A Gen Z perspective on podcasting
Did you know that nearly 50% of Gen Z use Spotify for podcasts? The younger you are, the more likely you'll be listening there: 24% of Millennials use Spotify, but only 17% of Gen X (who prefer Apple Podcasts).
This could have big ramifications for the open podcast ecosystem: Spotify is increasingly favoring exclusive podcasts (instead of making them available on all platforms).
In this post, I'll be exploring stats on Gen Z podcast usage, what's attracting my generation to podcasts, and what it might mean for the future of podcasting.
The Gen Z podcast statistics
While researching this article, I found much of the analysis to be overly friendly towards Apple. Why? Reporters in the podcasting space tend to be Gen X and Millennials, who (according to our survey) prefer Apple Podcasts; this means that there is very little information concerning Gen Z and their podcasting habits.
The Morning Consult surveyed 1,000 Gen Zers between the ages of 13 - 23. They discovered that Gen Z prefers Spotify for podcast listening. Spotify's status intrigued me because, until that point, I was under the impression that Apple Podcasts was more popular.
I decided to conduct my own survey and found over one hundred Gen Z podcast listeners between the ages of 14 and 24. Despite our small survey set, it shares striking similarities to the results that the Morning Consult found.
The above chart shows the podcast consumption differences between Gen X (blue), Millennials (pink), and Gen Z (yellow). As you can see, Gen Z's podcast listening is concentrated on Spotify, while Gen X prefers Apple Podcasts.
How does Gen Z listen to podcasts?
According to my survey, the three most popular podcast apps for Gen Z are:
Apple Podcasts: 16%
What’s motivating Gen Zers to check out podcasting?
During the pandemic, many Gen Zers turned to podcasts (for the first time) to keep track of current events and news.
Other Gen Zers began listening to podcasts after being introduced to podcast clips on Youtube, TikTok, Instagram, and other social channels.
For myself, I was much more inclined to try a podcast when I recognized the host from somewhere else (YouTube, Instagram, etc.). For example, I’d seen Emma Chamberlain’s YouTube videos before, but I got a better idea of her character and essence on her podcast. That was enough to get me to listen once but not continue listening.
Paradoxically, I seemed to prefer podcasts hosted by Millennials, like Dear Hank and John. I was initially motivated to listen because I recognized them (I’d read John Green's books and seen Hank’s science videos). I was charmed by their playful banter, but what kept me listening was their meaningful insights into life. John and Hank provide an appealing combination of scientific and creative insights.
Gen Zers are becoming independent from their parents, developing their values and beliefs, and attempting to find one’s identity. With John and Hank Green, I was eager to get wisdom from people who had already gone through the struggles of being a young adult.
Gen Z is on on the cusp of adulthood and facing an uncertain future.– Pew Research Center
As a listener, Millennial hosts seem to have a more solidified sense of self. I wanted to hear from someone who had overcome the struggles of being a young adult.
Survey results: why Gen Zers listen to podcasts
Here are some of the reasons Gen Z survey respondents gave when asked "Why do you listen to podcasts?"
"I listen to podcasts when cleaning my room because they are entertaining."
"I have Spotify premium and music gets boring and repetitive so it’s nice listening to people talk and learning some cool things through it, also the Chuckle Sandwich podcast is really funny!"
"Unlike TV, I don't have to focus on a visual part too! I love to listen to podcasts when cleaning or just for fun because I only have to listen. I also think that they're a very interesting medium and I love to see what people do with their podcast (especially with fictional podcasts)!"
"Because I get sick of music."
"I like to hear other people’s thoughts on things."
"To gain new perspectives, to learn new things, and to hear interesting stories."
"I like learning while driving or walking around. It's like reading when I can't sit down to read. Audiobooks are not as good."
"I originally listened to podcasts to help me sleep, but now I do it also because it's teaching me a lot."
"To learn new things or stay up to date on what is going on in the world, as well as pass time on long drives."
"Started as a great way to kill time during long commutes to school and became a great way to absorb knowledge."
"I like to listen to people's points of view; podcasts make me ask myself questions and reframe my own point of views of some topics."
How Spotify captured Gen Z
Spotify was launched in 2008 by Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon. At the time, the only way to listen to music was to buy it, pirate it, or listen to the radio.
To make streaming attractive to young people, Spotify began by offering a freemium plan that featured ads. These free listening trials lasted months and quickly gained popularity. In 2012, the generous free trials came to an end, in hopes of pushing more people to start paying for the service. While Spotify was charging $9.99 for a monthly premium subscription, Apple charged up to $1.29 per song.
It took Apple twelve years to provide a similar service. Not only is Spotify the first music streaming service to take off, but it also has an excellent algorithm for recommending new content to its listeners.
That initial freemium offering is what captured most of Gen Z. Instead of listening on YouTube, they switched to Spotify.
What does this mean for the future of podcasting?
Gen Zers are just getting into podcasts now. As more of them start commuting to college and work, their podcast consumption could increase. And currently, they're growing their listening habit inside of Spotify. So what does this mean for the future of podcasting?
Up until now, podcasting has thrived as an open ecosystem powered by RSS. But, the upcoming wave of Gen Zers, listening on Spotify, could change all that. Currently, most Gen Zers don’t know about RSS, and probably don’t care!
We are already beginning to see Spotify edging its way towards a closed system by offering exclusive shows to its platform, such as The Joe Rogan Experience.
An article by Insider reveals:
Spotify's move into podcasting is about volume and exclusivity... Lure millions of listeners with podcasts they can find only on Spotify and, in turn, sell advertising against that audience.
In the long run, this direction could have detrimental effects on both the creators and listeners using Spotify.
Independent creators risk losing ownership and control over their content and could become overly reliant on one platform (Spotify) over the more diverse field we have today. Listeners will lose the privilege of having all their favorite podcasts accessible on the same platform and may be subjected to paying additional fees. Unless something changes, Spotify will likely control most audio entertainment for Gen Z.
Protecting podcast's open ecosystem
In the short term, one thing to keep in mind: Gen Zers are using iPhones (with Apple Podcasts pre-installed) and Android devices (with Google Podcasts pre-installed). Part of where and how they listen is determined by which link they get.
For example, if my dad sends me an Apple Podcasts link in iMessage, that's where I listen. If I see a Spotify link on social media, I'll likely listen to it there.
Having a vibrant podcast ecosystem in the future will mean attracting more Gen Zers, and showing them the benefits of using other podcast players (Overcast, Apple Podcasts, Pocket Casts).
Here are three ideas for influencing Gen Z podcast listeners:
Podcast apps could run campaigns targeting younger listeners, where they share the links to shows that Gen Z folks might be interested in.
Millennial and Gen X podcast creators can also influence younger listeners because they have life experience and wisdom appealing to a Gen Z audience.
Influencers can attract younger listeners by growing their social channels on Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram, Reddit, Discord, etc... When promoting podcasts to Gen Z, focus on topics they’re interested in: comedy is a natural fit and focuses on life advice, viewpoints, and wisdom—financial literacy, career advice, getting through university.