What’s up in European podcasting? A status assessment.
Updated: Nov 9, 2019
As you might be already aware of, there’s a steadily growing podcasting scene in Europe. But Europe is not very homogenous or consistent with anything, and with the Brexit right ahead of us, it'll become even more fragmented in the future. But really: as of 2019, how big is the difference between European countries when it comes to podcasting? Is it "more or less the same" everywhere – or is there a major gap between podcasting leaders and lowlights? You're about to find out!
Disclaimer: I’ll focus on just a few representatives, namely Germany, Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, Spain and Poland. Not because they are the only important podcasting countries – but because these are the markets, to which I have direct access in one way or another … or at least I know a guy that knows a guy (or a gal!).
Before we dive right in: this is going to be a very(!) long(!!) post – the TL;DR is: podcasting is pretty much a thing in Europe.
Did you know, that the European Union has 24 officially recognized languages? And even more languages that are official on a local level, or even more not recognized ones? Other than the US podcasting market, Europe has a vast amount of podcasts that not only vary in format but also in language.
To get a better grasp at where the European countries stand in their podcast development, I came up with a concept to classify the local podcasting ecosystems (that's not an official term, I just came up with it) throughout Europe by the stage of their evolution.
Before we get to the methodology: I think we can all agree, that the US podcast market is leading the way in terms of variety and quantity of content and content producers, sophistication of content, monetization strategies, revenue, technology offering. And. so. on. To get a first impression on where we all stand in comparison to the US – let's have a look a this chart:
Interestingly enough: the podcast penetration amongst citizens is greater far more in the east. A little footnote thou: this graphic uses data from Reuters, so it is very “news focused”. It shows the percentage of people consuming news who do consume them via podcast at least once a month. That’s not the same as “people listening to podcasts regularly” – but at least it gives us at least a feeling of podcast penetration in a country's population.
The fact that South Korea is number one on this list might have to do with the much higher smartphone per person ratio in South Korea – where as much as 95 %(!) of adults own a smartphone! In the Western hemisphere – and especially in central Europe – smartphone and podcast usage still are fighting for attention against a well-established industry of news and radio channels. They’ve reigned for decades, but *SPOILER ALERT* in many regions their sole ruling is about to be over.
Back to the numbers, and to be completely transparent: statistics like that tend to have one major problem: the term “podcast” is not used the same way all around the globe. In Spain for, example, people of all ages use smartphone apps to listen to radio either live or on-demand, and this is what they understand as “podcast” – and this differs very much from what I understand as podcast. And, of course: All of what I am going to tell you in this blog post, might be already overhauled as soon as I hit "publish".
Despite of this huge dynamic, I tried to determine the status of podcasting in European countries as I see it at this very moment in the year 2019. For this purpose, I’ve invented my very own 6-stage scheme to describe the state of podcast-development in a country:
The "Mateusz Sójka 6 stages of podcast evolution"
In countries in this evolutionary stage, podcasting is a tiny niche, driven by amateur creators, few professionals or companies, with no existing local podcast ecosystem, no relevant growth, no monetization. Most popular podcasts in a stage-1 country are amateur productions. The tools that are being used are “amateur-level” at best.
In a Stage 2 market, podcasting still is a tiny niche driven by amateur creators, with no or little existing podcast ecosystem, yet significant growth in the past months or years. There’s very little monetization and the most popular podcasts are either 100% amateur or recycled radio shows.
In a Stage 3 market, podcasting still is happening in a niche, yet amateur creators co-exist with more professional producers. The podcast ecosystem is growing, monetization is being discussed but not yet very present. Some of the most popular podcasts are professionally made, still many recycled radio shows exist.
In a stage 4 market, podcasting is still a small medium, but slowly grows out of its own niche; professional creators and companies produce lots of high-quality content, recycled radio shows are not entirely dominating the charts anymore. The ecosystem is getting more and more mature, there are shows with large budgets and strong monetization efforts.
In a stage 5 country, podcasting is a medium-sized media channel with a large variety of high-quality shows. The ecosystem is mature, large budgets are being spent on production, monetization is becoming a real thing.
The stage 6 classification could also be called “US stage” because it only has one country in it. In the United States, podcasting is still “only” a medium-sized medium, but with a vast variety of high-quality shows and a very mature ecosystem. Enormous budgets are being spent on production and monetization is a central topic. Edison Research tells us that 70 % of Americans are familiar with the concept of podcasts (according to my calculation this should be 231 million potential listeners – not sure why Edison Research counts “only” 197 million). 70 percent of these 70 percent have already listened to at least one podcast in their lives.
But I wanted to write about Europe, not the US. So: in my – highly subjective but somehow still professional opinion – Poland is a stage 2 country. Spain and the Netherlands are at stage 3, while Germany, France and Scandinavia are at stage 4. The UK at stage 5 comes remotely close to the US – probably because they share the same language and benefit from the progress made on the US market in a very direct manner.
Again: this is my subjective opinion. Feel free to discuss this with me right here in the comments section or, as I would prefer, over a beer at the next podcasting event. To make my classification a bit less subjective, I’m going on a virtual roadtrip around Europe, giving you the most interesting facts on where the countries stand in podcasting in mid-2019. Ready?
European countries and their state of podcast evolution
Why Spain, you might ask? In 2016, German podcaster Dirk Primbs scraped the entire iTunes podcasting directory and collected quite a few interesting numbers on the way. The numbers, of course, are 3 years behind – but my guess is: the relations between those numbers haven’t changed that much since then. Back in 2016, Spanish was ranked 2nd when it comes to most common podcast languages in the directory. The reason, of course, is that Spanish is very widely used in Latin America. China might have the potential to claim the number 2 spot some day but a) podcasting in China’s pretty different and b) not all of their productions find their way into a US directory (in 2016, Chinese was the 9th most popular podcast language in the directory).
Another interesting fact about Spanish: 4 of the 5 podcast ecosystems with the largest growth rate (measured earlier this year by Voxnest) are Spanish-speaking countries; the fifth one is – you probably saw that one coming – China.
It’s quite common in Spain to listen to online radio on-demand and think of it as “podcast consumption” (and I am not going to argue about that here). Despite of that, Spain still has a few interesting numbers on podcasting:
Podcast listening in Spanish-speaking regions is a 74 % male phenomena – and listeners mainly work in in journalism, Education or telecommunications.
43 % of listeners also listen to classic radio – while in 22 % of the time when an internet user listens to audio in Spain, he or she listens to podcast versions of radio programs. (So here’s the proof that the number in the second chart of this article is disputable.)
IVOOX seems to be very big in Spain – that is an app for listening to podcasts but also to online radio on-demand. That might explain the high number of radio listeners seeing themselves as a podcast audience.
Another interesting number for content creators and advertisers: 79 % of the listeners listen to 90 or more percent of an episode. So if a Spaniard begins an episode, they seem to be very eager to finish it!
Also quite revealing: 40 % of listeners in total are either likely or very likely to listen to an inserted ad – which is a quite low number compared to other countries.
37 % categorically say they would not buy something promoted in a podcast episode (let me challenge this though, because it's the wrong kind of question, marketing doesn't work this way, it's more making a brand become familiar and recognizable)
On the other hand: 88 % of listeners wouldn’t mind sponsoring their favorite podcast productions with donations. (also here, I'm skeptical, shows that do work with donations usually talk about 5-10% of listeners actually contributing with donations, that's far from the 88%)
So although Spain is on place 8 in Europe when it comes to digital ad spendings, they are not very keen to hear ads in podcasts. Still it is a very interesting market and various podcasting companies have – just like ourselves – already opened their business models for Spain and Latin America as well.
Edit: Eduardo Nordmann pointed out that there are some major news & media companies in Spain producing high-quality podcasts, like Podium Podcasts by Prisa or COPE. Also, there are important podcasting events that attract lots of visitors, too. Thanks Eduardo for pointing that out!
Last but not least: my favorite fact about Spanish podcasts: the most popular genre in Spain and Latin America seems to be “history”.
French ranks 3rd when it comes to the most commonly used languages in Apple’s podcast directory (again, today’s numbers might slightly differ). That’s not much of a surprise as there is Canada and many other countries (not to say former colonies) that exclusively or partly speak French on a daily basis. Here too, classic radio is a key player in the digital audio world: Radio France, one of the largest French public radio stations, has expanded its podcast production between 2016 and 2018 by 80 %. Also: by 2019, almost all of the country’s major media groups are heavily invested in podcasting.
Earlier this year, a former radio CEO co-founded Majelan – a company trying to aggregate all freely available podcasts to make them more accessible on a centralized platform – more accessible for their free and premium users. This somehow lead to a big discussion about monetization of podcasts in France. Majelan sets itself apart from similar offerings by curating content with an editorial team – and by building their premium subscription model on self-created content or the content of a few official partners. They say, no ads will be displayed in any Majelan app or inserted into the publicly available podcasts. I find this an interesting approach, let’s see where they take this concept over the next few months.
More key numbers and facts from France:
Since last year, France also has a public podcast festival which had in 2018 a highly respectable number of 4,500 visitors.
For 2019, France is prognosed to spend 4.9 billion Euros on digital advertisement – that’s a 15 % increase compared to the year before.
75 percent of this budget flows into Google and Facebook ads – but a big leap in audio advertisement is expected. And there is quite some room for leaping:
An advertisement expert from Publicis Media estimates the French podcast advertisement market to be between 500,000 to 600,000 euros in the year 2019.
I expect major growth here – but there also are quite a few French brands not booking podcast ads but producing their very own shows instead, for example, Air France or Chanel.
The United Kingdom
I’ll keep the UK quite short as it is only my “special mention” for this list of possibly interesting podcast markets in Europe – and most likely Great Britain is the next one reaching the same evolutionary level as the US (only talking about podcasting here!).
Like in most other countries, the UK’s digital ad spendings are extremely likely to increase this year: bright minds other than me say from GBP 14.73 billion to 16.4 billion.
This rise is not expected to go evenly throughout all industries: the finance and the automotive sector are expected to be hit hard by the Brexit still hanging over them like Damocles’ Sword.
Brexit or no Brexit: three in four advertisers plan to up their game in terms of podcast advertising.
Another interesting fact: almost every British podcast listener also listens to classic radio – and almost every radio station in the UK also produces podcasts. That definitely has something do with the strong presence of BBC in the kingdom – which for sure is the spearhead of professionally produced public radio podcasts.
BBC has a massive podcast catalogue and its productions are in the top ten of almost any category in Apples Podcast Charts – or, as you can see on the left, in the country’s overall podcast charts. Heck, their reach doesn’t end at their borders: they’re also very present in the German charts – just look for yourself in the German history section of Apple’s podcast directory!
“German history” is actually a good cue ...
The German podcasting market is at stage 4, which means there are quite a few professional creators, a rich ecosystem, professional toolchains and large budgets for production. Big brands, media corporations and journalists cooperate to make high-quality audio series – and shows like Paradise Papers, Faking Hitler or Der Abgrund set the bar very high for podcast productions in the country.
We also have several, mostly community-driven podcasting events like Podstock, Subscribe, Podcamp, the Podcasthelden-Konferenz and a few more – along with several smaller podcasting festivals for makers and listeners. I miss one, large, annual conference though, where everyone in the industry comes together to discuss podcasting from all possible angles. Heck, I would organize one myself (or with Podigee) if it wasn't so time (and money) consuming!
A few numbers for you to better understand what’s happening in German podcasting at this very moment:
According to Statista, 26 % of the German population listens to podcasts regularly.
In 2018, we already had ad spendings regarding podcasts of 49 million Euro.
For two years in a row now, the German public radio and television ARD published the results of a survey about podcast usage, ad acceptance and audience sizes around podcasting. A few more numbers borrowed from this and last year's study for which they surveyed 10,000 people between 14 and 69 years of age:
After hearing advertisement in podcasts, between 28 and 49 percent could remember the ad message – with only little differences between sponsoring, “pre-produced” spots and native ad placement.
Especially native spots with a branding messages and a factual style worked considerably well.
Every third listener is 50 and older.
35 % of the households with people listening to podcasts have a monthly net income of € 3.000 and more – compared to only 20 % of the households in which nobody listens to podcasts reaching € 3.000 and more income.
Advertisement – especially in form of sponsorings – is well-accepted, but audio spots and native ads are also okay for most listeners. This is emphasized by a very interesting number:
That’s a number so impressive, I couldn’t even think of a funny picture to make it even more impressive. I just could come up with an analogy or comparison – as, funny enough, 87 ist exactly the percentage of people that use their smart speakers mainly for … what do you think?
For listening to the linear radio program. (Source)
Well. That's kinda cute and sad at the same time. I'm gonna leave it with that. Let's head over to Scandinavia.
When I tried to figure out how much podcast ads are worth in a country like Denmark, I came across a statistic showing that nowadays companies in Denmark spend 61 % of their ad budget on digital advertisement – a number that is steadily rising. For comparison: the average in the nordic countries is at 50 %. I digged deeper, searching for a number telling me what these 61 % mean in Euro: last year, Denmarks digital ad spendings were roughly 1.25 billion Euro. My educated guess would be: by the end of 2019, Denmark will have spent a little less than 1.4 billion Euro on digital advertisement – with somewhat around 2 to 4 percent of that money going into podcast ads. But that is just my guess.
What the Danish also have is a a closed platform for listening to podcasts – while on the other hand getting podcasters to bring exclusive content on board with promising ad revenue. Obviously, I’m not a big fan of such models and that’s why I won’t go into detail about this company – but I will give you my unadorned opinion about all the new “Netflixes” and “Youtubes” for podcasting that keep popping up right and left but tend to not stick around for very long:
A podcast is – by design – a decentralized, free medium. In 2019, the internet provides a solid podcast playing experience and directory infrastructure in almost any language you can think of. And that is the beauty of it: podcasts don’t need a centralized Youtube- or Netflix-like service to be cool – they already are cool.
Yes, you may quote me on that.
Anyway, back to Denmark: the country has no established podcast monetization industry – at least none that I am aware of. Why it still is a stage 4 country by my own measurement, is because, after all, there are around 2,500 Danish podcasts listed in Apple’s podcast directory. This number is counted by language because in podcast directories, there is – in most cases – no such meta information as “country of origin”. (Although Apple has country-based stores, your podcast would appear simultaneously in all of them.)
What caught my eye when reading about the popularity of podcasts in Denmark: there has been little to no growth in the last 12 months in the number of Danish podcasts in the Apple directory. That is quite atypical!
A few more facts:
31 percent of the younger Danes listen to podcasts weekly.
Amongst the top podcasts in Denmark seem to be some true crime shows and podcasts about politics (for the rest of the other stuff listed there, my Danish is not good enough).
Roughly one in three podcasts is produced by a radio or media company.
And: 10 % of Danish-speaking podcasts are explicit (that’s a pity, as I’d love to here a Danish person swear!).
My mini conclusion for Denmark: there is quite some potential for growth as the podcasting ecosphere hasn’t been growing much lately.
What’s interesting about Sweden – besides the fact that there is a sleeping-aid podcast by Ikea (actually there are two: one version with a male and one with a female speaker): they’ve come up with their own podcasting analytics standard. That’s a massive topic we at Podigee started tackling earlier this year – with an initiative to establish unified podcast analytics. That way, we hope to enable producers and advertisers reliably use and compare data about podcast consumption.
The interesting feature of the Swedish standards is that it entailed a weekly reporting of participating producers to the centralized analytics platform poddindex.se – minor bummer: those who report almost exclusively are large radio stations and media conglomerates.
On this centralized stats platform, you as a visitor can learn that one of the most popular shows in Sweden is called P3 Dokumentär and it seems to be a documentary series from Sveriges Radio that reaches 634,335 unique plays per week(!). Yes, that is very much even measured with international standards.
Other top shows in Sweden are again: true crime, radio shows, conspiracy podcasts, documentaries and so on.
Sweden has a somehow established way of monetization with premium subscription models powered by the large podcasting companies. Paywall content and dynamic ad space, that’s something I’m completely d’accord with – we even offer something similar with Podigee Premium ourselves. But I remain skeptical about closed platform approaches that also feature their own content catalogues – not to say I remain skeptical whenever somebody tries to netflix my beloved podcasting sphere.
In 2016, merely two percent of Norway’s population listened to podcasts. Statistics Norway – a service claiming to serve “the official statistics about Norwegian society since 1876”, in 2019 still doesn’t know what podcasting is, although they recorded a 4 % loss of radio listeners between 2017 to 2018 while at the same time the consumption of “Audio Media” rose by 1 % – a value that surely has to be divided between music streaming, audiobooks and podcast listening.
Norway probably is best known for the NRK-BBC co-production Death in Ice Valley – yet another true crime podcast – who would have guessed? – that sets out to solve a 50-years-old murder case that has happened right outside of Bergen ... and that, for some weird reason, ranks on place 28 of the best news shows in Guatamala.
Although Norway has caught up over the past three years, it still is some kind of podcast development country – which reminds me that I’ve wanted to think about excluding Norway from my “Stage 4” classification for the Scandinavians … never mind.
Not long ago, for Finland, too, was not much data available at all – which is no wonder regarding that there were merely 141 podcasts with Finnish language listed in Apple Podcasts in 2016 (versus 5.5 million Finnish citizens). For reference: Sweden, in early 2016, had over 2,000 native-language podcasts listed (versus 10 million citizens).
Until just recently, in the land of baby boxes, advanced education systems and open prisons, podcasting wasn’t a really big thing. And if I ever hear Monty Python’s guys sing “Finland has it all” I will jump up and shout “But where are your podcasts?!?” Luckily, the Finnish podcasting world is not the same dead, boring wasteland it still was four years ago. According to this thesis, there has been quite a rise among the 16 to 24 year olds when it comes to the question if they ever used a smart device for listening to podcasts. 16 % might not sound much – but the number has grown by factor 4 between 2015 and 2017.
The thesis I've just mentioned also says that podcasting is growing slowly but still has trouble finding sponsors. And then it reaches the funny conclusion that the reasons for the podcasting boom in Finland being long overdue is, that the process of creating a podcast is just too complex for those poor, poor simple Finnish minds.
Now, I strongly disagree with that, as the only thing you would need in 2019 to publish a podcast, is an iOS Smartphone and a Podigee account. I’m very excited to follow where podcasting is headed in Finland – as there’s a lot of potential in these open-minded people of which many have the valuable ability to flawlessly speak the main podcasting language (English, of course). Up in the north, there also is a big community of tech-savy youngsters ready to take the podcasting world by storm.
To sum up it up: Scandinavian countries are not really consistent when it comes to podcasting. Sweden definitely takes the lead, Denmark is quite high on the list. Norway needs to catch up though with its Scandinavian neighbors. And Finland, a special case here as it is a Nordic country (but not a Scandinavian one – now go do your own googling about this ;) seems to have much potential for development!
Poland, as you might have guessed, is kind of my home turf. According to a report by Voxnest Polish podcast market is the 6th fastest growing in the world, and the fastest one in Europe (40% month on month growth!).
Poland has the potential to become a podcasting powerhouse in very little time, because it has all the ingredients: a highly educated population, around 45 million native speakers of Polish, a very developed digital and Internet infrastructure, and a rich media tradition.
Recently, I spoke at the Polish Podcast Days in Poznań, where I presented a short version of this blog post. I talked to some of the people there and you could really feel the excitement and that amazing spirit of the early days. It's definitely good times for podcasting in Poland.
Right now there are about 750.000 podcasts in the world – but even in many European regions, we only have started to cautiously tap into the potential of this great medium. The coming months and years will be crucial for establishing a steady stream of income for producers who surely will further experiment with the boundaries of the medium. Each podcasting ecosystem also has to figure out for itself which business models will prevail and which will fade.
The market is highly dynamic and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a country rising from somewhere far below our radar to become an important new market tomorrow.
Thanks for reading!