By Richie Burke Contributor Published Feb 22, 2021 at 10:01 AM

The pandemic accelerated the inevitable in many industries in 2020 – some for better, some for worse. What you are about to read (or listen to) will go over the accelerated growth that podcasting saw in 2020 and what this means for your business, whether you are an individual brand or a Fortune 500 company. 

2020 growth by the numbers 

While podcasting saw a “hockey stick growth” bump as far as the number of active podcasts that are in the directories, other numbers reflected the projected growth that podcasting has seen the last several years.


According to Apple Podcasts, there were over 1.75 million podcasts and 43 million episodes in the directory in January. This is up from about 1 million active podcasts at the beginning of 2020 and 550,000 in mid-2018. Essentially, the number has more than tripled in the last two and a half years.

  • 75 percent of the U.S. population is familiar with the term “podcasting,” up from 70 percent in 2019 
  • 55 percent of the population has listened to a podcast, up from 51 percent in 2019 
  • 37 percent (or 104 million people) listen at least monthly, up from 32 percent in 2019 and up from 17 percent in 2015. 
  • Of that 37 percent, 24 percent (or 68 million people) listen at least weekly

Ad revenue continues to grow significantly

Where our attention goes, money follows, so there is no surprise that ad revenue rose again in 2020 and is projected to hit new record levels in 2021. Although final data has not been released for 2020, Forbes and PwC project it landed between $800 million and $1 billion, up from $708 million in 2019. PwC projects ad revenue will double to about $1.7 billion by 2024, continuing the trend of about 22 percent YOY growth.

One of the reasons for this is all the acquisitions in the space, and with huge tech companies investing massive amounts of money, the advertising metrics and overall experience for brands will get more and more sophisticated. Below are some acquisitions of note from 2019 and 2020.

In the last two years, Spotify has acquired:

  • Anchor (hosting platform) and Gimlet (production house) in 2019: $343 million 
  • Parcast production house and podcast network in 2019: $55 million
  • Joe Rogan in 2020: $100 million 
  • The Obamas' network Higher Ground in 2020
  • Bigger deals with several other celebrities in 2020
  • Megaphone (ad tech) in 2020: $235 million 

Other acquisitions of note in 2020 include:

  • SirusXM acquired Stitcher, a mobile listening app, for $325 million
  • New York Times acquired Serial Productions for $25 million
  • Amazon very recently acquired Wondry – known for Dr. Death, Business Wars, and American Innovations, just to name a few – for an estimated $300 million. Wondry is a big podcast studio in L.A., similar to the Spotify Gimlet acquisition.

Why has this growth happened? 

Podcasting is simply radio on demand. It has technically been around since 2005 when Apple brought it to the marketplace through iTunes and the iPod.

So why all the sudden growth over the last few years? I believe it is because of the convenience of the platform. In 2021, we are accustomed to controlling our own experience, watching and listening to what we want, when we want it – which is why podcasting has disrupted radio in the same way Netflix disrupted TV. It's also a passive medium, which is huge in a day and age when we are getting pinged by social platforms and distractions 24/7. You can consume podcasts while going about your daily life, whereas video and written word (like this) need your full attention to consume that content.

This is one of the reasons why the average listen time on a podcast is 80 percent, and the average watch time on a Facebook video is 4 percent. It is crazy that if you put out a 20-minute episode, people will listen to it for an average of 16 minutes in 2021!

Should you get in the game, or is it too late? 

Is it more difficult to stand out by starting a podcast in 2021 than it was when I started the GoGedders in 2016 or when Joe Rogan started in 2009? (He’s made slightly more money than me.) Yes. That said, podcasting is still in its infancy and has a lot less competition than other platforms.

As I mentioned earlier, there are 1.7 million podcasts right now, which may seem like a ton until you compare it to 400-600 million active blogs, over 30 million YouTube channels and 60 million Facebook business pages. If you are a brand with a built-in following and customer base, you are starting at a certain scale on day one, and it can be a great tool to grow your business, even if you aren’t getting massive downloads.

Listen to the episode to learn more about the state of podcasting, how you can use it as a tool, and our top five tactics to monetize a podcast and use it as a tool to grow your business in 2021.

Listen to the episode here. And while you're at it, be sure to check out OnMilwaukee's food podcast FoodCrush and female-focused podcast Dandelions.