When Irish ears are listening

How Ireland’s podcast market took its place in the mainstream

Podcasting is becoming big business in Ireland. According to a study from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, almost half of Irish people are podcast listeners, and the country’s appetite for audio content is fierce. In the past, the audience for podcasts in Ireland skewed towards young males, but the dynamics of the market have changed dramatically in just a few years. That’s according to Micheál Scully, director of sales at Acast in Ireland, and figures that the company has collated on its Irish audiences. 

Irish listenership on Acast has been on the rise but in recent years, particularly during the COVID-19 lockdowns, interest in podcasts spiked - and there has been a “steady increase” since then. “We're up to 37% of the population listening weekly and then there's skews within that,” Scully says. “You see the 18 to 34 audience: 54% of them are listening weekly, so there is a little bit of a younger skew, but every sort of age group is represented in there.”

While podcasting has pushed through to the mainstream in Ireland, measuring just how big the audience for podcasts is in the country is a skill yet to be mastered. A survey from the Irish arm of the IAB is one of the best metrics currently for gaining a sense of how many people are listening to digital audio, which includes podcasts, music streaming and access to traditional radio through digital avenues.

In 2022, around 77% of adults in Ireland – roughly 2.78 million people – listened to digital audio. In 2019, that figure was 66%. Breaking that down by specific type of digital audio, podcasts still trail behind music and digital radio when it comes to the time people spend on digital audio – but it is growing year on year. People are spending 3.7 hours a week listening to podcasts compared to live radio’s four hours. Music streaming accounts for eight hours. 

The IAB survey found that people accessing digital audio services are typically aged between 18 and 44 and are working full-time, while the gender split is 50/50 male and female. Meanwhile 69% said that they are listening to more podcasts now than they were a year prior.

A growing audience

What is clear is that there is a sizeable audience for podcasts in Ireland, with a raft of shows trying to reach that audience. One glance through platforms like Acast and Spotify will reveal an abundance in Irish podcasts, with the market flooded with new shows in recent years. 

Scully says the “handful of top podcasts” garner about 100,000 weekly Irish listens. This includes the likes of Tommy, Hector & Laurita, The David McWilliams Podcast, The Stand with Eamon Dunphy and The Blindboy Podcast. But those numbers are on the much higher end of the scale in the Irish context. “Anyone that has over 15,000 or 20,000 weekly listens, that’s a decent listenership for a commercial podcast in Ireland,” Scully adds.

Several small operations have emerged over the last several years, too, including podcast networks and studios that help independent and newcomer podcasters record or host their shows, with notable players including Tall Tales and the HeadStuff network.

Traditional media companies have entered the podcast game significantly as well and are pumping more and more investment into it. This includes the likes of The Indo Daily, a news podcast from the Irish Independent, the country’s largest newspaper; and podcasts from Newstalk, the national radio station owned by German giant Bauer Media Group. This mirrors a similar trend in the UK with publishers exploring podcasts increasingly in a bid to diversify their content and open up new avenues for advertisers.

Attracting advertising

Monetising a podcast comes down to building a large and loyal audience, but there remain a few hurdles even at that point. When it comes to advertising, sponsorship and marketing spend in audio, radio still dominates. The allure of podcasts for advertisers is small but growing every year.

According to figures from marketing firm Core, spend on digital audio in 2022 was €12.6m (£11m). In 2020, that number was €8.87m (£7.7m). Core tips that in 2023 that spend will hit €14.8m (£13m) as “more brands move shares [of ad spend] to the growing sector”. However, it warns that this growth will come at a slower rate than observed in recent years, as companies weather inflationary challenges and a reduction in consumer spending. 

If brands are becoming more cautious about their spending, what will that mean for podcasts that rely on it for revenue? Gary Fox started his podcast, The Entrepreneur Experiment, in 2019 with guests discussing entrepreneurship and business. “Starting a podcast is a quick thing, it's easy to start but hard to continue,” he explains.

Fox has gradually etched out a space for his show in the busy Irish podcast scene. The Entrepreneur Experiment is a small podcast run by a solo operator but has managed to attract some notable sponsors including Sage, Square and Iconic, a co-working office provider. While his podcast serves a niche audience, it is still competing against other shows of all shapes and sizes, whether it’s news, entertainment or sport, for an hour of a listener’s time and for brands’ money. 

“Now [larger companies] have really started to put more focus and more effort and you can see the marketing spend in it. You see the bigger established names have podcasts, so it has got more competitive,” says Fox.

Greg Canty, managing partner of marketing company Fuzion, adds that the quality of advertising on podcasts needs to improve if podcasting is to continue growing. “I think in an Irish context, I have a little bit of a concern with how the main players are executing that,” he says. “It's not seamless advertising that doesn't car-crash the actual show you're listening to, they're poorly executed. The adverts literally crash-in in the middle of conversations and there seems to be very little quality control in them.”

He says clients can gain more from the sponsorship model rather than advertising spots, which would be beneficial for the podcaster and advertiser alike. “If you listen to American ones, you'll hear ‘We're going to pause for a message from our sponsors.’ And there's the intro and the outro and you accept that. It's a seamless part of the production whereas with the Irish ones, for the most part, it's just like someone drops something into the middle of the show.”

However, while there may be some challenges for those exploring Ireland’s podcast industry, the data suggests that these are the growing pains of a market in the process of establishing itself as a key segment within ireland’s vibrant media industry. As the Irish audience for podcast content swells, the demand will likely rise up to meet it - brining greater revenue opportunities with it.