Are Podcasts Getting Worse?

Podcasting is not so far from being twenty years old and since then it’s seen a huge surge — especially in recent years. According to our own database, more than 650,000 new podcasts were added to Apple Podcasts in 2021 alone. To put that into perspective, 400,000 podcasts were added between 2005 and 2019 [1].

Given such meteoric growth, we wanted to take a closer look at the ratings Rephonic tracks across 2.5m+ shows to see if podcasts have gotten worse.

We used ratings from Apple Podcasts as a proxy for podcast quality as they date all the way back to 2005.

Number of new podcasts released by year
Number of new podcasts added to Apple Podcasts each year

TL;DR:

  • Podcast satisfaction peaked in 2016 and has since been declining steadily
  • Listeners rate older podcasts significantly lower than newer podcasts
  • But the average rating of new podcasts is slowly decreasing too
  • Larger shows tend to be rated lower than smaller shows

⭐️ Average podcast ratings peaked in 2016

We looked at the average rating given at six-month intervals and found that podcast satisfaction, as measured in listener ratings, peaked in 2016. Since then, the average rating has been decreasing quite steadily [2][3].

Average rating given to podcasts globally in six-month time periods.

What's going on here?

As we mentioned above, the number of new shows has exploded in recent years partly thanks to the increasing democratization of podcasting. The necessary equipment is cheaper and more accessible than ever and platforms like Anchor let anyone spin up a podcast for free in a few minutes.

We see some parallels to blogging here. Writing a blog used to be a niche activity until it took off in the early 2000s when platforms like Blogger and WordPress brought it to the masses.

Once creating a blog was no longer rocket science, the quality naturally lowered. It was a net win, however, since more voices were heard and (in theory) now anyone could achieve a Perez Hilton level of success.

With this in mind, we took a deeper dive into the data to see if new podcasts with lower production values really are the culprit for declining podcast quality.

📉 Ratings given to new podcasts are slowly decreasing

Let's see how ratings given to new podcasts is changing over time.

For each year, we took the average of all ratings given to podcasts founded in that year. In other words, how did listeners who were leaving ratings in 2016 respond to shows founded in 2016? [1][3]

Average ratings given to 'new' podcasts founded in that same year (globally)

We can see that the average ratings for new podcasts also starts to decrease from around 2016, but not as rapidly as we saw on the previous graph, which suggests that the bigger problem could be with older shows.

👎 Listeners rate older podcasts lower than newer podcasts

Next we looked at every rating given in 2021 and broke the data down by the year that the podcast was founded [1][3].

The results are pretty striking:

Average ratings given in 2021 to podcasts split according to the year when they were released/founded (globally)

There is a very clear correlation between average rating and podcast release year. The older the podcast is, the worse listeners rate it.

The average rating given in 2021 for podcasts released in 2005 is 3.9 - significantly lower than 4.8 for shows released in 2021.

Perhaps older podcasts are not innovating enough to keep listeners interested? Or given that good quality mics and production are now affordable, it could be a case of older shows not keeping up with increasing production values?

🙅 Large shows tend to be rated more harshly

We then broke down all ratings by the size of the podcast’s audience [4].

Average rating given to podcasts globally in 2021 by estimated audience size (as measured by Rephonic)

Again there is a clear negative correlation between audience size and the average rating for shows with more than a handful of listeners.

Shows with over half a million estimated weekly listeners have an average rating of 4.3, compared to 4.8 for those with 501-5000 listeners.

A reason for this could be increasing ad load as podcasts with large audiences are generally more sought after by advertisers. According to Magellan AI the top 500 podcasts make up 52% of all ad spend and ad load increased from 5.3% to 5.8% between Q2 and Q3 2021.

Another reason could be that certain large shows such as The Daily are polarizing listeners due to their often times political content, attracting an unusually large number of low ratings.

Take a look at the average rating given to The Daily over the past few years:

Average rating given to The Daily podcast by year

The average rating given to The Daily in 2021 was 3.2, accompanied by a wide range of criticisms. Here are a few that stuck out:

Far too many ads

All was all in, until the ads started. Skip, skip, skip. Still ad readings. To much pulls you out of the story they’re telling. BBC daily is much better.

This is not news

These are people with trump derangement syndrome. Honestly there are other things to report on. Terrible. One star because you can’t give zero.

I tried. I can't.

I love podcasts. I hate The Daily. 100% scripted questions & answers. The cadence of their fake conversations is painful to listen to.

Conclusion

So, are podcasts getting worse? The ratings would suggest so, especially for older and larger shows. As for new podcasts, the way we see it is that the more new voices that put themselves out there, the better it is for podcasting as a whole.


If you’ve launched a new podcast and are wondering how to get your voice heard, have a read of our previous article where we explore if you should publish your podcast on YouTube.

Another way to increase the chances of your podcast being successful is to research other shows and approach them for cross-promos. Rephonic provides data for over 400,000 active podcasts so you can find shows in your niche and check out their listener numbers, gender skew, ratings, and more.

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Footnotes

[1] Rephonic uses the date when a podcast was first submitted to Apple Podcasts as a proxy for when it was first founded. Our data includes both active and inactive podcasts.

[2] We took all of the ratings created and calculated the average for every six months, starting on the January 1st, e.g. 01/01/2015 to 06/30/2015.

[3] We used Apple Podcast ratings exclusively.

[4] Rephonic estimates the number of weekly listeners for every podcast and these should be considered 100% accurate. We base our figures on hundreds of publicly available data points that we gather about podcasts from all over the web. For this graph, we didn’t include podcasts with an estimated listenership of zero.

Becca Butcher

Becca Butcher

Contributor