Should I adjust my podcast publishing schedule because of commute times?

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)

Over the past few weeks, I’ve read a lot of analysis and speculation about COVID-19’s impact on podcast consumption, specifically around time of day.

For example, Megaphone’s Brendan Monaghan observed that listeners had moved towards “a more constant consumption pattern” as commute times decreased:

Megaphone has a great vantage point for this. Their platform powers thousands of podcasts, including several popular daily news shows like Today, Explained, The Journal, and The Ben Shapiro Show. It makes sense that these shows’ download patterns are sensitive to changes in commutes.

But what if you’re not a daily news show?

What if you publish a weekly, fortnightly, or monthly show?

What if your podcast isn’t specifically hooked to a time of day, day of the week, or topical news cycle?

Most of the shows we help make at Pacific Content are evergreen, released fortnightly, and not specifically designed with a time of day in mind.

Little or no change to download patterns

To better understand this, I decided to take a close look at download patterns for Trailblazers with Walter Isaacson.

Trailblazers publishes new episodes fortnightly. Most episodes are published very early Wednesday morning, just after midnight Pacific time. That way, episodes are available in podcast apps for morning and evening commutes on both the east and west coast of North America.

To visualize download patterns for a fortnightly show, I used the Simplecast API to pull download data for Trailblazers, and then I generated download heatmaps for the weeks we dropped new episodes.

Here’s what the download patterns looked like in January and February 2020, prior to widespread work-from-home measures in North America:

Download heatmaps for Trailblazers with Walter Isaacson, January and February 2020

Unsurprisingly, we see the highest download numbers early on Wednesday morning, just after publish time. This is likely because many podcast apps automatically download new episodes as they become available.

With a baseline to work with, I then looked at the weeks in March 2020 when Trailblazers with Walter Isaacson released new episodes.

The patterns looked very familiar. In fact, they look almost identical to the numbers from January and February 2020:

Download heatmaps for Trailblazers with Walter Isaacson, March 2020

Next, I created heatmaps for all the shows we help make at Pacific Content, and found the same thing across all of them: COVID-19-related changes in commute times haven’t had a significant impact on download patterns for our clients’ shows.

What does this data tell us?

Unfortunately, podcast download patterns don’t always tell us much about how or when episodes are actually consumed. They simply measure when an episode was downloaded. And of course, many podcast apps automatically download new episodes as soon as they become available. This is why so many downloads of Trailblazers with Walter Isaacson happen in the middle of the night.

Podcasters can get data about actual listening behavior from Apple’s Podcasts Connect, Spotify for Podcasters, and Stitcher’s Partner Portal. However, none of these services offer hourly breakdowns, so we can’t easily measure changes in the time of day an episode was actually played or heard.

Should I adjust my podcast publishing schedule?

It depends.

If your podcast is daily, highly-topical, or designed to be consumed at a specific time of day, then you might want to consider adjusting your publishing schedule.

But if your podcast isn’t tied to the news of the day, or designed to be listened to during a typical commute-time (like many of the shows we make at Pacific Content), you probably don’t need to tweak your release dates or times.

Dan Misener