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Sorry Virginia there is no such thing as the perfect length for a podcast.

Apr 29, 2017

One of the first questions I get about podcasting and likely the most common question overall for this space is “What is the right length for a podcast?”   Sadly there are a bunch of at best “fake news” reports on this with bad info based I am guessing on assumptions and pulling data from their nether regions.  Because what some of these bad posts are saying is “The ideal length of a podcast is 22 Minutes” or some other number less than 30 minutes.  


The problem is this is not based at all on what podcasts people are actually consuming.  If you look at the real data on downloads for podcasts it is a very very different picture.  The following data is based on the downloads for all new episodes released in the month of January and measured to the end of February across libsyn.  (Libsyn - for those not in the know - is the largest / oldest podcast host with 4.6 Billion downloads in 2016 - more than all the “Public Media” podcasts combined and doubled and then some.  So it is big data, relevant data and definitely statistically relevant.)  Looking at those episodes released in January that had over 100,000 downloads by the end of February here is what the data showed.  (Warning - you are about to see real numbers if this is something you are not used to - you might want to turn down the brightness on your screen.)


>84% of all those shows had episodes 51 Minutes or longer.


<10% of all those shows had episodes 30 Minutes or shorter.


>12% of all those shows had episode 2 hours or longer.


Disagree with what is above - then read this


To say the ideal length of podcast is <30 minutes is not at all supported by the voting Podcast listeners did when they actually downloaded episodes.  Or as Tom Webster said in his post:   


“with these top podcasts, length isn't exactly hurting them. So, people who insist that a podcast should be short don't exactly have a lot of supporting data to back that up.”


Nick Quah in his private newsletter called out the data above saying:

“The argument made by Libsyn's research is, of course, considerably flawed, in case it wasn't immediately clear to you. It's really bad use of data. It only really tells us how podcast publishers are behaving, and not at all about how podcast consumers are expressing their preferences. “


WRONG, WRONG & WRONG!!!!.  It tells exactly the opposite of that.  It shows exactly which Podcasts the consumers are preferring because we looked at ONLY those shows with >100,000 downloads per episode - i.e. the shows consumers preferred the most.  This is out of >35,000 shows hosted on libsyn which runs the full gamut of format types and producer levels.  This includes shows from some Public Media stations and other professional media producers, celebrities, churches, indie podcasters, business’s, including repurposed content and original content.  Every genre had downloads in January.  It was as close as possible to the complete picture for types of podcasts available.  Out of all those podcasts - the ones that generated over 100,000 downloads per episode was also very varied including shows from indie Podcasters, Professional Producers, Celebrities, Public Media and more.  


Those results show EXACTLY what podcast consumers preferences are - consumers voted with their downloads.  Nick was completely wrong with his assumption and calling me out on this.  Something I told him and to his credit he said he will address.  


One thing we both agreed on is that there is no ideal length.  And by no means was I saying with our data that podcasts SHOULD be longer.  When I present this data I always add this caveat - just because most popular shows are long - does not mean being long will make you popular.  There are great examples of short and successful shows - Lore & Grammar Girl.  What I say to producers is that they should ignore anyone that tells you there is an ideal length - and release the episode at the length you feel comfortable doing.  If you have 47 minutes of content you do a 47 minute episode, you have 96 minutes of content you do a 96 minute episode.  The worst thing you can do is to take 15 Minutes of content and stretch it out over two hours - that is Star Wars Episode 1 and that is not good.  


The next worst thing is to cut down episodes to a shorter length because someone that thinks they are an expert says that the ideal length is 22 minutes - it is NOT.  Most people consume on a mobile device (>86% of downloads overall) and a lot of that consumption happens on the go.  People do not want to have to search for the next episode while driving - having a longer episode gets them covered from point A to point B and beyond.  


I will conclude this with how I ended my emails with Nick:  I will stand behind what I reported - which again is ignore the BS about shorter is ideal - there is no ideal length of a podcast - and the facts from the data we have, indicates the majority of the most popular shows are actually >51 minutes in length - which kills the argument about shorter is better or ideal.  Put a fork in it - that argument is dead.