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9 Podcasting Trends to Follow in 2021

Here are 9 podcasting trends that are shaping the industry this year and beyond.

As of October 2020, there were 34 million podcast episodes. And over 1,500,000 active shows.

While roughly 75% of the U.S. population is now familiar with podcasting. 

But the industry is still growing. And changing.

Read on to find out how.

1. Podcast Advertising Picks Up Steam

Podcast ad revenue is expected to grow to $1.13 billion in 2021.

A survey by Nielsen found that of 7000 US consumers, 78% don't mind ads or sponsorship messages in podcasts.

podcast advertising chart.pngSearches for "podcast advertising" are climbing each year.

About 62% of listeners consider new products and services from hearing about them through podcast advertising. And 80% listen to most of a podcast episode without skipping ads. 

At the same time, there's also been increasing demand for transparency in podcast ads. Companies are now utilizing tactics like adding tracking URLs to ads, identifying users through IP addresses, and tapping into analytics within platforms that track user behavior. Tactics that many listeners aren't aware of.

And a recent update to the Overcast podcast app allows listeners to view services that podcasts are using to track and advertise to them.

2. Increased Competition Between Podcast Apps

Apple Podcasts is the top podcasting app, claiming 42.72% of podcast app users.

However, competition has been heating up. According to a Westwood One National Study, the average podcast listener in the U.S. uses close to three platforms. And heavy listeners (6+ hours/week) use four services to consume podcast content.

Services like Google Podcasts, Podchaser, TuneIn, iHeartRadio, Pandora and Anchor are all fighting for a piece of the industry.

But Spotify may be the single biggest emerging threat to Apple Podcast's dominance.

Over 16% of Spotify's 299 million listeners now listen to podcasts on the service.

undefinedGoogle searches for "Spotify podcasts" have skyrocketed.

(And a recent report by MIDiA Research, estimates that Spotify is actually overtaking Apple as the most popular podcasting platform)

One way Spotify is attracting users is through exclusive content. So far, the company has invested $500 million in original podcasts. That includes Gimlet Media, the podcast publisher that Spotify bought for a reported $230 million—the largest deal ever in the podcasting industry.

Spotify isn't the only company investing in exclusive podcasts.

For example, Stitcher includes access to exclusive content in their Stitcher Premium service.

While Luminary offers exclusives featuring Trevor Noah, Russell Brand and others. (The startup launched last year with $100M in funding.)

undefinedSearch interest in "Luminary" over time.

Overcast, another popular podcast player, focuses more on advanced features rather than exclusive content. For example, its "Smart Speed" feature increases listening speed by eliminating silence during pauses. 

For its part, Apple isn't resting on its laurels.

Earlier this year, the company acquired podcast creation startup Scout FM. And the tech giant is also beginning to invest in original podcasts.

Amazon is a dark horse in the podcast platform battle royale. Amazon recently acquired podcast startup Wondery (the sale is estimated to be worth between $300-$400 million). Which should instantly make them a player in the podcast market.

3. Podcast Ads Are Getting Easier to Produce and Place

The growth in podcast ads are largely driven by increased podcast consumption worldwide.

That said, the podcast advertising is also on the rise due to the fact that the barrier to entry has fallen.

For example,  Spotify Advertising lets advertisers create voice ads out of text scripts for free. And then place those ads on Spotify.

In the past, running a single podcast ad was somewhat labor-intensive. An advertiser had to find relevant podcasts. Reach out to the host or manager. And negotiate a deal.

A fair amount of podcast advertising is still run that way. However, we're seeing significant growth in podcast ad marketplaces, like Gumball, Midroll, Podcorn and AdvertiseCast.

Shot of Gumball's homepage.

These marketplaces are designed to make it easier to find podcast sponsorship opportunities (similar to what's currently happening with the influencer marketing space).

4. Podcasters Find New Ways to Monetize

Podcasters are increasingly the hunt for new ways of monetizing beyond traditional ads.

For example, Luminary (which we mentioned earlier), has a Netflix model. Instead of a free platform, Luminary charges users $4.99/month to access content. And they pay podcast hosts directly to create content for their platform.

List of original podcasts on Luminary.

Podcorn is another example of this podcasting trend.

Search growth of "Podcorn" over the last 5 years.

Podcorn is a marketplace for branded content podcast sponsorships.

Instead of a CPM approach, sponsor fees are based on podcast niche, topic expertise, and length of brand integration. It also supports interview segments, roundtables, reviews, and giveaways.

The idea is that this new model allows smaller and new podcasts to earn money. And, unlike ads, the sponsorship is more integrated into each episode.

5. Live Podcasting Continues to Grow

The podcasting community has seen an increase in hosts that want to do live recordings. Both to boost audience engagement. And to create a new revenue source.

(Platforms like Podbean charge an admissions entry after a certain limit of listeners while other events charge an average of $63 per ticket).

These live episodes can be in the form of interviews and Q&A sessions, contests, phone-in debates, and live coverage of events. Podcasting live events have grown over 2000% in the past six years.

Popular live broadcasting options include Youtube Live, Facebook Live, Twitch, Castbox Livecast, and Zoom.

These are combined with dedicated streaming tools like StreamYard and Ecamm Live.

Searches for "StreamYard" since 2016.

6. Podcasters Tap Into New Growth Strategies

Podcast listening is on the rise. But so is the level of competition. There are currently 1.5M podcasts (compared to only 550k in 2018).

Which is why podcasters are increasingly on the lookout for new ways to get their shows in front of new listeners.

Cross-promotion is one new strategy that more and more podcasters are tapping into.

According to data from Mozilla, cross-promotion is one of the most effective ways of increasing listenership.

Another example of this trend are podcast swaps. Podcast swaps are when two hosts take turns interviewing each other. Then, each host simultaneously delivers the episode to their audiences.

Podcast swaps help new listeners discover shows in their niche they may not have discovered on their own.

This cross-pollination tactic has resulted in notable boosts in downloads and new subscribers. For example, Darknet Diaries series saw an extra 100,000 downloads the month it participated in two episode swaps. 

We're also seeing podcasters distribute their podcast content on social media using tools like Wavve.

Podcast distribution tool Wavve has increased in popularity over the last 2 years.

Specifically, they're pulling out audio or video clips from each episode. And sharing those clips on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.

For example, podcaster Tim Ferriss creates dozens of audio clips from each long-form podcast episode. And uses those clips to get in front of potential listeners.

Example of a podcast clip being shared on Twitter.

7. Podcast Listeners Crave Learning

Research shows that podcast audiences are young, educated, and affluent: three demographic features that many advertisers crave.

The largest and fastest growing age group of listeners is between 12-34 years old. And 61% of regular listeners in the US have a 4-year college degree, postgraduate degree, or advanced degree. In general, podcast listeners in the US are 20% more likely to have attended college compared to the general population.

Knowing that, it should come as no surprise that many podcast listeners want to use podcasts as a way to learn, stay informed, and gain inspiration.

For example, Andreessen Horowitz funded startup Knowable is essentially "MasterClass for audio". And they currently have a library of courses focused on learning new skills, including public speaking, marketing and finance.

Knowable's homepage.

In fact, there was a significant growth of educational podcast listening at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Educational podcasts are a fast-growing genre that includes shows like TED Radio Hour, Freakonomics, and Radiolab. Shows in this genre tend to be framed by academic research, which 40% of listeners crave.

8. Listeners Use Podcast Content In New Ways

Research by Reuters found that people generally listen to podcasts for entertainment and learning. However, we're seeing audio content being used in completely new ways. Which is creating entirely new podcast categories.

For example, listeners are increasingly turning to podcast to help boost their mood. In fact, Deezer study concluded that 38% of US respondents listen to podcasts to improve their mood.

They also report that demand for relationship podcasts are up 145% compared to last year: another new use-case for the medium.

9. Creators Tap Into Professional Podcasting Tools

Like any mature industry, podcasting is developing a set of tools specific to the medium.

For example, searches for the term “podcast microphone” have increased by 120% over the last two years.
Searches for “podcast microphone” over the last 5 years.
Dozens of podcast microphones, like Shure, Neat King Bee and the Rode Procaster, are now competing to meet surging demand.
We’re also seeing a number of podcast-first audio editing software products enter the market.
A leader in that space is Descript, which combines transcription and audio editing into a single platform.
Descript's search growth over two-year span.
Descript’s “Overdub” feature allows podcasters to edit their episode using the text-based transcription. Then, the tool translates those changes into audio using an AI-powered tool that simulates the speaker’s actual voice.
Podcast hosting is another growing subcategory in this space.
Emerging podcast hosting brands include Buzzsprout, and Podbean.


Search growth for Buzzsprout over the last 5 years.
While specialized podcast products are cropping up left and right, there are also a growing number of “all in one” solutions for pro podcasters. These combine podcast hosting, editing, transcription and show note pages. One of the fastest-growing companies in this space is
Other growing subcategories in the podcast-specific products and services space include podcast SEO and podcast cameras.


I hope you enjoyed our list of the 9 key podcast trends for 2021.

From tools to new platforms, the podcasting space is ever-changing.

If you'd like to see more trends in the media space, check out our list of important streaming trends

Last Updated: 
January 4, 2021
Josh Howarth
Co-founder of Exploding Topics.

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