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Most popular podcasts of 2020 and how Covid has changed our listening habits

If you’ve recently taken up a new hobby, or you’re interested in something a bit niche, I can almost guarantee that there’s a podcast out there about it.

The humble beginnings of podcasting stretches back to 2004, with the iPodder programme that enabled users to download Internet radio broadcasts to their iPods.

But it’s in more recent years that podcasting has really made an impact on our lives. There are more podcasts than ever before, all at the touch of our fingertips. Apple have counted over one million shows and 30 million episodes available on Apple Podcasts, with 63,000 new episodes added in March this year. Compare that with the 25,000 episodes added in September 2019, and you’ll begin to get an idea of how quickly the podcast market is growing.

So, with 2020 nearly over, let’s take a look at which podcasts have provided the soundtrack to this year.

Our 2020 podcast listening habits

According to a December 2019 survey, podcasts with a focus on news and interviews, as well as those in a serialised format, were set to be big in the year ahead. However, no one could have predicted the bumpy road 2020 would take, so how did the Covid-19 pandemic alter our listening habits? Did it mean we listened to more podcasts, or drastically less?

Well, with lockdown banishing most of us to our studies or dining rooms to work, instead of the office, commuting became a thing of the past. Audio streaming giant Spotify declared that their listening stats as of April meant “every day looks like the weekend”, with less people tuning in to podcasts in the morning as a result of the significant change in routine. However, this didn’t stop them meeting their forecasted earnings. They also reported a 50% increase in streaming through TVs and game consoles, highlighting a significant change in our listening habits.

By the end of July, Spotify had reported that podcast consumption on their platform had doubled. Now, nearly a quarter of the app’s listeners use the platform for podcasts and over 10 million people listen to a podcast every week in the UK, reflecting a 4% increase from spring 2019.

So, we can see that, yes, the pandemic may have had a defining effect on how and when we get our podcast fix, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is the growing popularity of the medium.

So, which podcasts were most popular?

According to data compiled by Finder, we mainly turn to podcasts for one thing: a laugh. The five most popular podcasts in the UK this year are all comedies, with Sh**ged, Married, Annoyed coming out on top.

Most popular podcasts in the UK in 2020

  1. Sh**ged, Married, Annoyed
  2. Off Menu with Ed Gamble and James Acaster
  3. The Receipts Podcast
  4. JaackMaate’s Happy Hour
  5. Call Her Daddy

This fact is quite telling. It suggests that, in a year littered with bad news, we turned to podcasts for a bit of escapism and to cheer ourselves up with the best medicine – laughter.

However, it wasn’t just comedy podcasts that did well this year. At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, we begun to see a rapid increase in the amount of podcasts specifically focused on the virus, and news regarding it. As we all sought to stay up to date with what was going on around the world, we tuned in more and more to podcasts that could provide, and discuss, the news for us. Vox Media reported a 50% increase in downloads of their news shows, while Slate declared that their 47% increase in downloads is largely due to their coronavirus coverage.

We can see that these stats highlight a key part of our podcast listening habits. A lot of us now rely on the medium for bitesize breakdowns of the news. So in a year that saw a heightened need for staying up to date, it comes as no surprise that more of us started tuning in to news-related podcasts. And, according to, they noted that alongside comedy, news and health are two of the most popular podcast genres.

So, with comedy claiming the top spot as our most-loved podcast genre this year, with news and health related shows also seeing an increase in downloads, we can understand the effect Covid has had on the podcast market this year. When we needed a bit of cheering up and light relief, we turned to shows that would make us laugh, but when we wanted a daily update on the pandemic and other news stories, we tuned in to one of the masses of podcasts focused on current affairs.

Matinée’s top picks

Now we know which genres and shows the general public enjoyed the most this year, it’s time to turn our attention to the Matinée team. As a company that specialises in audio production, we have a fair few podcast-lovers on our team who have picked their favourite shows to recommend.

The Good, The Bad and The Rugby – recommended by Callum, Sales Manager

“The Good, The Bad and The Rugby is a weekly podcast that focuses on all things rugby. It is hosted by sports journalist Alex Payne, along with two former England players James Haskell and RWC winner Mike Tindall. Whilst they cover the weekly topics on current affairs in rugby, they also interview past and current players talking about important subjects.

The reason I like it is because it’s become a platform where men talk about subjects such as mental health, physical health, and the stress of having to ‘man up’ in a sport that is still predominantly macho.”

The Michelle Obama Podcast – recommended by Ally, Talent Coordinator

“This is one of my favourite listens because Michelle is an inspirational woman of power. Her podcasts give you an inside scoop of her life as First Lady, as well as covering other general topics such as family, working women, friendship, love and politics.”

Off Menu with Ed Gamble & James Acaster – recommended by Isobel, Marketing & Communications Assistant

“Off Menu sees comedians Ed and James welcome a special guest each week into their dream restaurant, where they can choose the components of their dream meal. The boys discuss the choices with the guest, often ending up with each of them sharing funny (or embarrassing) memories related to food.

I love this podcast because it’s a bit of light-hearted fun and never fails to make me smile (or laugh out loud in public, which has happened on a number of occasions!). I love the hilarious anecdotes that are shared, and it also makes me think about what food I would choose in the dream restaurant, which I still haven’t managed to decide upon yet!”

Deliciously Ella – recommended by Lauren, Marketing & General Manager

“Deliciously Ella is all about plant based and holistic living. Ella started a food blog after years of severe health issues and has developed a fantastic wellness brand from this, which includes the podcast. The podcast covers a vast range of health and wellness topics, including food, lifestyle, exercise, yoga, mindfulness, stress, happiness, mental health and much more.

I love listening to the various guests that Ella has on the show who are specialists in the specific subjects. I don’t believe you have to be vegan or follow a solely plant based diet to enjoy this, I’m not vegan or vegetarian but really enjoy all the recipes as they feel so healthy and nutritious. I can also relate to their family run business culture, as we have the same dynamic here at Matinée where we’re a family run business, and I work alongside my husband and father.”  

Predictions for 2021

2020 has proven we can never quite predict what will happen in a year, but it’s still worth considering the podcasts trends that are tipped to take over in 2021.

Podcast network Ossa have predicted that News and Education podcast listenership will continue to grow in 2021. This includes podcasts for kids, a sector that Ossa believe will see a continued rise in popularity as parents turn to different sources to help educate and entertain their children. As well as this, they predict that the ‘Covid effect’ will continue to cause an increase in comedy podcasts as people seek forms of escapism.

However, with an end to the Covid-19 pandemic just about in sight, it will be interesting to see how this impacts our podcast listening habits in 2021. One thing’s for certain though – the increasing popularity of podcasts doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.  

According to Statisa, 70% of survey respondents claimed that audio quality is one of the most important factors to consider when selecting a podcast to listen to. Here at Matinée Multilingual, we have two voice recording studios, with the facilities required to record podcasts in multiple languages with high quality, clean audio.

For help with your next podcast recording, or any audio project, get in touch with Matinée Multilingual today.

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