Podcast Playlist: Episode Lengths Shortening as New Shows Proliferate, Report Finds

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Stitcher looked at the past 10 years of podcasting and found that the number of shows has increased by 129,000 percent.

The number of new podcasts has spiked over the past decade as the medium has become more popular but episode lengths are getting shorter, according to a new report from podcast app Stitcher.

The company looked at the shows on its platform and how people consumed them to paint a picture of the current podcasting ecosystem. Some of the results are unsurprising. For instance, the podcast boom in recent years has driven a 129,000 percent increase in the number of podcasts published to the Stitcher app since 2010. Others, like the fact that 17 shows from Stitcher's top 100 in 2010 are still in the top 100 today, show the staying power of some titles despite podcasting's explosive growth.

"This industry has changed a lot over the past decade," says Stitcher CEO Erik Diehn. "The types of shows, the number of creators, the monetization, everything's changed very dramatically in the past few years."

The Stitcher report delved into consumption data for the 350,000 podcasts available on its app. Among its findings was that the number of podcast episodes grew at a 62 percent compound annual growth rate between 2014 and 2019. In 2019 alone, 6.8 million episodes were published to the app.

Though rising awareness of podcasting has brought several big names like Dax Shephard and Conan O'Brien to the medium, Stitcher founder that several of the most popular titles today were also popular in 2010. The Joe Rogan Experience, which recently inked a lucrative deal to move exclusively to Spotify, was the No. 21 podcast on Stitcher in 2010 and the No. 1 podcast in 2019. Other shows that have grown in popularity over the past decade include This American Life, Stuff You Should Know and Radiolab.

The data, says Stitcher CMO Amy Fitzgibbons, "shows the staying power and the growth that even older shows continue to see."

Stitcher also looked at the rise of the miniseries. In 2010, there were just four shows that could be defined as miniseries (aka ones that have released between two and 12 episodes). In 2019, there were more than 52,000 of them, and 14 percent of the top 1,000 shows on Stitcher were miniseries series like The Drop Out, Dirty John and 1619.

Diehn says that miniseries tend to have enduring popularity in part because they tell evergreen stories. "It's a story that you could listen to five years, 10 years later, and it's still an interesting story," he says, likening these shows to the back catalog of Netflix or Hulu.

Just as shorter series lengths have become more common, so too have shorter episode lengths. Stitcher found that the average episode length per show went from nearly 52 minutes in 2013 to just short of 50 minutes in 2019.

Still, people are conducting lengthy podcast sessions. In 2019, binge listening on Stitcher grew to 34 million hours, driven by the true crime and comedy genres. The top three shows for bingeing on Stitcher in 2019 were True Crime Garage, Last Podcast on the Left and My Favorite Murder.

In terms of consumption habits, Stitcher found that peak listening periods come on the weekdays in the mornings and late afternoons, presumably during people's commutes. Though weekday commute listening declined when the novel coronavirus-related shutdowns first hit the U.S., Stitcher saw a return to pre-pandemic listening levels at the beginning of April as people found new ways to incorporate podcasts into their routines.

Diehn says that though the number of unique users on Stitcher did decline slightly during the early days of the pandemic, the return in listening time signals that those users aren't lost for good. "We're seeing those hours come back because the people didn't really go away. They were there, they just didn't have quite as much time," he says. "That tells me that this is an enduring medium and one that, as we come out of this, will remain strong."

In other podcasting news:

A number of high-profile new podcasts have launched in recent weeks, providing an influx in new programming for those stuck at home. They include:

Borrasca, a new podcast thriller from QCODE, starring Riverdale's Cole Sprouse. Soon after moving to the town of Drisking, Missouri, Sam Walker's sister goes missing. Five years later, when more people start to disappear, he and his friends take it upon themselves to find out what's happening. The series, which launched May 25, will drop new episodes every Monday through the end of July.

— Miniseries Boom/Bust: The Rise and Fall of HQ Trivia dropped its first two episodes May 20. Hosted by The Ringer's Alyssa Bereznak, the podcast explores start-up culture through the lens of an interactive gaming app HQ. New episodes are being released every Wednesday.

Wind of Change, which hails from Pineapple Street Studios, Crooked Media and Spotify, investigates whether the CIA is behind the popular Scorpions song. Journalist Patrick Radden Keefe hosts the eight-part series, which dropped in full on Spotify on May 11 and is releasing new episodes weekly on other platforms.