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Podcasting: The wonderful year of 2021

This year podcasting kept growing, paid podcasts became a thing and Spotify topped the charts of podcast platforms in the US

If there was one big thing in podcasting in 2021, I would argue it was paid podcasts. More specifically, the support creators got in the form of easy to use tools from the two biggest platforms: Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

Like last year, there was some consolidation going on. The big players got bigger, some popular podcasts went exclusive and we got to see more data on podcast listening in several European countries.

In 2021, we also saw the aftermath of the “live audio hype” with Clubhouse losing its popularity and Twitter and Facebook cloning the functionality into their much more popular apps with hundreds of millions and billions of users.

This overview wouldn’t be possible with the hard work of industry newsletters that helped us put it together: PodnewsThe Podcasting, Seriously newsletter from LWC Studios and Hot Pod.

January 2021

Podcasting turned 20. Here is the story of the first podcast feed and how its creator Dave Winer looks back at it.

Podcast Audience Graph was launched. It collects millions of connections between podcasts from the “Listeners Also Subscribed To” data displayed in Apple Podcasts. This tells you, for most shows, which podcasts share a similar audience.

A research found the most popular way to listen to podcasts in Russia is Apple Podcastsfollowed by Yandex Music and Google Podcasts.

In Spain, Spotify was the most used podcast platformwith a 48.2% share.

NYT dealt with the aftermath of the Caliphate podcast scandal. It was criticised for the way it handled the fallout over falsehoods unearthed in the paper’s 12-part award-winning podcast series about the Islamic State. It eventually led to the resignation of audio journalist Andy Mills, who helped make the Caliphate podcast.

Company moves: rebrandedTwitter acquired the team behind the Breaker podcasts app

February 2021

Spotify biggest announcements during its Stream On conference:

Podnews launched a live data interactive showing podcast host migrations. It shows the small number of individual shows that switched their podcast hosting company.

In Denmark, 27% of adults listened to podcasts every week, according to data from DR

The Joe Rogan Experience was the most listened-to podcast of 2020according to Edison Research. Followed by The Daily from NY Times and the Crime Junkie podcast at no.3.

March 2021

41% of the US adult population (12+) listened to at least one podcast in the last month, according to data found by Edison Research in The Infinite Dial 2021 report. The report also found a third of all Americans own a smart speaker.

Who owns who in podcasting was published, it is being updated by Evo Terra and Anne Baird.

April 2021

Facebook, now Meta, announced a couple of social audio features (spoiler: most haven’t yet arrived). First, Facebook said it was building a set of new audio creation tools with the ability to mix audio tracks, a growing collection of sound effects, voice effects and filters (not available as of writing this overview). Next, Soundbites: a new social audio format (not available as of writing this overview). Podcasts on Facebook (not available for everyone as of writing this overview). Live audio rooms in Facebook and Messenger (available, but not widely used). All announcements.

Apple announced Apple Podcasts subscriptions. After a series of problems, which delayed the feature, subscriptions were finally launched in June

Apple Podcasts started having problemsshows disappeared, multiple bugs occurred. The issues persisted for months and some features were only fixed in November.

The super popular 99% Invisible podcast was bought by the broadcasting company SiriusXMRoman Mars and his team joined Stitcher which is owned by SiriusXM. 

Outside of Europe, Facebook added a Spotify-powered podcast player in its appPremium Spotify listeners could listen to full shows.

Spotify announced paid podcasts via and the Spotify Open Access platform. The paid podcasts feature within rolled out in the US and was later released internationally. With Spotify Open Access podcast networks can finally make their paid podcasts hosted elsewhere available on Spotify. Read more in Spotify’s blog.

May 2021

Twitter launches Spaces live-audio rooms to all users. Twitter began testing the Clubhouse clone in November 2020 and has been adding new features throughout the whole year like ticketed spaces or the ability to record.

In the UK, 25% of adults listen to podcasts weekly, according to data published by UK media regulator Ofcom

The first year of Ambies winners were announced, The Awards For Excellence in Audio by The Podcast Academy. Wondery’s Dying For Sex was named the podcast of the year.

June 2021

A study by Spotify found consumers were more receptive to podcast advertising than TV advertisements. (Full study)

Subscriptions and channels went live in Apple Podcasts. Podcasters using paid podcasts have to upload their tracks directly to Apple’s Podcasts Connect system and are able to group shows into channels and have the whole channel paid for.

Call Her Daddy became another Spotify exclusive podcast. The podcast was formerly owned and distributed by Barstool Sports. The three-year agreement between the podcast and Spotify was reportedly worth more than $60 million in total.

Spotify launched Greenroom, a Clubhouse clone for live audio based on the Locker Room app it acquired in March. The new app works with Spotify, though the streaming giant said it will be integrated into the main app. That hasn’t happened as of writing this.

The Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2021 was released with podcast consumption data for 20 countries in a comparable manner

July 2021

Netflix hired N’Jeri Eaton as its first Head of PodcastsHer role is to oversee its podcasting business and manage Netflix’s slate of podcasts, most of which are related to its original TV series and movies. Netflix has made companion podcasts to Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” as well as TV shows “The Witcher” and “The Crown.”

The British Podcast Awards 2021 were announced, podcast of the year award went to Vent Documentaries by Vice UK.

Podcast app Pocket Casts was bought by WordPress founder Automattic. The app co-founders joined the company as well.

Spotify opened paid podcast subscription access (Spotify Open Access) for the first publishers and platforms. Among the first to gain access were also two European publishers: Der Spiegel and Mediapart.

Descript, the all-In-one audio & video editing software, introduced Studio SoundIt can turn any audio into studio quality. Its regenerative algorithm improves voice quality and negates noisy environments. 

Headliner announced Backstage, an online tool for recording, transcribing, and sharing Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces

Clubhouse became available for everyone and continued to lose popularity, prompting articles like this one: Inside the rise and fall of Clubhouse, a pandemic poster child of VC-backed hype now hobbled by ‘drama rooms,’ unhappy creators, dwindling users, and dubious advertisers.

August 2021

Spotify’s Research and Development department released a paper on podcast linguistics. Much of the popular advice of language usage is validated by the data. Compared to low engagement episodes, high engagement podcast episodes tend to have longer and more relevant descriptions, use diverse vocabularies (as measured by word entropy and reading grade level), contain more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions, more conversations and personal narratives (as measured by the prevalence of first and second person pronouns compared to third), and fewer words associated with swearing. In short: use “I, we, you” instead of “her, him, them”, avoid swearing on the podcast, don’t talk slowly and use positive language.

Darknet Diaries was one of the first podcasts that shared its success with Apple Podcasts paid subscriptionsA useful case study.

September 2021

25% of Germans are listening to podcasts at least once a month, that’s  a 26% year over year increase, said the Online-Audio-Monitor (OAM). The most popular podcast listening platform for Germans is Spotify (48.5%), followed by YouTube (44%), Apple Podcasts is seventh (12.5%)

A study revealed a major audio investment gap for marketers: While 31% of the average consumer’s media consumption is now audio, only 8.8% of the average media budget is allocated to audio, and 25% of advertisers do not invest in audio at all.

Sweden is no.1 in worldwide podcast consumption, with 47 percent of respondents claiming they listened to at least one podcast in the last 12 months. Followed by Ireland and Brazil.

October 2021

Spotify and unveiled new podcast monetisation options via three tiers of adsfrom beginners just started to professionals that can partner with top brands. Available only in the US, options for international creators coming next year. introduced video podcastsunfortunately they only work on Spotify and are not available for everyone, there is a waiting list.

Vox Media has built a visual way to experience podcasts, accessible to deaf audiencesHere is the “immersive transcript” as some called the experiment and here is an article in NiemanLab describing the creation and behind the scenes. 

Spotify overtook Apple as the top US podcast platform. Spotify cited data from its own internal calculations and Edison Research, which confirmed to TechCrunch that the results are based on usage rather than downloads. Some industry analysts argue that Apple Podcasts is likely still no.1 when it comes to most downloads.

November 2021

Headliner introduced an auto-post to YouTube featured for your podcast. Turn it on once and let your podcast live on YouTube as well. Why YouTube? It is one of the most popular ways people listen to podcasts.

Spotify acquired leading audiobook platform Findaway. The company operates multiple businesses, including distributing audiobooks to various platforms and offering audiobook creation services under its business Findaway Voices. The acquisition makes Spotify both a commercial bookseller and a publisher of audiobooks.

Medium acquired Knowablean audio-based learning platform featuring podcast-like courses from experts. Knowable charged $9.99 per month for access to more than 100 courses, the subscription price dropped to $25 annually through the end of the year “to celebrate” the acquisition.

Berlin-based social audio startup Beams, which is building an “audio-based social media”,  added another $3 million of its funding. Audio clips on Beam are hard-capped at 90 seconds but recordings can be shorter.

Danish audio startup Podimo announced it had raised a $78m Series B round, one of the largest rounds for an audio tech company in Europe this year. It operates a subscription business, though shares the revenue with creators that you listen to directly.

December 2021

The Infinite Dial 2021 for the UK was released. An impressive 71% of people aged 16+ are familiar with podcasts, and 59% have listened to a podcast. The UK is on par with the U.S. regarding monthly podcast listening, as both countries have 41% of the 16+ population who have listened in the last month. The UK is slightly behind the U.S. regarding weekly podcast listening as 25% of the UK population age 16+ listened to a podcast in the last week versus 29% of the U.S. population having listened in the last week. Find the full report here.

The best podcasts of 2021 lists are being published:

Spotify published its most popular podcasts list globally in 2021:

  1. The Joe Rogan Experience
  2. Call Her Daddy
  3. Crime Junkie
  4. TED Talks Daily
  5. The Daily

Apple Podcasts published its list of the best podcasts of 2021. A Slight Change of Plans was named best show of the year. Apple also revealed top free and paid channels.

Top free channels on Apple Podcasts of 2021:

  1. audiochuck
  2. The New York Times
  3. iHeartPodcast Network
  4. Dateline NBC
  5. Barstool Sports
  6. ABC News
  7. ESPN
  8. Exactly Right
  9. Crooked Media
  10. TED Audio Collective

Top paid channels on Apple Podcasts of 2021:

  1. Wondery
  2. Luminary
  3. Sword and Scale
  4. Tenderfoot TV
  5. QCODE
  6. Pushkin Industries
  7. Imperative Entertainment
  8. Radiotopia
  9. Realm
  10. The Athletic

David Tvrdon

This piece was originally published in The Fix and is re-published with permission. The Fix is a solutions-oriented publication focusing on the European media scene. Subscribe to its weekly newsletter here.