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 couple of minutes, up to a few hours. So, how long should a podcast episode be, really?
Well, that all depends on you, from the topic you're covering, to the format you follow. So, let's figure it out – how long should YOUR podcast be?
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 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?
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.
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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 5 minutes of a show whilst making your breakfast in the morning, another 15 on the trip to work, 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 it is a set of earbuds. And now the syncing up of devices like smart speakers mean that listening can continue over multiple platforms throughout the day.
There's very little need to finish an episode in order to hit stop, and I've encountered few listeners who feel the need to consume in one full sitting.
Should All My Episodes Be the Same Length?
The same rules apply here: you should never stretch something out if it’s done, 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 by having a system, process, and routine in place for putting your episodes together. They're all similar lengths because that's generally how long it takes to present your 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.
Flash Briefings & Daily News
One reason to create short (sub 10 minute) episodes is if you want to do a daily news or “flash briefing” show.
These 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.
These shows, by their very nature, are short and to the point.
But it's the content that should dictate the creation of a show like this. These episodes' short runtimes doesn't mean they are less work to create – especially if new episodes are going out every day.
Should I Avoid Overly Long Episodes?
Arguably the biggest show on the planet is Dan Carlin's Hardcore History.
The term “biggest” works on two levels. New episodes of the series are downloaded millions of times within the first month of their release.
On top of that though, these episodes tend to be between 4 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 1 and a half to 2 hours, there needs to be a very good reason for it.
Having a back catologue 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 2 or 3 episodes if the length of time concerns you.
Summary: Podcast Episode Length
As ever, there's no single one 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 1 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 episodes is your content!
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