Concentration: The ‘Podcasting State of Mind’

TLDR: Podcasts serve needed human states. And podcast listening is literally a different, more concentrated state of mind. Podcasting uniquely serves humans looking to be entertained and to learn something new. Podcasting provides an attentive lean-in audience to brands. Other media is there to inform, to help us unwind, or to connect with other humans.

I speak with brands about podcasting everyday. Though over 40% of people in the US and Canada listen to podcasts each month, I’m still asked regularly by marketers what makes them so popular. To help answer this question, my colleague Roger and I literally talk for an hour in our bi-weekly webinars about the top-10 reasons why podcasts are so renowned these days. In this vein I thought I’d dive in for a minute here to mention yet another reason derived from new data coming out shortly from Signal Hill Insights. In mid-November watch for their report: The Canadian Podcast Listener (CPL) 2020. As a precursor Signal Hill released their “Sneak Peek 2020” insights the other day. Here they make the key point that podcasts are uniquely suited to the needed human states that they serve.

Okay things just got dense really quick.

If I were a teacher I’d repeat that lesson differently for effect: podcasting is unique because it serves a different human state. 

And then I’d explain that Podcasting is literally a different state of mind.

We all know from our own personal experience that podcasting is a deeply engaging medium. To validate the data behind this feeling last month Signal Hill surveyed 3,033 Canadians aged 18+ to find out why.

What they found is that podcast listening ranks in the top tier of media activities for holding attention. Roger and I already talk about that all the time, but Signal Hill goes further by comparing the concentration levels of different media. They show us that podcast listeners concentrate more closely when they listen to podcasts than do those who are watching short videos [on Youtube for example], checking social media [on Facebook], or listening to music [on Spotify]. Concentration levels for podcasting are in the same range as watching shows/episodes [on Netflix] or shorter info-driven hits such as checking news or weather [on your phone].

Let’s pause for a sec so we don’t lose that thought. Podcasting requires a high concentration level. 

Signal Hill also learned that Podcasts serve distinct needs from other entertainment-oriented media activities. Specifically that most listeners said they listen to “learn something new” as well as “to be entertained”. Music listeners or TV or video viewers are more likely to check in to their media to “unwind” or simply “pass the time”.


As I read this last night I thought, okay, let’s test this for a minute by thinking about how and when I binge the podcasts that I do. I encourage you to do the same by thinking about your daily media diet.

During early morning I mentally onramp with NYT The Daily even if it’s just a 10-15 minute bite. I follow this with three hours of morning ‘deep work’. Inside this three hour session I grab very tight breaks when I get my coffee or stand to stretch etc. NPR News Now, or CBC’s The World This Hour is easily and quickly made possible hands-free with my friend Siri and my Airpods.

At lunch I’ve been known to stand at the kitchen counter while I assemble soups or sandwiches and DJ’ing between Kara Swisher, Ezra Klein, RBC Disruptors or BBC’s Global News Podcast. Or I might jump from my Apple Podcasts app over to Overcast where I’ve got my trusty B roll with the likes of: Pod Save America, TechCrunch’s The Daily Crunch, but not necessarily. The Economist possibly, maybe VUX World, or Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend. Actually as I scroll now I see I have maybe another 50 podcasts: Vergecast, Masters of Scale, my love/hate with Prof G Show, The Moment, and 99% Invisible that I binge in short spurts. I could easily go on.

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My lunch hour actually reminds me of when I used to walk pre-kids to the Central Library in Vancouver and literally just wander the floors and aisles and dive deep into randomly learning something new. It wasn’t necessarily to be entertained nor to unwind, but I felt remarkable when I walked out of there. And I miss it, but I wouldn’t do that today even if I had a free Dad-day. I’d prefer to cycle over to Jericho Beach near UBC and listen to podcasts on the way, cycling and listening hands-free, slowing down just long enough for Siri to hear me fluently over the wind noise.

And that’s exactly how I feel standing there in my kitchen staring out the kitchen sink window at lunch listening to Teamistry or Pivot. I might take another 20 minutes after my sandwich to watch a PVR’d Stephen Colbert guest to be entertained and unwind. It’s different and just as good as podcasts but for completely different reasons.

After lunch I’ll have another three solid hours of deep work where I’ll only listen to an odd 5-minute NPR News Now or CBC News The World This Hour updates or choosing Pure Ambient instrumentals on Apple Music for deep-work focus. Or silence.

Dinner and early evening is family time, and when the kids are down I’m either doing deep-play or purely unwinding and watching shows or episodes or short videos. But this is an entirely different kind of entertainment. It is more passive and relaxing, whereas my daytime podcast journeys feel like ‘involved entertainment’. A thinking quotient is not just required, it is the state that we crave. Signal Hill calls this in their report ‘The Lean-In Nature of Podcasting’.

They suggest we lean into podcasting and longer shows, while leaning out on music and short shows. 

Notice also above their thoughts on inspiration. Podcasting is seemingly the most inspiring media followed by music and short videos then longer shows. It feels natural to me that humans speaking intimately would be so inspiring. The clear conclusion here is that woke brands who want to meet this state of mind should tell entertaining stories that inspire by teaching something. 

In discussing social media, an experience that I personally have almost completely leaned out of in the last number of years, we go there to feel connected or to pass time. Social is entertainment to connect, not entertainment to learn. 

And lastly from a textual news perspective, Podcasts serve a richer set of needs. Reportedly checking the news is a one-dimensional pursuit to get information, vs. podcasting which is entertainment as information and learning new things. This squares with my daily media experience.

In conclusion, the key In conclusion, the key Signal Hills takeaways from this report sneak-peek are worth thinking about:

  • Podcasting provides an attentive lean-in audience to brands and;

  • Podcasting uniquely serves humans looking to be entertained and to learn something new. Other media is there to inform, unwind or to connect with other humans. 

If you are a brand then we want to talk with you about telling the story that your audience needs that only you can tell. Reach out anytime, perhaps send me your daily media diet, I’d Iove to hear about it.

Paul Stewart is JAR Audio’s Director of Outreach.