Whistle Report: Decoding the Relationship That Youth Have With Podcasts

One of my favourite trends as I assess the industry and help our clients understand how they can be successful with marketing with podcasts is the abundance of insightful research spewing from podcasting and research companies. So it was with glee that I saw the new Team Whistle “Ear to the Ground” report on the active state of podcast listening of Gen Z & Millennials. This past September they interviewed a nationally representative sample of 460 – 13-34 year olds about podcasting.

We’ve known for some time from Edison Research that these generations have led podcast listenership, usurping Gen X in 2018. Boomers have lagged for some time, though notice the jump in Boomer listening in 2020 in the chart below. My expectation is that with the rabid news cycle of 2020 Boomers will catch up and flatten the differences in generational audience participation.

But Whistle is not talking about audience size, they chose to decode the relationship that youth have to podcasts.

TLDR Key Takeaway for Marketers

The immediate takeaway is that “Podcast listening is an active, engaged and leaned-in experience. And, because this generation is actively listening, they are attuned and ready to receive brand messaging”.

Here’s what Whistle found:

  1. Listeners tend to be affluent, male sports fans

  2. Podcasts are replacing TV as a way to enhance other activities

  3. People prefer to learn from podcasts over books

  4. Hosts need to be funny and relatable

  5. GenZ prefers shorter duration, unscripted, and off-the-cuff formats

We know that podcasting’s killer feature is multi-tasking. And again here, youth report that 74% of 13-34 year olds agree that “putting on a podcast while doing other things keeps me entertained”. This includes podcasts replacing TV while commuting, working, doing housework, or studying. And when it comes time to wind-down, podcast usage winds down too. We’ve seen this in another recent study which I profiled in my recent post: “Concentration: A Podcasting State of Mind”.


We’ve also known for some time that podcasts are sought out as educational tools, with 75% of listeners having a goal of learning something new. But the new piece of intel is that youth prefer podcasts over books 2:1 when they feel like learning something. I don’t believe they are lazy, I just think it has more to do with generations growing up with the remarkable production quality of modern content over text.

Knowledge is now remarkably beautiful.

Download the Ultimate Guide to Podcast Audience Growth 

We also know that audio is intimately personal. It turns out that 83% of GenZ/Millennials say their favourite podcasters feel like their friends. Accordingly 4 out of 5 youth report hanging out with 5 or fewer ‘pod friends’ in the last month.

And the key to these pod-friendships is staying unscripted/off-the-cuff. Though millennials appear to be slightly less casual about this.

And if they are going to hang out, the hosts need to be funny, relatable and energetic with smart as a nice-to-have.

There is also a preference for shorter podcast episodes, which should be no surprise, though I am shocked that the average length still seems to be 71 – 94 minutes for Gen Z and Millennials respectively. My gut would have said 20 minutes, but perhaps these lengths match the multi-tasking that they are doing, over our preconceptions about their narrowing attention spans.

And finally some additional reassurance for brands – that 77% have considered making a purchase because of an ad that they heard on a podcast, and almost two-thirds prefer to have ads in podcasts versus paying for a subscription. Proving once again that podcasts are a useful channel for brands to reach engaged audiences, as advertising is accepted as part of the listening experience.

A big thanks goes out to Team Whistle for the effort involved in sharing these insights into the relationship between youth and podcasting.

Paul Stewart is Director of Outreach at JAR Audio

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