Steve Goldstein: The Ups and Downs of Audio in 2021 – By the Numbers

Steve Goldstein’s Amplifi Media works with media companies and podcasters in developing audio content strategies. Goldstein writes frequently at Blogstein, the Amplifi blog. Steve can be reached directly at 203-221-1400 or sjgoldstein-at-amplifimedia-dot-com.

The audio space has been on a wild ride in 2021. The numbers tell a big story – virtually every data point oscillated for one reason or another during the pandemic. Homes, cars, smart speakers, we’re looking at it all to find out what happened this year and where audio is headed in 2022.


Off 80%

Back in February, the social audio app trend hit a high as Clubhouse was all the rage, with 13.45 million monthly users and an average of 4.09 million daily active users. It had a $4 billion valuation with money from top VCs, including Andreessen-Horowitz. A few weeks ago, daily active users had dropped 80% to 942,000, according to data from Apptopia via Business Insider. Here’s hoping Twitter “Spaces” and Facebook “Live Audio Rooms” do better in the new year. Not likely.  Clubhouse was a disappointing experience, as renowned analyst Benedict Evans says, it’s hard to create compelling content.

Deeper Dive: Business Insider Premium


Radio recovers 99% from first pandemic month

As schools opened and roads became more crowded late this year, the number of weekly AM/FM radio listeners in the U.S. returned to pre-Covid levels. Data on 48 PPM markets released in October 2021 found radio recovered 99% of the March 2020 (the pandemic began mid-month) cume audience in PPM markets. Demos and PUMM levels may still be suffering.
Deeper Dive: Westwood One/Nielsen


12% Streaming

Only 12% of radio listening is done via streaming — meaning that 88% is over the air. After 15 years of streaming and a pandemic which forced people to stay at home, (and a large percent have no traditional radios) this result is disappointing. As more audio users choose digital as their primary source, linear radio may be in a box. We wrote about it here.

Deeper Dive: Edison Research


Pandora Down 5 Million

Pandora is losing listeners at a clip of 5 million per year. It had 70 million listeners in 2018, but according to eMarketer, Pandora is projected to drop to 46 million listeners by 2025.

Deeper Dive: Inside Radio


Spotify Up 78%  

Spotify listeners continued to find and enjoy podcasts in 2021. Audiences spent 78% more time listening to podcasts on the platform this past year.
Deeper Dive: Spotify/Megaphone


121.9 Million Subscribers  

Will people pay for audio? They already do. Lots of them. While subscription podcasting is in its infancy, and the trajectory is unclear, eMarketer projects that paid audio will close the year with 121.9 million subscribers. That’s up 11% over last year. They are not expecting it to grow much more. eMarketer also reports Spotify has the biggest piece of the pie, with Apple, Amazon, and Google also building out their offerings.

Deeper Dive: eMarketer


49% Light Pod Listeners

Light listeners are driving podcast industry growth. Nielsen says nearly half (49%) of U.S. podcast listeners are more casual users – one to three times a month. As podcast listening goes mainstream, it makes sense that those new to the form are often light listeners dabbling, learning, and experimenting.

Deeper Dive: Nielsen


32% Heavy Pod Listeners

The number of podcast listeners considered heavy podcast listeners, consuming 6+ hours weekly, is just under 1/3 of all listeners

Deeper Dive: Cumulus/Signal Hill


5.1 Podcasts Consumed

The average podcast listener consumes 5.1 different podcast shows each week and a total of 8 podcast episodes. We wrote about the difficulty of cracking into that shelf space here.

Deeper Dive: Edison Research/Tom Webster


9,728 New Pods in November

The number of podcast shows launched in November is the lowest of this year. 9,728 new shows launched last month, down from 16,000 in October, according to Listen Notes. By contrast, one year ago, 87,448 new shows were launched in November. We’re keeping an eye on this decline.

Deeper Dive: RAIN News


10% Pods Publishing Recently? 

How many podcast are active? This depends on where you look.  Way number one: Podcast Index tracks 4,467,000 podcasts and reports that 10% have produced an episode in the past 90 days.

Deeper Dive: Podcast Index


22% Pods Published Recently?

Way number two: Of the 2.4 million podcasts listed on Podcast Industry Insights tracking of Apple Podcasts, 22% have produced a podcast in the last 90 days. Inverting the number, 78% have not produced during that window. Of course, many shows are limited series, and many faded quickly. Over one million of the 2.4 million have not produced content in over a year (1,075,977).

Deeper Dive: Podcast Industry Insights


40% Have Smart Speakers 

According to CivicScience, just under 40% of U.S. adults own at least one smart speaker – like an Amazon Echo Dot or Google Home Mini. That number appears to be plateauing. For the radio business, voice technology remains an opportunity to regain traction in the home. For podcasters, it’s another tool to reduce friction for content playback. That said, discovery remains a challenge.

Deeper Dive: Civic Science

Where will next year take us? We will be on the front lines as audio evolves.


Steve Goldstein