Mark Ramsey: Podcast Listeners Are Too Smart

mark ramsey author logoGuest columnist Mark Ramsey is a media strategist, research analyst, author, and producer of the annual Hivio audio future festival. This article was originally published on his Mark Ramsey Media website.

Well, not “too smart” per se, but too well educated.

And not “too well educated” per se, but so educated they are out of step with the rest of America, or as I like to call them/us: Regular people.

Here’s the colorful proof, based on Census data and Edison Research data:

Yep. 41% of Americans are graced with a High School education or less. Only 12% have Graduate degrees.

Compare that to the regular Podcast listener. Only 15% H.S. or less. 30% have Graduate degrees – almost 60% Bachelors Degrees or above. DOUBLE that of typical America.

Now these numbers are not perfectly comparable since the Census data are only for persons over the age of 25 while the Edison numbers are not. That, by the way, would be a bias in favor of making the U.S. numbers look more educated by comparison to the Edison ones, since the latter include many folks below age 25 and thus below certain education thresholds.

So what we have here is a user profile that’s significantly – and I mean significantly – unlike average a.k.a. “mass” America.

The path to larger audiences is a path to more regular folks.

The path to larger audiences is a path to more regular folks.CLICK TO TWEET

Now there are some structural reasons to explain this in part. For example, podcasts are technology and technology skews to favor more education. Podcasts also skew heavily in favor of iOS which is expensive technology and will thus further favor more education inasmuch as education correlates to income.

One of the other driving forces is, of course, the gravitational force of public radio content and content produced by public radio veterans for public radio-style listeners. This is a profound force which has always been different from the typical education of Mr. and Mrs. America.

But these forces alone are not enough to explain such a dramatic skew, particularly when every man, woman, and (it seems) child has a smartphone nowadays.

This was driven home to me recently when I listened to one of my favorite podcasts, Slate’s Political Gabfest, and the three hosts were analyzing Roseanne’s career meltdown following her combustible and show-cancelling tweet. They were talking about the #1 show in television and what they all had in common was that they had never seen it. Not in its original run. Not now. Not ever.

Actually one of them did see one episode, but that was because (as he explained with great shame) his wife, a journalist, was on assignment to write something about it.

That’s right. The only reason he watched Roseanne was because his wife’s job forced him to.

That’s not how you get to be #1 in television, folks.

We could certainly argue that despite there being approximately 1 billion podcasts in circulation at any given moment, “there’s still nothing on.” That is, the top of the podcast charts don’t look like the top of the book charts or TV charts or music charts or movie charts. This is certainly true. But does that mean that all we need are podcasts like Roseanne? Or a podcast from Roseanne?

Maybe. At least it’s a start.

Finally, let’s admit that it’s still a pain in the ass to listen to podcasts. For any but the true aficionado it’s still not easy. And like the Amazon app on my Roku device, it’s incredibly clunky (hmm, I have some movies I own on Amazon that I’d like to group together…um, sorry, no. Just keep paging right, please). Meanwhile, the Apple Podcast app leaves much to be desired. And that’s the leader by which all the followers are judged.

Look, I create content in this category (self promotional plug: The latest chapter in my Inside franchise debuts June 20. Stay tuned!). So I speak as a maker and not only as a consumer.

The audience is “too smart” because the tech is too complicated, the menu is thin on familiar hits and skewed towards genre programming and what used to be called public radio. But it’s also “too smart” because the people in the space – you and me – keep looking at everyone they know who listens to podcasts and conclude “well, that’s everybody!”

No, that’s not everybody. That’s not even most people. Wake up, Podcast people!

We need not only content built for broad audiences, but hit, familiar must-hear content with promotional support across existing big media (like, say, the big new movie opening every weekend gets). We need the music labels and their representatives to spend a few seconds of their precious time to figure out what it should cost to fairly license music to the on-demand audio space for those of us who are begging to use it (This just in: Regular people like listening to their favorite music). And then we need the content to be in the way of the potential listener rather than at the bottom of a kludgy Apple-infused rabbit trail.

When all of that happens, you’ll find larger audiences, more characteristic audiences, and it won’t just be everyone you know who listens to podcasts.

It’ll be everyone you don’t know, too.

Brad Hill