Podcast Basics

How Long Should a Podcast Episode Be?

8 min read

One of the top questions we get from new podcasters is this: “How long should a podcast episode be?” 

Sadly, all shows and hosts are different, so there’s no clear answer that applies to every podcast. Some shows last hours, some just last a few minutes. The length of your content depends on a number of factors. 

In this article, we’ll help you decide how long your episodes should be. 

How Long are Podcast Episodes?

When Dan Misener, Head of Audience Development at Pacific Content, analyzed the metadata of 19 million podcast episodes (representing more than 600k distinct podcasts), he discovered that the average episode length was 41 minutes and 31 seconds

There are outliers in that average, of course, like this 11-hour episode. But the median episode length isn’t much different than the mean: 36 minutes and 34 seconds. 

Interestingly, Dan Misener’s data on episode length shows a clear trend: Episodes are getting shorter. The mean and median lengths are about two minutes shorter than the average he calculated the previous year

Why do so many episodes hover around the 30-minute range? It’s hard to say. Obviously there’s a limit to how long people will listen. We also think there’s a connection to the average commute time, which is about 27 minutes. After all, according to a 2019 study by Infinite Dial, over one-fourth of podcast listeners consume podcast content while driving

Episode length by category

Naturally, there are consistent differences between episodes of different genres. Some types of podcasts lend themselves to longer episodes than others. This chart shows the median podcast episode length by category in minutes.

As you can see, gaming, wrestling, film, TV, and music offer the longest episodes. Education, news, and language learning offer the shortest. Why? It’s hard to say, but keep in mind there are multiple factors in play, such as the nature of the content and the amount of time those audiences have to listen to an episode. 

Do Listeners Like Long and/or Short Episodes?

Okay, so we know the averages. But how long should a podcast episode be in special circumstances? There must be upper and lower limits to an episode’s length, right? Maybe, but the range is pretty wide. 

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, for example, is one of the biggest podcasts on the planet with millions of downloads per episode. Episodes tend to be between four and six hours long. 

Hardcore History helps us answer the question, “How long should a podcast episode be?”

The Joe Rogan Experience is an example of another outlier. Almost all of his episodes break three hours. Some last as long as five hours.

Why do people listen so long? Because the length makes sense for the content. A two-hour Hardcore History would feel short and incomplete. A brief interview would disrupt Joe Rogan’s need for deep and organic conversations. 

On the other end of the spectrum, Radio Headspace publishes brief, four-minute episodes to “pause and reflect to consider what brings us together in this shared human condition and how we can live a life that best reflects our limitless potential.”

Radio Headspace helps us answer the question, “How long should a podcast episode be?”

Of course, this doesn’t mean that long or short is better. If you try to stretch your content out for length, your listeners will grow bored. If they see a history of unnecessarily lengthy episodes, they may not explore your back catalogue. 

But if you rush through your content just keep your episodes short, you’ll leave your listeners wanting more. They might decide to invest their time in a more complete show. 

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Does Topic Affect Length?

Yes, absolutely. Some topics only require a few minutes. Others require a lot more time.

For instance, a history podcast requires plenty of exposition to set the scene, especially if you’re talking about history older than any of us have been alive. 

But a podcast about current events would talk about events and use phrases that most of us understand. The audience already has sufficient familiarity with the subject, so you wouldn’t need to spend much time setting things up.

Think about your show’s topic. Now think about the kinds of episodes you will produce. Do they take long to explain? Do they require hours of background knowledge? Or can you get to the point in just a few minutes? 

If you aren’t sure how long episodes in your topic should be, browse Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify for shows similar to yours. How long are those episodes? Do the lengths of those episodes seem reasonable, or are they too long or too short? Are they missing anything? Trying to do too much?

Should All Episodes Be the Same Length?

Not necessarily. While it’s important to have a general rule in place (like “my episodes are 25-35 minutes long”), you don’t have to stick to a rigid schedule. Let the content of each episode determine that episode’s length, and don’t worry if your episodes’ times vary a bit. 

That said, try to maintain some consistency. Loyal listeners will expect a typical length. If your listeners get used to 30-minute episodes, they won’t appreciate a surprise six hour episode unless you have a really good reason. 

Does Publishing Frequency Affect Length?

Your publishing frequency can also influence your episode lengths. Shows that publish more often tend to produce shorter episodes.

For instance, let’s say you want to create a show that curates and comments on news headlines. You want to be super current, which involves publishing a new episode every day. In this case, it would make more sense to produce short episodes, most likely less than 15 minutes each. You may have a lot to say, but your audience isn’t going to listen to a two hour podcast episode every single day.

But if you create three-hour deep-dive documentaries on dense subjections, your audience wouldn’t be upset if you only published once a month. They understand that that type of content takes time to produce. 

Does the Hosts Preference Matter?

Of course! Even though you’re making content for an audience and needs and preferences are paramount, you also have to consider what works best for you. If you build a podcast that fails to fit into your life, there’s a good chance you’ll abandon your own show eventually. 

For instance, if you only have two hours per week to produce content, that sets a hard limit on your episode length. Some of that time will be spent on editing, marketing, and connecting with your audience. You’ll only be able to produce 25-40 minute episodes. 

But if your entire week is wide open (maybe podcasting is all you do now), you have a lot more flexibility with episode structure and length. 

Ask yourself honestly how much time you can invest into your show. It’s okay if you don’t have much. It’s better to design a show that fits your schedule, rather than try to do too much and either stress yourself out or fail to produce episodes. 

This is why outsourcing is so important for podcasters. Simply having someone else handle your editing, for instance, can save loads of time. You can also have someone else publish episodes, write show notes and transcriptions, post on social media, etc. 

So How Long Should a Podcast Episode Be?

So if you’re still wondering, “How long should a podcast episode be?” the best piece of advice we can give you is to let the content determine the length. Long is okay, providing you have a good reason for the length. 

If you can only create 25 minutes of quality content, then the episode only needs to be 25 minutes. If you can create another five minutes of solid content, then add in those five minutes. But there’s no need to add any more or cut it down to meet an arbitrary time limit.

What happens if you create too much? Well, that’s what editing is for. If your episode meanders down tangents or provides too much detail for your audience, don’t be afraid to cut it down during post production. In fact, most content creators will tell you that the best stuff happens during editing. 

Keep in mind, however, that you aren’t making radio or TV content. You aren’t beholden to anyone’s schedule. If one episode requires a few extra minutes, then so be it. Focus on the quality of your content, not an arbitrary time limit. 

Understanding your audience’s needs helps as well. If your audience only has 40 minutes/week to devote to podcasts, then that’s your limit. A 90 minute episode isn’t going to feel like “more value” to this kind of audience. They’ll just think, “Well, that’s too long for me. Next!”

If you aren’t sure what your audience prefers, the simplest method is to ask them. Set up a quick form on your podcast website that asks them a few questions about your show. Get some feedback on what they like and don’t like about your show, including their preferred episode length. You’ll probably notice a clear trend.

Don’t be afraid to ask a few other questions, as well. For instance, you could ask how they feel about your show’s format, the type of content they want to hear more of, and if they have any topic or guest recommendations.

Podcasting is Built on Loyalty 

The most successful podcasts build audiences based on loyalty. They publish high quality content on a consistent schedule. Over time, these podcasts become an integral part of their listeners’ daily and weekly routines. It’s helpful to know that most podcasts are about a half hour long, and that there are successful outliers on both ends of the spectrum, it’s most important to let the episode’s topic and quality determine its length. 

What are your thoughts: How long should a podcast episode be? Let us know in the comments?

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Dennis is a content marketer and web developer with years of experience helping startups and small businesses build their online platforms. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and daughter.

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