Podcast episodes got shorter in 2019

Dan Misener is Head of Strategy and Audience Development at Pacific Content. This guest column was originally posted on the Pacific Content blog (on Medium)

Last year, I tried to figure out the average length of a podcast episode. To do that, I analyzed metadata from 10 million podcast episodes.

This year, I decided to do it again, with a sample size nearly twice as large.

I grabbed metadata for ~19 million episodes (representing more than 600k distinct podcasts), and started to crunch the numbers.

The most striking thing I found? Episodes are getting shorter.

Overall average length

Based on a sample of 18,809,402 episodes published between June 2005 and November 2019 (representing 637,793 distinct podcast series), the mean average episode length was 41 minutes and 31 seconds. That’s almost two minutes shorter than the overall mean average length I calculated last year.

Of course, mean averages are sensitive to outliers like this 11-hour episode. So I also calculated the overall median episode length, which is 36 minutes and 34 seconds. That’s more than two minutes shorter than the overall median average I calculated in 2018.

It definitely seems like podcast episodes are getting shorter.

Let’s take a closer look at the trendline.

Average length over time

In order to understand average episode length over time, I took my list of episodes, grouped them into buckets by release date, then calculated monthly average episode length:

Look at the trendline on the right hand side of the graph.

Definitely a clear trend towards shorter episodes.

As for the sudden spikes in 2009, late 2013, and mid–2016 (which we also saw last year): most of these seem related to large volumes of episodes dropped en masse from single publishers, skewing the monthly average.

Average length by category

In 2019, Apple updated their podcast categories, adding new options like True Crime, Fiction, and History, while removing others.

Last year, under Apple’s previous category scheme, I found that gaming and music-related categories tended to have the longest episodes, while business and education-focused categories have the shortest episodes.

Under the 2019 recategorization, we see how the new categories stack up, length-wise:

Once again, gaming-related categories are near the top of the list, with the new category Wrestling joining at the #2 spot.
Business, Education and kid-focused categories tend to have the shortest episodes, on average.

Our approach at Pacific Content

As I wrote last year,

There’s no one-size-fits-all recommendation for episode length.
At Pacific Content, most of the episodes we produce are in the 25–30 minute range. There are many reasons for this, including average commute times in the US.
Remember, podcasts are a medium built on loyalty and habit. The best shows earn their place in a listener’s daily/weekly/monthly routine.
As a podcaster, your goal should be to make episodes that are long enough to fit into your listeners’ lives in a regular, ongoing, meaningful way… and no longer.

Still true.

Dan Misener