The Most Popular Genres in Podcasting Today

What are listeners loving — and can it work for your brand?

It’s pretty clear that podcasts today have listeners absolutely captivated — but in case you’re not caught up, let’s check out the hard facts…

As of this year, an estimated 26 percent of folks in the US (age 12 and up) are listening to podcasts at least once a week.

What’s more, nearly 20 percent of those listeners are catching 11 or more episodes within that time frame.

That’s a lot of content, clearly, but why not crunch some numbers to really get a handle on it?

Depending on the source you check, the average episode is estimated to be somewhere in the ballpark of 35 minutes, but hour-long episodes are also very common.

That means we’re looking at anywhere from half an hour, to over 11 hours of listening time each week for folks ranging from regular consumers to die-hard fans.

Bearing these stats in mind, one particular question pops up; what exactly has these listeners so captivated?

If you’re considering corporate podcast production — and whether your team should grab a slice of that audience pie — you probably want to know what works.

So, to get a better sense of what’s driving this explosive consumption, let’s take a closer look at the most popular genres in podcasting today.

#1 Comedy

Comedy is king, according to the latest research — which might not be much of a revelation given how things have been going lately.

One study conducted by Statista found that a whopping 22 percent of survey respondents in the US said that comedy was their favorite genre.

Research from Nielsen supports these findings, listing comedy as the most consumed category overall.

Bearing this in mind, it’s clear that the top performers in comedy are well positioned for massive success.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at the shows currently holding this competitive chart’s most coveted spots.

Here are the top five podcasts in comedy today…

#1: Morbid: A True Crime Podcast

  • 382 episodes

  • Nearly 3.7k reviews

  • 4.6 stars

#2: SmartLess with Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, and Will Arnett

  • 102 episodes

  • Nearly 5.7k reviews

  • 4.7 stars

#3: Fly on the Wall with Dana Carvey and David Spade

  • 21 episodes

  • Nearly 500 reviews

  • 4.8 stars

#4: Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! by NPR

  • 20 episodes

  • Around 700 reviews

  • 4.5 stars

#5: Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend

  • 263 episodes

  • Nearly 5.5k reviews

  • 4.8 stars

Clearly, this category packs a mean celebrity punch — featuring hosts like Will Arnett, David Spade, and Conan O’Brien — but that’s not the only thing that makes these shows a success.

In next week’s post, we’ll take a closer look at a top-performing comedy show, and explore what it takes to succeed in this fan-favorite space.

But before we move on, there is one thing you should absolutely be aware of…

While the branded podcast has been a huge hit for big names like Lush, RBC, and American Express, very few brands have effectively leveraged the comedy niche.

In other words, this could be your time to release a successful series, grab your ideal audience, and get several steps ahead of the competition.


#2 News

Hot on the heels of comedy is news, the preferred genre of 21 percent of podcast listeners.

Here are the top five shows in this space…

#1: The Daily by The New York Times

  • 1531 episodes

  • Over 8k reviews

  • 4.5 stars

#2: The Ben Shapiro Show by The Daily Wire

  • 368 episodes

  • Around 5k reviews

  • 4.4 stars

#3: Up First by NPR

  • Brand new, with only 9 episodes

  • Around 1k reviews

  • 4.6 stars

#4: Serial

  • 55 episodes

  • Nearly 6.5k reviews

  • 4.6 stars

#5: Real Time with Bill Maher by HBO Podcasts

  • 100 episodes

  • Over 1.9k reviews

  • 4.2 stars

While this is a category generally dominated by names like NPR, and The New York Times, it isn’t reserved exclusively for general news podcasts.

There is plenty of room for niche content on the news charts, where you can also find shows covering cryptocurrency, healthcare, and even the work of CIA members.

So, what does this mean for your brand? 

Well, depending on the nature of your work, you may be poised for success with a current events show — but you will probably have to niche down (unless you are one of the aforementioned media giants).

This is really an area where you can use your imagination.

We’ve seen brands dip their toes into everything from wellness, to the environment, to personal finance, all within the news space.

To give you a better sense of the must-haves for a successful news show, we’ll take a closer look at one top performer in next week’s post.

#3 Society & Culture

While true crime held its own here for quite some time, this fan-favorite category was officially edged out this year — as society and culture slid into third place.

This popular genre features a wide array of podcasts, with shows touching on everything from self help, to the supernatural, to the late Bourdain’s travel adventures.

Here are the top five shows in this up-and-coming category…

#1: Stuff You Should Know

  • 1922 episodes

  • Nearly 8k reviews

  • 4.6 stars

#2: Will Be Wild

  • 8 episodes

  • 54 reviews

  • 4.6 stars

#3: This American Life

  • Over 700 episodes

  • Nearly 6k reviews

  • 4.6 stars

#4: We Can Do Hard Things with Glennon Doyle

  • 99 episodes

  • 2.3k reviews

  • 49 stars

#5: The Ezra Klein Show

  • 131 episodes

  • Nearly 400 reviews

  • 4.7 stars

While there are a lot of shows in society and culture backed by media giants, there aren’t many other branded podcasts on this list.

This is probably great news for your team if you’ve set your sights on this chart; however, there is one thing you should bear in mind…

Because shows can chart in multiple genres, and society and culture is a truly massive umbrella, this is a seriously competitive space.

Ideally, your podcast should have the potential to land on this chart, but should land even higher on one more specific to your own show.

In next week’s post, we take a closer look at some of the podcasts rocking society and culture — and see what it takes to succeed on this popular chart.

Other hot contenders

Following these three categories are two massively popular genres, true crime and sports, in the fourth and fifth spots overall.

Both charts are peppered with branded and conventional shows, and either could be a fit for your corporate podcast production, depending on the nature of your work.

Obviously, true crime is a bit more prohibitive, and will only apply for brands in a very specific niche, but sports is an open door for a wide array of companies.

Whether you’re in physiotherapy, wellness apps, supplement sales, athletic equipment, or activewear, you’re poised to make a series that could change the game for this chart.

Finding your niche

Ultimately, if you choose to release your own branded podcast, you should absolutely expect to be charting — especially if you’re working with professional producers.

That said, your audio niche should not be based exclusively on the chart you hope to land on…

What’s really important here is that you are targeting the audience that will align with your mission, purpose, and values.

These are the folks that will form a meaningful connection with your brand, and stick with you for the long haul.

To learn more about audience growth, and what you can expect from it, check out these posts…