Podcast Commercials: Effective or Skippable?

Jogger selecting music on smartphone

At Podcast Movement in August, we tailored our presentation to podcast creators, particularly independent producers engaged in the hard work of building audiences one listener at a time. At the Podcast Futures conference on October 19 at the NAB Show, we focused on the commercial inventory within podcasts.

We began our podcast work with a round of qualitative interviews, talking with dozens of podcast listeners one on one, plus a few couples, to better understand how listeners feel about this growing medium. Then we moved on to a quantitative study with nearly 1,700 respondents who listened to podcasts at least an hour in the prior week, from a wider universe of 5,000 respondents.

We included Gen Xers (ages 42-57), Millennials (ages 26-41), and as much of Gen Z as we could interview without having to get parental permission (ages 14-25). For the presentation we’ll show the quantitative findings (the usual charts and tables) along with clips from the qualitative interviews to help give context to the data and bring the findings to life.

Most podcast listeners feel there are too many commercials in some podcasts. Nearly 2/3 among the very heaviest podcast listeners, those who listen to podcasts at least 10 hours a week, agree with the too-many-commercials sentiment. And it’s nearly half among the lightest podcast listeners in our sample, those who listen 1-4 hours a week.

Yet savvy listeners are aware that they’re not stuck the way they might be listening to commercials on the radio. Talking about skipping through commercials, one respondent quipped, “You can sense ‘em coming once they get to that little break in most episodes and it’s just like bloop-bloop-bloop – hit that skip thing.” It’s a great comment and is why we love having qualitative videos to illustrate our quantitative findings.

Yet complaints about too many commercials mask powerful truths. Overall, 68% admit they listen to at least some of the commercials in podcasts. It’s important to note that commercials read by the podcast hosts themselves are the ones most likely to be heard. Though it must be said that those work most effectively when they’re presented as part of the podcast itself. Even commercials read by the hosts can become targets for skipping when they’re set off after saying, “We’ll continue in just a moment.”

And of course, the other powerful truth about podcast ads is that they can be very effective. Most have at least looked up a product or service advertised on a podcast, even if they didn’t purchase – and many have purchased (some have even taken the extra step of using a discount code provided in the podcast). That’s direct proof of purchase – and that’s important.

At Podcast Futures next week, we’ll be diving in deep on those who’ve taken action because of a podcast commercial. Who are they? How do they differ from other podcast listeners? Do they like different types of podcasts than the wider audience?