While the media industry has experienced its share of frustrations over the last two years, it has also seen one particular platform demonstrate steady, stable upward growth — despite the ongoing impact of the pandemic.
All in all, said Edison Research Senior Vice President Tom Webster, “It was an eventful year for podcasting.”
Edison Research recently announced its list of the top 50 podcasts of 2021. The list ranks podcasts by audience size based on the Podcast Consumer Tracking Report, a service that measures relative audience size and demographics of all podcast networks.
Last year the most popular genres were true crime, comedy and news programs, Webster said, although the list reveals a vibrant and diverse list of programming.
For the second year in a row “The Joe Rogan Experience” sits at the top of the list, a long-form interview and conversation podcast run by comedian Joe Rogan. The program recently made headlines when Neil Young and other musicians began demanding Spotify remove their music from the service due to Rogan and some of his guests’ promotion of misinformation about COVID-19. In addition, a video complication emerged of Rogan using an ethnic slur to describe the Black community. (Despite this, Spotify Technology CEO Daniel Ek said the platform would not cancel its $100 million licensing deal to be the exclusive host for the podcaster’s program archive, although some episodes have since been removed.)
The number two spot in 2021 belonged to The New York Times’ “The Daily,” a 20-minute weekday news roundup followed in the third spot by “Crime Junkie,” a weekly true crime podcast created by the Indianapolis media company audiochuck. Number four is “This American Life,” a weekly public radio program and podcast produced by NPR station WBEZ(FM). The top five is rounded out with the iHeartRadio program “The Stuff You Should Know,” focusing on obscure and captivating topics like how fortune cookies are made and how the game rock/paper/scissors became a decider of things.
A review of the networks on the top-50 list includes both well-known media sources and smaller media companies. iHeartRadio, The New York Times and NBC News sit in the top 10 as well as smaller media companies like audiochuck, Exactly Right and Earwolf. The top-50 list includes a few media networks with multiple popular podcasts, including NPR with its programs “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me,” “Planet Money,” “Up First” and several others. PRX is distributor for three top-50 podcasts, “TED Talks Daily,” “The Moth” and “Welcome to Night Vale,” while the Cumulus Podcast Network has two programs on the list, “The Dan Bongino Show” and “The Mark Levin Show.”
When compared to 2020 — the first year Edison Research began compiling and ranking U.S. podcast listening trends — the top four podcasts on the 2021 list exactly mirror the top four podcasts of 2020. The fifth place podcast in 2020 was “My Favorite Murder” by Exactly Right, which swapped places with “Stuff You Should Know” to drop to number six in 2021.
Investigative topics remained popular, including the serialized audio narrative and investigative journalism podcast “Serial,” along with true crime podcasts like “Criminal” and “Morbid: A True Crime Podcast.” Newcomers to the 2021 list include a twice-monthly weird fiction podcast focused on the imaginary town of Night Vale, a place rife with intriguing residents and conspiracy theories that has since spawned several books, albums and live shows. Other podcasts in 2020 that dropped off the list in 2021 include the design podcast “99% Invisible” and “Lore,” a podcast exploring the stories and people behind our strangest folk stories.
The top-50 list was compiled by Edison after gathering 8,000 online interviews with weekly podcast consumers in the U.S. aged 18 and older. The list tracks usage from the first quarter to the fourth quarter of 2021.
The full list is below.