As a podcaster, there’s a lot you can learn from the world’s top shows. But podcast episode length isn’t one of them. They’re all over the place, from a few minutes to a few hours. So, how long should a podcast episode be, really?
So, let’s figure it out – how long should YOUR podcast be?
A Quick Clarification on Podcast Length
There’s a bit of mixed terminology in podcasting where some folks refer to podcast episodes as “podcasts”, whereas others see “a podcast” as the entire series.
However, if you’ve landed here asking, “How long should a podcast be?” or “How long should a podcast episode be?” then I’m going to assume you mean the same thing.
So now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s get into it…
Ideal Podcast Episode Length Is Determined by Content
Here’s the bottom line – if your episode contains a solid 20 minutes of good content that delivers on its title and serves your audience, then 20 minutes is the perfect podcast episode length.
Why stretch that out to an hour, or cut it down to 15 minutes? That’s just putting artificial roadblocks in front of you in your quest to make the best quality content you’re capable of.
Unless you’re initially recording the show live on a radio station, it isn’t like you need to play by anyone else’s time schedule. You don’t need to be wrapped up on the hour so they can cut to the news.
Podcasting is on-demand content, so take as long as you need to create a great episode. But once you’ve achieved that, be mindful not to drag it out any longer.
What About Listening Habits & Average Commute Duration?
Over the years, I’ve heard people try to answer the question of podcast episode length by referring to things like average commuter times. Or the time it takes someone to have a shower.
I don’t buy that these are relevant to podcast listening because you can stop and start listening to episodes wherever and whenever you like.
You can play five minutes of a show whilst making your breakfast in the morning, another 15 on the trip to work, and then listen to the rest on the way home. Or even the next day or week.
It’s just as easy to plug your car speakers into your phone as a set of earbuds. And now, the syncing up of devices like smart speakers means that listening can continue over multiple platforms throughout the day.
There’s very little need to finish an episode to hit stop, and I’ve encountered few listeners who feel the need to consume in one full sitting. I just don’t think the average commute time is a factor here at all.
Should All My Podcast Episodes Be the Same Length?
The same rules apply here: you should never stretch something out if it’s finished or cut it short if it’s not.
There’s definitely a benefit to having some consistency here, though. Loyal listeners will come to expect your episodes to be within a certain length range.
But you get into that position with a system, process, and routine for putting your episodes together. They’re all similar lengths because that’s generally how long it takes to present your podcast content.
You can deviate from that now and then if the content dictates. But having absolutely no consistency in your episode lengths could be jarring for your listeners and prevent you from growing your audience.
It could easily give off the impression of disorganisation and poor planning. And that’s the opposite of what podcast listeners are looking for.
Publishing Schedule & Podcast Format Considerations
To dig a little deeper, let’s explore what we mean by “content should determine length” in podcasting.
One key factor is your podcast format. For example, if you’re putting together a complex audio drama or documentary-style episode that takes a long time to edit and produce, the chances are, the episode isn’t going to be overly long. If it is, the time frames between episodes are going to get very big.
Which highlights another factor to keep in mind – your ideal release schedule. If you want to publish each week, then overly-long episodes are going to take up a lot of your time. An even more extreme example of this is a daily show. Bottom line: the more frequent episodes you want to put out, the shorter your episodes will likely get.
Interviews or discussions might lend themselves to longer formats, but the longer the episode, the bigger the editing and production time. So only go longer if you know that your schedule can accommodate it. An hour-long episode doesn’t mean an hour of work. If anything, you could times that by three or four.
Flash Briefings & Daily News
These shorter podcasts are becoming increasingly popular on smart speakers, where listeners are building playlists of shows that can update them on their areas of interest on a daily basis.
Shows like this are, by their very nature, short and to the point.
But the content should dictate the creation of a show like this. These short runtimes don’t mean they are less work to create – especially if new episodes are going out daily.
Case Study: Pocket-Sized Podcasting
Our show Pocket-Sized Podcasting gives listeners one short sharp tip every single day of the week. The episodes are, on average, only about one minute long.
Should I Avoid Overly Long Podcast Episodes?
Arguably, one of the biggest shows on the planet is Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History Podcast.
The term “biggest” works on two levels. New episodes are downloaded millions of times within the first month of their release.
On top of that, though, these episodes tend to be between 3 and 6 hours long.
This length is perfect for the show’s content, which means they are in no way “too long”.
But if any podcaster is running over one and a half to two hours, there needs to be an excellent reason for it.
Having a back catalogue of multi-hour-long episodes can put new listeners off checking your show out because it seems like such a big commitment.
But again, you should never feel compelled to cut short good content just for the sake of it. If a discussion or interview is going great well into the 2nd or 3rd hour, just split it into two or three episodes if the length of time concerns you.
Some Listener Data
In our podcast discoverability and listening habits survey, 18.8% of respondents said they “feel put off by shorter episodes of 15 minutes or less”, whilst 32% said they “feel put off by longer episodes of an hour or more”.
That means you’re more likely to put off a potential listener by going too long than too short. And while most don’t care about episode length, 32% is a reasonable proportion of listeners to lose if you do go long.
Again, that’s not to say you shouldn’t do multi-hour podcast episodes – just make sure you have a very good reason for it if you do!
Data From Pacific Content & Libsyn: Popular Podcasts Length & Average Length by Category
Whilst the length of anyone else’s podcast shouldn’t be relevant, you’re still likely curious about what others are up to. With that in mind, here’s some insightful data.
Firstly, Rob Walch of podcast hosting giants Libsyn presented these stats on episode 188 of their official podcast, The Feed. In 2021, Rob analysed shows in the top 200 of Apple Podcasts (we can consider these “Successful podcasts”). He found that:
8% had an average podcast episode length of 22 minutes or less
78% had an average podcast episode length of 40 minutes or more
5.5% had an average podcast episode length of two hours or more
He then explained that half of the episodes measured were over one hour long, and the other half were under an hour. This further backs up the point that there’s no “perfect podcast episode length”.
There were also some brilliant data put together by Dan Misenser of Pacific Content back in 2019, suggesting that podcast episodes, on the whole, are getting shorter.
Based on a sample of 18,809,402 episodes published between June 2005 and November 2019 (representing 637,793 distinct podcast series), the mean average episode length was 41 minutes and 31 seconds. That’s almost two minutes shorter than the overall mean average length I calculated last year (2018).
But again, this isn’t a reason for you to opt for shorter, purely because of an overall trend. As disclaimers on health podcasts often say, “This is for informational purposes only”.
Dan also found that, when analysing by category, Video Games, Wrestling, and Games had the longest average episode lengths, whilst Language Learning, Astronomy, and Daily News had the shortest.
Our free Podcast Planner tool will set you up with your own personalised program.
We have some of our own data to throw into the mix, too. It comes via our free Podcast Planner tool, where over 3,400 aspiring podcasters have laid out their plans. As it stands, 52% consider between 20-40 minutes to be that podcast length sweet spot.
52% plan to run for 20-40 minutes
25% plan to run for 6-19 minutes
16% plan to run for 41-90 minutes
5% plan to run from 1-5 minutes
2% plan to run over 90 minutes
As an aside, 43% of these podcasters plan to opt for a solo format, too.
Summary: Podcast Episode Length
As ever, there’s no single answer here because everyone’s podcast is different. But the general theory of podcast episode lengths is simple.
If you have 40 minutes of good, on-topic content, and your episode lasts one hour, then it’s too long.
If If you have 40 minutes of good, on-topic content, and your episode lasts 20 minutes, then it’s too short.
And if you’re consistent and organised with your content, then it’s likely your episodes will fall within a certain length range overall.
Content shouldn’t be made to fit length. Length should be made to fit content
So the bottom line is that the only thing that can dictate the “correct” length of your podcast episodes is your content!
Need More Podcast Questions Answered?
So now you’ve got your answer to the question, “How long should a podcast be?”. Why not let us help you with a few more frequently asked questions?
And finally, for more tailored help, you can join us in the IndiePod Community, where you’ll find courses, live Q&A sessions, and a whole bunch of enthusiastic, passionate, and curious creators just like yourself.
Originally posted on June 15, 2023 @ 1:29 am