What’s the ideal length for a podcast?

This is a key question for podcast producers, as getting the length of a podcast right can make a very big difference as to whether you’ll attract listeners. Of course, there’s no definitive answer as to the ideal length of a podcast since this will depend on a number of factors, including:

  • What content are you seeking to provide?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • When and where are they likely to be listening?
  • How frequently are new episodes released?

People tend to be podcast listeners in order to find interesting content to listen to and fill an existing gap in their schedules – for example whilst commuting, jogging or cooking, so it is highly likely that they will have a certain amount of time to fill. Ideally, you want your listener to be able to focus on your episode in a single sitting, so they can be properly engaged and focused on how great your content sounds.

So a daily news podcast probably wants to be on the short side – up to 15 minutes. That way, people can make listening part of their regular daily routine without intruding too much on their time.

Less regular podcasts can be longer. If you’re releasing a show once or twice a week, then you’re giving your audience more opportunities to find the right time for them to listen. I would say that 30 mins to an hour is the maximum sensible length for a regular podcast. Look on iTunes and you’ll see that a lot of popular podcasts fall into that category, with magazine shows like The Modern Mann, panel discussion shows like Guardian Football Weekly and documentaries like 99% Invisible being around this sort of length. That’s enough time to get engrossed in a subject whilst allowing you to listen and move on to the next thing. Perfect for people like me who have an hour-long commute.

Exceptions can of course be made, but just bear in mind that this can affect your audience. There are examples of shows that last well over an hour, although these usually tend to be radio shows that are re-broadcast in a podcast format rather than standalone podcasts, so they’re not quite the same thing. For example, BBC Radio 5 Live produces an interesting daily football news podcast, which is great for catching up on the latest sports news. Most days it is just 10-20 minutes long, but on Monday nights during the football season they broadcast a panel discussion which can be up to 2 hours long. I find that a very interesting podcast to listen to once in a while, when I have the time (like on a long-distance car journey) but most weeks I’ll tend to only listen to the first part of it during my commute.

Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode’s Film Review is one of the most popular podcasts in the UK – and rightly so, in my view it is the definitive place to go to for film reviews – but with a typical length of 90-105 minutes it is also one of the longer podcasts available. As much as I have loved listening to it over the years, I have found myself listening less and less frequently for the simple reason that it is too long. It’s based on a 2-hour radio show, and a very popular one at that, but the simple truth is that I would listen much more frequently if it was edited down to an hour – maybe by just focusing on the reviews themselves. Longer podcasts have their value but most people are going to struggle to find the time to listen.

The two examples above “get away with it” to an extent because they are already well-known brands, re-broadcasting popular content. If you’re a start-up podcast, you are not going to start off with this level of good will, so don’t even think about a podcast of this length! I was recently invited to subscribe to a new podcast. It looked like it might be interesting so I downloaded it only to find an episode length of 1 hr 45 mins. Needless to say, I didn’t listen to it. Seriously guys, I don’t care how interesting you think you are, but I’m not even going to take the risk of giving up nearly 2 hours of my life in the hope that you’ve produced something listenable. Reduce it to 30 minutes, and I’ll give you a go!

If you’ve any thoughts about this, let me know in the comments!

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