|Photo by davideferrari|
In today’s society our senses are being continually bombarded with an overwhelming and virtually limitless stream of information. How do we cope with it all? Podcasts are yet another potential drain on our valuable time resources. So, if you choose to satisfy your information cravings with this modern medium, when do you say enough is enough?
If you listen to podcasts, what is the ideal length of a podcast to fit in with your busy schedule? When do they become too long, and when are they too short to be worth bothering with?
If you look through a typical TV guide, you will see that television and radio shows are often either half an hour or an hour in length, although after removing the “dead time” between them, the actual shows themselves are more likely to be 25 minutes and 55 minutes in length respectively.
However, podcasts don’t have to be as regimented in their length as broadcast shows, as they can be listened to at any time; they don’t have to fit in to an existing schedule with predefined time slots. They can be as long, or as short as they need to be to get their message across.
Can a Podcast be too Short?
If you’re at your computer and you want to listen to a short podcast for example, then it’s probably not too much of a problem to do so. Just click the button in your web browser and listen to it there and then.
However, if there are a few short podcasts that you want to listen to in your car, is it really worth the bother of downloading them all individually onto your MP3 player? Notwithstanding the hassle you’ll have later on in the car; fiddling around with your MP3 player every few minutes to select the next track!
Furthermore, to get over any real information that may be either useful or entertaining, the podcast obviously can’t be too short.
So what is too short? Would it be fair to say that for a podcast to be of any significant value, you should be looking at a minimum length of at least 5 minutes?
While there may, or may not be such a thing as a podcast that is too short, the converse is not the case. A podcast can definitely be too long.
Our attention spans don’t seem to be what they used to be, so there will invariably be a point at which you switch off and stop concentrating. Any podcast longer than your personal attention span, is therefore too long.
The average attention span of an adult listening to a lecture is between 15 to 20 minutes. Perhaps a good guideline for the length of a podcast!
Podcasts are designed to be listened to at your convenience, wherever and whenever that may be.
If you typically listen to your podcasts in your car on the way to work and your daily commute takes 25 minutes, then podcasts lasting 30 minutes or more will probably be too long for you in the given circumstances.
Clearly then, how and when you listen to podcasts will have a significant bearing on what you think is an optimum length for a podcast.
Time is Relative
According to Einstein’s theory of relativity, time is relative.
While this may be true for the physicists, it is also true for all of us, but from a more subjective viewpoint, depending on how busy our lives are.
Those with busier lives will undoubtedly have less time to listen to podcasts and will probably prefer their podcasts to be shorter and more concise; easily digestible bite sized chunks.
Lengths of Example Podcasts
By way of example it may be helpful to look at a few example podcasts to see what sort of typical lengths podcasts are:
|17 minutes||Business Ears|
|24 minutes||Pods and Blogs|
|27 minutes||Digital Planet|
|34 minutes||Guardian: Tech Weekly|
|47 minutes||The Audacity to Podcast|
|57 minutes||The Podcasters’ Studio|
|69 minutes||The Podcast Answer Man|
Looking at the above table we can see that podcasts come in a range of different lengths from 10 minutes to over an hour.
The average length of the above podcasts is 35 minutes, not too dissimilar a length to your average TV or radio show.
I’ve been producing a regular monthly podcast for Zen Internet for a few years now. The shortest podcast that I have recorded was just under 10 minutes, while the longest I did was 27 minutes in length.
Listen to My BBC Radio Interview on Podcast Lengths
A little while ago I was interviewed by BBC Radio on their Outriders radio show about podcasting and how long a podcast should be. Here’s the snippet of my interview on the show:
Or, download: BBC-interview.mp3 [4‘ 36”, 2.2MB]
Have Your Say
For my own personal preference, I would have to say that my ideal length of a podcast would be around 20 minutes. Interestingly, approximately the same length of your average adult’s attention span.
So, what’s your preferred length of podcast, if you have one?
Once you have submitted your answer below, you will get to see the results of the poll so far.
Corey Charette commented
I currently do two podcasts and the lengths of those shows are 30 minutes and 45 minutes respectively.
My shows have a lineup and we just “go with the flow”.
Tech Gang Show stays very much to the lineup with no variation to the script so the show is always about the same length.
Average Joe Show is more opinionated so we can go off on tangents, but try to keep the conversation stimulating.
As for both of these shows we don’t use a clock. We just begin the show and keep going. That helps when you don’t keep staring at the clock, you don’t want to skip anything that’s important.
In a nutshell, there is no definitive answer to this question. Leo Laporte’s TWiT and Adam Curry’s No Agenda runs around 90 minutes, but as long as the conversation is stimulating, time is irrelevant. Also these shows aren’t daily shows. Frequency of release also plays a part.
To me, it doesn’t matter how long the show goes on as long as it’s worth listening to. With all MP3s players you have the luxury of stopping the show in the middle and continuing it later.
Also, there is no real hassle of downloading shows to your player. Whether the show is 2 minutes or 2 hours long. If you enjoy a show you use their feed to automatically download the show and sync it with your player.
After reading your post I thought about the many podcasts that I listen to. They vary from 10 minutes to well over an hour. Most of these are long term favourites, so they are all easy to listen to and are of an appropriate length. As a general rule of thumb the ideal length seems to be related to the number of voices involved in the podcast. I think 10-15 minutes per voice is a reasonable value. You included the 10 minute Skeptoid podcast – that’s just Brian Dunning talking on his own about one specific subject at a time. The half hour podcasts generally have two presenters or one presenter and a few other contributors. My favourite podcast, The Skeptics Guide to the Universe runs 60-80 minutes, but that has 5 equal contributors.
Maybe someone ought to do some research into how long people can stand listening to a single person speaking!
James Williams commented
If I am listening to a new podcast I will generally be happy to listen to 20 minutes, but as a regular subscriber I will listen to podcasts of between 10-85 minutes in length or audio.
The longer the content – however – the harder it is to slot into my day. I have a 40 minute commute each way, so that’s a good time to listen to a 30 minute audio podcast, but because I’m driving, watching video is out of the question!
Video is different. I will rarely watch more than 10 minute video podcasts. When creating, I will generally create video content to no more than 10 minutes.
When we are creating the Podcasters Emporium podcast, which goes into a lot of detail, we keep our content under the one-hour mark.
Richard, I found your article just now.
I am the founder of Spreaker a website which helps you creating your podcast or live podcast and share it with a community of users. We have a lot of statistics on the behaviour of our users and we know that the average time people listen to a single piece of content on the platform is way shorter than 30 minutes.
In facts our experience shows that the average listening time per single episode is around 15 minutes for a pre-registered podcast and goes up to 29 minutes for a live show.
I will be glad to give you more details if you need them.
Hi Francesco, Thanks for the information, it kind of supports what I was saying. If you have any more statistics, please e-mail me, as I’d be really interested to see how your users consume their podcasts. Richard.
Ted C commented
Im currently enjoying the Madhouse Live Podcast which last from 3 and a half hours to 4 hours and 40 mins for the most recent. though I never manage to listen to one in a single sitting. Thats the beauty of the pause button, a podcast is as long as you want it to be. 🙂
Wow, I think that’s the longest I’ve ever heard of, but as you say a podcast can be as long as you want it to be.
What are your thoughts on podcasts dedicated to training employees while at work? I am concerned about attention spans and amount of time permitted for training. Although the pause button is a help, perhaps smaller 10 to 15 minute snippets would be more effective. I’m going with hunches–no data to support my feelings. However, I have noticed that some training offered by organizations such as Adobe only last aobut 5 minutes, but they will offer 20+ five-minute training clips. Each clip is on a different subject related to a particular software they are selling. Your thoughts?
Richard Farrar commented
Hi Mike, I think it’s an excellent idea and something I’ve considered offering as a service to companies myself, particularly to training sales staff on the road with podcasts. For the desktop environment, I would think bite size chunks of 5 – 10 minutes would be optimal. Listening to audio alone in an office environment, any more and attentions will wander I think.
What are your thoughts about training emloyees with the use of voice-over powerpoints? How long should they be…5-10 minutes?
Richard Farrar commented
I would think 10 minutes maximum would be a reasonable target. Having pictures will help to keep the listener engaged a little better than pure audio alone.