly in politics itself and the bit of journalistic rigour.”
Competing with traditional print and broadcast media
Global’s news podcasts report states that “podcasts aren’t for breaking news but people do choose them for everything else” and that the majority of listeners tend to turn to current affairs podcasts in order to gain a different perspective or point of view of a news story, challenge their thinking, and gain more in-depth understanding of a topic amongst other things.
However, since working on the survey, two news podcasts have landed major breaking news stories ahead of other traditional news media outlets. This includes The News Agents’ scoop on a major update regarding the proposed privatisation of Channel 4 and ITV News’ launch of the Partygate podcast, which revealed exclusive never-before-heard details on the Downing Street parties - proving that even when it comes to making headlines, podcasts may also start dominating that area.
“Lewis is a world class journalist, so bringing in scoops is his bread and butter," producer of the The News Agents and founder of production company Persephonica, Dino Sofos, told PodPod. "When we launched The News Agents, we set out to explain the news, but we also wanted to set the agenda. In the short space of time that The News Agents has been up and running, we have run several news-making interviews, including Tony Blair, Joe Lycett and Nigella Lawson."
"We’re also really pleased that cabinet ministers, business leaders and high profile cultural figures are now approaching us to come on the podcast. That’s something I rarely experienced when I was working on radio news programmes. It’s clear that decision makers trust Emily, Jon and Lewis with their stories, and to treat them robustly but fairly when they’re being interviewed in the studio.”
Additionally, “slow news” organisation Tortoise Media chose to reveal exclusive highlights and takeaways from the Westminster Accounts, an interactive database showing how money flows in the UK Parliament made in partnership with Sky News, through a podcast on its website.
“I think what it shows is how important podcasts are becoming to media companies… print publications, but also radio companies and broadcasters like ITV,” said Newman. “A few years ago, [ITV News] would never have considered doing [the Partygate podcast], it would be broadcast on the television.
“It’s a combination of things, it's the rise of podcasts and it's the fall of the reach of television…because of the threat of streams. All that means is that essentially television broadcasters need to diversify the formats in which they tell stories and they need to make more investment that they’re making in their correspondent work.”
Wastell also notes that while The News Agents is able to land “massive, agenda-setting scoops” due to being lead by trusted journalists and brand, they also carry the ability to then delve into more detail in the podcast and space to have analysis and breakdowns in a way that can’t be done via a two-minute broadcast news package.
“While our research has shown that breaking news isn’t one of the main reasons that listeners engage with news podcasts, it’s important they delve into context and implications, it shows how podcasts can both break the news and then analyse the implications,” she said.