Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Most Top-Ranked Podcasts Bring On Guests

Thousands of guests appeared on these podcasts in 2022, but a relatively small number accounted for a majority of appearances.

Thousands of guests appeared on these podcasts in 2022, but a relatively small number accounted for a majority of appearances.

A collage of podcast-related images
(Pew Research Center illustration; photos via Getty Images)
How we did this

This study takes a close look at the guests hosted by the top-ranked podcasts in the United States in 2022. It is a continuation of work that Pew Research Center has done analyzing podcasts as a part of the news and information landscape in the U.S.

We identified these top-ranked podcasts by first analyzing daily lists of the top 200 podcasts on Apple Podcasts and Spotify from April 1 to Sept. 30, 2022 (chart data provided by Podchaser Inc). We calculated the average chart position of each podcast that appeared on either list to identify the top 300 podcasts from each site.

After combining daily Apple and Spotify top-300 lists and eliminating duplicates on both lists, we identified 451 top-ranked podcasts. Of these, 434 published at least one episode from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2022. All 24,004 episodes from these podcasts that published in 2022 and were available from Apple and Spotify were analyzed in this report.

To identify the number of guests in each episode and their names, we used OpenAI’s Generative Pre-Trained (GPT) model. Researchers gave the model specific instructions to extract the name of any guests in an episode from each of the episode descriptions in the dataset. We then ran accuracy checks for the model results, removed duplicate guests, and performed other standard data cleaning steps.

To learn more, read the methodology of the report and a Q&A with the lead researchers.

Pew Research Center is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, its primary funder. This is the latest report in Pew Research Center’s ongoing investigation of the state of news, information and journalism in the digital age, a research program funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, with generous support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Podcasts are a unique, audio-first source of news and entertainment that has steadily drawn more listeners since 2013, with about half of Americans saying they have listened to a podcast in the past year.

A pie chart showing that 76% of top-ranked podcasts brought on at least one guest in 2022

Podcasts are often based around the perspective of the host or hosts, but many podcasts bring on guests to provide additional viewpoints. A new study of 434 top-ranked podcasts shows just how common this practice is: 76% of top-ranked podcasts brought on at least one guest in 2022. About one-in-five (22%) featured guests regularly, and 5% of the shows had guests in almost every episode (90% or more of the time).

Among the key findings in this report:

  • Thousands of individuals appear on top-ranked podcasts. More than 7,000 people appeared on these podcasts in 2022. Because some individuals went on podcasts more than once, these 7,000 individuals made almost 11,000 guest appearances. All told, a guest appeared in about one-third of the approximately 24,000 episodes these podcasts released in 2022.
  • Podcasts on some topics are more likely to have guests, but true crime is a largely guest-free zone. Sports, entertainment, politics and self-help podcasts are more likely to feature guests than other topics, with at least three-quarters of these podcasts hosting at least one guest in 2022. And over half of entertainment podcasts regularly had guests. By contrast, true crime is the most common genre among top-ranked podcasts. But about four-in-ten top-ranked true crime podcasts had no guests in 2022, and just 4% of true crime podcasts featured guests regularly.
  • Most guests make only one guest appearance and stick to a single show: 78% of all guests on these top-ranked podcasts appeared just one time in 2022. And just 12% of guests appeared on multiple podcasts during the year.
  • But guests that made multiple appearances accounted for a significant share of all guest visits. Just 22% of guests made more than one appearance on a top-ranked podcast in 2022, but these individuals made up half of all guest appearances.
  • Individuals affiliated with The Daily Wire are especially prolific podcast guests and often appear on each other’s shows. Five of the 18 people with the most guest appearances on top-ranked podcasts in 2022 were directly affiliated with the conservative news outlet. And the bulk of their appearances were on Daily Wire-produced shows.
  • Many of the people who appeared on the largest number of top-ranked podcasts went on The Joe Rogan Experience. This podcast was a popular destination for people who frequently appeared on top-ranked podcasts in 2022: 44% of these guests went on Rogan’s show that year.

Guests on these podcasts were identified using OpenAI’s Generative Pre-Trained Transformer (GPT) 3.5 model. Researchers gave the model episode descriptions downloaded from Apple Podcasts and Spotify and instructed the model to identify all guests on each episode. For more information, read the methodology and a Q&A with the lead researchers on the report.

Keep reading or jump down to see:

The rise of podcasts

Podcast listenership in the United States has increased steadily since 2013. And a recent Pew Research Center survey found that 49% of U.S. adults have listened to a podcast in the past year.

This report is the latest in the Center’s ongoing research into podcasts. Previous reports covered how Americans engage with podcasts; which podcasts they listen to most; how differences in engagement with podcasts varies based on factors like age and race; and an in-depth analysis of top-ranked podcasts.

Which podcasts bring on guests

A bar chart showing that 16% of top-ranked podcasts about politics almost always had guests in 2022, more than any other topic

Top-ranked podcasts cover a wide range of subjects. But podcasts about some topics were more likely to bring guests on than others in 2022. Notably, every top sports podcast had at least one episode with a guest. A majority of self-help (86%), entertainment (85%) and politics (78%) podcasts did so as well.

True crime podcasts were the least likely major genre to bring on guests: Slightly more than half (56%) brought a guest on in at least one episode.

Majorities of podcasts about each of these topics brought on at least one guest. But far fewer brought on a guest regularly (in 50% to 89% of their episodes). Roughly half of entertainment podcasts (48%) hosted guests regularly, as did about one-in-three sports (33%) and self-help (32%) podcasts. In contrast, just 4% of true crime podcasts featured guests regularly.

A small share of podcasts (5%) almost always had a guest in their episodes in 2022 – that is, a guest appeared in 90% or more episodes. This was most common among politics and government podcasts, 16% of which had a guest on nearly every episode. No more than 10% of podcasts in all other categories had a guest this frequently.

News-focused podcasts

A modest share (15%) of top-ranked podcasts focused on news of any topic in 2022. But the vast majority (89%) of these news-focused podcasts hosted at least one guest during the year, a higher share than podcasts that were not news-focused.

Many news-focused podcasts frequently brought on guests. About a third (31%) did so regularly, and 13% almost always brought on guests – far higher than the share of podcasts that do not focus on news (3%).

Repeat guests

It was relatively common for top-ranked podcasts to bring on the same guests more than once in 2022. About half (49%) of all top-ranked podcasts had at least one of these repeat guests over the year. And around a quarter of these podcasts (23%) had more than five repeat guests that year.

At the same time, most podcasts didn’t rely especially heavily on these repeat guests. Fewer than 1% of all guest appearances came from repeat guests on a typical podcast that ever had guests in 2022.

But podcasts that had guests more frequently tended to bring on the same guests more often. A typical podcast that regularly had guests brought on a repeat guest for 7% of all guest appearances. That share rose to 10% of guest appearances for podcasts that almost always had guests.

Which podcast guests appear most often

While podcasts often brought on repeat guests in 2022, most guests did not appear very often: 78% of all guests appeared on just one episode of a top-ranked podcast during the year.

The 22% of guests who appeared on two or more episodes tended to be extremely prolific. Appearances from this minority of guests accounted for 49% of all guest appearances on top-ranked podcasts in 2022.

A bar chart showing that Most guests only made one appearance on any 
top-ranked podcast in 2022

This 22% of guests who made multiple podcast appearances in 2022 is made up of:

  • 12% of guests who appeared on multiple podcasts – Together, this 12% of guests accounted for 28% of all guest appearances on top-ranked podcasts in 2022.
  • 10% who appeared on a single podcast multiple timesTogether, this 10% of guests made up 21% of all guest appearances on top-ranked podcasts in 2022. These guests were often regulars for the podcasts they went on frequently: Many of the guests with the largest number of appearances on a single podcast were in 5% or more of that show’s episodes.  

Guests who appeared on the most shows in 2022

A table showing The most frequently appearing guests on top-ranked podcasts in 2022

The preceding “bird’s eye view” analysis looked at how often the same guests were appearing across podcasts or even within the same podcasts. In this section, we look at the specific guests who appeared on the highest number of podcasts and episodes.

As noted above, 12% of all guests appeared on more than one show in 2022. Sixteen of these individuals went on six or more top-ranked podcasts over the course of the year, accruing nearly 109 guest appearances between them.

The guests who went on the largest number of shows come from a diverse set of professional backgrounds, ranging from company founder and CEO Elon Musk to psychologist, author and commentator Jordan Peterson. Others in this list include:

  • Figures from the entertainment industry, such as Andrew Schulz, Ari Shaffir, Bert Kreischer and Judd Apatow.
  • Scientists like Neil DeGrasse Tyson or Anthony Fauci.
  • Journalists and political commentators from across the media landscape, ranging from New York Times columnist Maggie Haberman to independent journalist Matt Taibbi.

Many of these guests made appearances on the same podcasts. Most notably, 14 of these 16 individuals appeared on The Joe Rogan Experience at one time or another during the year. Other shows that brought a relatively large number of these guests include The Megyn Kelly Show, Candace Owens, and the Are You Garbage? podcast.

Guests who appeared in the most episodes in 2022

Eighteen individuals made a total of 20 or more guest appearances on a top-ranked podcast in 2022, and these guests tended to come from one of two broad groupings.

Twelve of these 18 guests are sports journalists or commentators. Many are affiliated with The Ringer or The Athletic. And five of these 18 guests are directly affiliated with the conservative outlet The Daily Wire.

These five guests include Michael Knowles, CEO Jeremy Boreing, Matt Walsh, Andrew Klavan and site co-founder Ben Shapiro. All but Boreing host a podcast published by The Daily Wire. And all of them tend to appear on podcasts produced by that outlet. Some 90% of their nearly 150 guest appearances on top-ranked podcasts in 2022 were on podcasts produced by The Daily Wire.

Deep dive: Classifying podcasts around the guests they share

As noted above, 52% of top-ranked podcasts – 225 in total – shared at least one guest with another top-ranked podcast in 2022. We wanted to see if we could find any patterns in these guest appearances and identify clusters of podcasts that tend to share similar guests.

To do this, we visualized these podcasts and their guests as a network map. We then used a technique known as community detection to put them into groups based on the guests they bring on, how often they have those people as guests, and the other podcasts those guests make appearances on.

Here is an overview of how that process worked:

When we ran our network of podcasts and guest appearances through the community detection algorithm, we found five distinct groups containing between nine and 14 shows each. Refer to the appendix for a table with the full list of shows in each group.

All told, 57 podcasts were included in one of these five groups. The other podcasts on our map were not included in any groups. That is because they have fewer connections with other shows based on the guests they share.

Some of these groups – like Groups 3 and 4 – are close together on the map, which means that several guests made appearances on shows in each group. Others – like Groups 1 and 2 – are far apart, meaning there is less similarity in the guests they bring on, but still enough to be grouped together.

Beyond the guests they bring on, the podcasts that were assigned to each of the different groups were sometimes tied together by clear and consistent themes in the topics they cover or the people who host those shows. But in other cases, those similarities were not as obvious.

Here is a brief description of the shows in each group.

Group 1 (news, political commentary and current events, often with a left-of-center perspective)

All the podcasts in Group 1 are about news, current events and politics. These shows often – but not always – have a liberal or left-of-center viewpoint.

Although these shows tend to come from the political left, their guests can be drawn from other parts of the political spectrum. For instance, the community detection analysis placed the Real Time with Bill Maher podcast in this group: His show shared 17 guests with eight other podcasts in this group over the course of the year. But it also shared 23 guests with six podcasts in Group 2, many of whose shows tend to have a more conservative orientation.

Group 2 (news, political commentary and current events, often with a right-of-center perspective)

Group 2 also contains several shows about politics, news and current events. Many of these shows approach these topics from a conservative or right-of-center perspective. Several are affiliated with The Daily Wire.

The group also includes shows from journalists and media personalities who have been affiliated with Fox News, such as Megyn Kelly and Dan Bongino. Like Maher, Kelly’s show is located toward the midpoints of Groups 1 and 2 on our network map. Her show shared 60 guests with 10 podcasts in Group 2, but also 14 guests with five podcasts in Group 1 and 28 guests with eight podcasts in Group 5.

Group 2 also includes a few podcasts that touch on other topics like true crime or self-help and personal improvement.

Group 3 (sports-centric commentary and analysis)

The podcasts in this group tend to focus on sports news, commentary and analysis. Group 3 also contains two shows that focus on the broader world of pop culture but are affiliated with the Ringer Podcast Network.

Group 4 (mostly entertainment, some sports)

This group contains several shows hosted by actors or other figures from the world of entertainment and pop culture. It also includes interview podcasts hosted by sports personality Bill Simmons and NBA player Draymond Green, as well as NPR’s Fresh Air podcast.

Group 5 (a wide-ranging mash-up of comedy, sports, self-help, political commentary and more)

This group is the most wide-ranging of the five identified here. Several of the shows in this group are hosted by figures from the world of stand-up comedy. But Group 5 also includes two sports shows on the Barstool Sports network and two shows that focus on topics related to self-help, life skills and financial advice.

It also includes several shows in which figures with ties to the world of comedy and entertainment discuss a wide-ranging set of issues, from pop culture to politics and current events. The most prominent of these is The Joe Rogan Experience, whose guests have a substantial amount of overlap with Group 2.

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