Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
4 mins read

Why is Sweden the world leader in podcast listening?

There are a few countries sitting at the top of the podcast listening ladder, but Sweden provides some useful insights in what has been driving the podcast revolution

A few days earlier Statista, the German market and consumer data firm, released a report titled Where Podcasts Are Most Popular.

Sweden topped the list of 54 countries surveyed for podcast consumption. A grand total of 47% of respondents claimed they listened to a podcast in the last 12 months. Admittedly some people listen to podcasts without even knowing it (especially those listening on YouTube, a top platform for audio consumption).

The Nordic podcast leader is followed by Ireland and Brazil. Both are above the 40% threshold of people having listened to a podcast in the last year. (Results found by the 2021 Digital News Report were similar, with Ireland first, followed by Spain and Sweden.)

In the UK, USA, Canada and Australia about a third of respondents said they listened to a podcast, while countries in the Eastern hemisphere scored comparatively lower. China had just a 19% share of podcast listeners among participants.

Where Podcasts Are Most Popular. Source: Statista

Predictably, podcast consumption is driven by younger people. The 2019 Digital News Report found that in Sweden young people were more likely to consume podcasts (59% among 18 to 24-year-olds, 57% among 25 to 34-year-olds).

“Why Sweden?” and the role of Swedish Radio

Sweden was already a country to follow years ago when I first got interested in podcasting more professionally – more than just as a consumer looking for the next best show to listen to.

Sure, the history of podcasting in the UK is significant as well. Not least because the term “podcasting” was coined there, by The Guardian journalist Ben Hammersley. Still, Sweden keeps outperforming the UK in most surveys when it comes to podcast listening.

Just like other Nordic countries, Sweden has a strong tradition of radio consumption. Some 60% to 70% of people (depending on which data you look at) listen to radio daily. 

It is a very digital advanced market. For example, revenue from streaming music in Sweden overtook physical sales already 10 years ago. By 2014 it accounted for 84% – that’s called skyrocketing growth. Such fast changes in the digital landscape no doubt created a favorable setting for people to fall in love with podcasts.

Swedish Radio, together with BBC and some other European national broadcasters, understood early on that it was worthwhile to give people an online option to listen to radio shows. But online archives were often hard to navigate, making podcasts a better option. The idea turned out to be very successful and actually brought in new listeners.

Of course, it’s not just about putting your shows out as podcasts. The quality of the content matters. Swedish Radio podcasts have been attracting the most listeners for some years now and have the biggest reach country-wide (see chart below).

Swedish Radio remains the biggest podcast producer in the country. Weekly unique listeners. Source: Poddindex Annual Report

Spotify, Acast and Poddindex

Sweden is also unique thanks to multiple big digital audio players who compete not only nationally but also globally. Take Spotify, the world’s biggest music and audio streaming platform, which started out in Stockholm in 2006. 

Spotify has been aggressively pushing to become a global leader in podcasting starting with rearranging the app interface to feature podcasts more prominently. It also made acquisitions, ranging from talent (the Joe Rogan show) to podcast hosting companies (Megaphone, and podcast producers (Ringer, Gimlet).

Spotify’s success and focus on podcasting is boosting the genre’s popularity, the company hints in its Swedish podcast report. Further, the amount of podcasts in Swedish is increasing – up 89% on Spotify, the main platform, in just one year.

Acast is another Swedish-founded company with global presence. It provides hosting, monetization and growth support to podcasts. In 2014, it developed a dynamic insertion solution which targets advertising within podcasts based on location, time, and personal data. In 2018, Acast struck a deal with BBC to monetize its podcasts outside of the UK.

Acast produces its own podcasts both in Sweden and internationally. Recently, COO Oskar Serrander published a blog saying Acast is the third largest podcast network in the US (next to NPR and iHeartRadio) with more than 14 million Americans listening to podcasts powered by Acast every month.

Another important fact when it comes to the success of podcasting in Sweden is the fact that an industry-wide initiative led in 2017 to creation of Poddindex, a Swedish podcast measurement standard. It measures reach and listens, and also includes paid shows.

The existence of Poddindex is in my opinion (but I can be proven wrong here) a big piece of the puzzle. The main monetization option for podcasts remains ads, even though 2021 could be looked at as the start of the global paid podcast revolution (both Apple and Spotify doubled down on paid podcast features for podcasters).

For ads to work and advertisers to know what they are buying, how many people they are reaching, there needs to be an industry-wide standard metric which everyone agrees on.

With Poddindex Sweden has pulled ahead of many countries in the world, especially in Europe. In France, ACPM runs a similar chart, but as Sarah Toporoff wrote a while ago, the French approach is a hybrid one and has its problems in contrast with Poddindex.

In the US, there is the Podcast Consumer Tracking Report by Edison Research, Triton Digital runs its own ranking system and there are solutions from Chartable and Podtrac.

Still, even if there was a Poddindex in every country, Sweden would be at the top of the podcast listening charts.

You might think the country is lucky (and you would be right). Importantly, though, Sweden shows how a few leaders (both companies and people) with the right mindset, leadership skills and understanding of the digital media landscape can push the whole ecosystem forward.

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.