Podcast trends from the iTunes Top 100

What does a podcast in the iTunes Top 100 look like?

What does a podcast in the iTunes Top 100 look like? Are there any best practices or patterns to surface that would help you get your podcast into the Top 100? To start to answer this question, we created a list of different podcast properties, then looked at the top 100 chart in iTunes to see how things breakdown.

Below is a statistical snapshot of the iTunes Top 100 as they were ranked in early December 2018. Metrics collected include:

  • Show format

  • Original or repurposed content

  • Genre

  • Podcast network

  • Number of episodes published

  • Age

  • Publishing frequency

  • Host read advertisements

  • Presenting sponsor

Let’s take a look at how the Top 100 breaks down.

1. Format: Interview vs. Narrative

Roughly one-third (36%) of the podcasts in the iTunes Top 100 offered narrative storytelling to their listeners. The other two-thirds (64%) used an interview-based format, where they did not adhere strictly to a narrative. While the interview format is more popular, clearly either format can be successful.

Podcast Format: Interview vs. Narrative

How many podcasts are interview based and how many are narrative storytelling?

2. Content: Original vs. Repurposed

The overwhelming majority of content in the Top 100 podcasts is original, meaning it was created specifically for the podcast medium. Only a small percentage (14%) was repurposed from another medium (like radio, TV, or another video source).

Original content vs. Repurposed from another medium

Can you repurposed other content for your podcast?

3. Genres: True Crime vs. ?

True Crime podcasts receive a lot of the buzz, but the Top 100 contain a number of genres and is not dominated by any one of them. True Crime is the single largest genre category (23%), but Comedy and Business & Finance each have more than half of that number (13% of the total). News & Politics has a clear presence as well (12%). Interestingly, the biggest takeaway here is that a significant number (39%) of podcasts fall outside of those 4 genres, which shows that there is a lot of room to play when creating a hit podcast.

iTunes Top 100 Genres

What genres are represented in the iTunes top 100?

4. Independent vs. Network

While two-thirds (67%) of podcasts on the list were produced by a podcast network, fully one-third (33%) were not. One caveat: some of those independent podcasts were produced by other major media companies, but definitely not all. So while it’s very easy to get started with podcasting, this may indicate that being part of a network, it definitely can help your podcast find success.

iTunes Top 100 Podcasts: Network vs. Independent

Do I need to to be part of a podcast network?

5. Number of Episodes

When we look at how many episodes each podcast in the Top 100 has, it’s clear that you don’t need to have a significant number to crack the Top 100. While prolific podcast publishers are sprinkled throughout the chart (33% have over 120 episodes) the majority (52%) have fewer than 30 episodes in total.

Number of podcast episodes

How many episodes does it take to get into the top 100 ?

6. Age

A podcast doesn’t have to be around forever to make the Top 100. Podcasts older than a year make up about 40.5% of the list, which means that the majority of the most popular podcasts (59.5%) were first published less than a year ago. You can see a more detailed breakdown in the chart below. One other number to point out is that roughly 5% of podcasts in the Top 100 are less than a week old.

iTunes Top 100 Podcast Age

How long does it take to get into the iTunes Top 100?

7. Frequency

How often do you need to publish your podcast? A weekly publication schedule is by far the most common (54%). In fact, almost 77% of the Top 100 published weekly or more frequently. It’s worth noting that a scant percentage publish episodes on a daily basis (a mere 3%).

Episode Frequency

How frequent are episodes published?

8. Host Read Ads

What percentage of podcasts in the Top 100 have their hosts read ad copy? It’s not as high as you might think, at around one-third (35%). The other two-thirds of hosts (65%) don’t read ad copy––though there are several that use dynamic ad insertion (DAI) to automatically insert ads into episodes without the hosts voice.

Host Read Ads?

Do the hosts read ads ?

9. Presenting Sponsors

A presenting sponsor is is a sponsor that has paid for the rights to the entire podcast episode or even the whole podcast. An example of a presenting sponsor is ZipRecuriters sponsorship of the latest season of Serial. A slight majority of podcasts in the Top 100 (53%) have a presenting sponsor, but the other almost-half (47%) don’t.

Presenting Sponsors

Is there a presenting sponsor?

Let’s Review

The biggest take away from the above should be that podcasting is an industry of variety. There’s not just one recipe for a successful podcast but a myriad of ways to create and publish one. That’s great news for aspiring podcasters because it shows there’s a lot of opportunity, even for newer podcasts.

Obviously, the above data is not a checklist for getting into the iTunes Top 100. The ranking algorithm that Apple uses is a secret and we can only look for proxies from the outside. However, it can serve as a tool for comparing your podcast against high ranking ones. We do know that new subscribers is a component of how Apple ranks podcasts and that comes down to finding and serving your audience. As you can see above, the opportunity is there for new and old podcasts as well a a variety of subjects and genres.

Success outside iTunes

One interesting thing to consider is that success for your podcast can take many forms that isn’t strictly limited to charting in the iTunes 100. Aside from growing your audience as large as possible to attract advertising there are multiple ways you can use audio to achieve your goals. Podcasts are being used in a variety of different ways from education to corporation communications to content marketing. All it takes is a clear understanding of your goals and what you’re trying to accomplish. Trying to building the right audience is sometimes more important than trying to build the largest audience possible.

The question is: how are you going to stand out and find your unique voice so you can connect with your desired audience ?

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