Podcasting is big business, and whether you are an avid listener, or have little to no interest in the topic, chances are you will be well aware of the format in some capacity.
With major streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music increasingly pushing the format – as well as many popular public figures jumping on the hype – podcasting has seen a substantial increase in listenership and market revenue year on year.
Ever wondered how podcasting came to become the phenomenon it is today? And why new shows seem to be popping up left right and center? Stick around as we cover all this and more below.
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The growth of podcasting
The Guardian estimates that the number of podcasts has more than tripled since 2019 on Spotify alone. With over 2,000,000 individual podcasts, as well as 48 million episodes as of April this year (according to Podcast Insights) we need to take a step back and take a look at how this craze started.
Episodic radio shows are nothing new – and while a case can be made for podcasting being invented in 2004 by Adam Curry, the format goes even further back. Before iPods and streaming services, and even before TV itself, we had the radio. The first radio show (a news program broadcast in 1920) gave people the first glimpse into audio-based entertainment.
This trend quickly took off, with other radio stations creating their own shows and segments to entertain listeners, and although the main stations were government-funded or big businesses, pirate radio stations allowed a way for the public to hop on the bandwagon.
Fast forward to 2004, when iPodder is invented. This program allowed people to download radio shows onto their iPods, giving the format some serious traction. For the first time in history, people are able to have all of their favorite radio shows in their pocket, and with listening being easier now than ever, it’s a surprise to nobody that demand rose significantly.
But don’t just take my word for it – according to Statista, as of 2006, 10% of all Americans had listened to a podcast. This number only grows as we get to the present day, with over 46% of Americans having listened to a podcast in the last month alone – that is over 116 million regular listeners.
Why do people start podcasting?
So, why is it that so many people are enamored with the podcasting format? There are many reasons.
One of the biggest reasons is the content. People like to be entertained or educated – and in a recent survey, Riverside FM discovered that 74% of podcast listeners tune in specifically to learn new things.
What are they learning? Whatever they want to. The luxury of the platform at this point is that you can find a show on just about anything, there is such a large scale of content being produced that if you take a few minutes to search around on any streaming platform, chances are you will find something that piques your interest.
As well as having such a variety of content, it is all so readily accessible that there is no reason not to listen. Most podcasts are distributed for free and seeing as everybody has a smartphone these days, it is super convenient to listen to.
Whether you are in your home, on a train, or in the office, podcasting lends itself to multi-tasking. The great thing about podcasting is that it only requires that you listen, so you can very easily go about your day while tuning in to your favorite show, making it a super convenient form of entertainment.
Why do so many people make podcasts?
The number of podcasts has seen a huge increase in the past few years – but why is that? What is it about the format that sees so many people making the switch from listening to making their own show?
One of the biggest reasons is how easy it is to get started. Unlike other forms of media, you can record a pretty decent podcast with very minimal investment. Every smartphone has a built-in microphone, and with freeware such as Audacity for mixing, there is little to no cost when starting a show.
As well as being easy to start recording, it’s almost equally as easy to distribute your show. If you have a sincere passion for your chosen topic and are posting regularly, people are bound to discover your show. This is made easier because nearly all podcasts are distributed by RSS, meaning once you put an episode out, it will be available on podcasting apps pretty much immediately.
This is a wonderful thing – as it provides anybody wanting to build a community around their show the opportunity to do so. Compared to other formats, that are kept behind paywalls and exuberant start-up fees, starting a podcast is a no-brainer for those looking to educate or entertain online.
Is podcasting oversaturated?
Having such an accessible medium is a great way for people to connect – and in a world of gatekeepers – it is a breath of fresh air. That being said, this does have its downsides.
With such ease of access, there are inevitably a lot of shows on the market, and not all podcasts are made equal. Simple RSS streaming apps offer the entire catalog of shows out there, but with such a quantity of media, it is almost impossible to carry out meaningful quality control, meaning that as a listener, you might find yourself faced with 200+ shows on a single topic with no clue as to which is worth your time.
This saturation is mitigated by bigger apps such as Apple Music and Spotify, which use algorithms to promote popular shows and bury those which fall out of favor. This helps make the market feel less saturated and inspires healthy competitiveness essential to any industry.
Saturation doesn’t have to be a bad thing though. Having such a plethora of shows on any given topic opens the door for niches, with subcommunities connecting over incredibly specific topics, which leads to new and interesting ideas being collectively generated. One of the biggest joys of podcasting are these unique communities – where else would you find an entire series focusing on the discussion of pens and their many accessories?
Are podcasts still popular in 2021?
Podcasts in 2021 are more popular than ever. With recent events leading many of us to take up new hobbies and activities to pass the time, podcasts have been a vital resource in learning new skills and keeping people entertained.
Having grown year on year since 2004, podcasting is here to stay. With so much content being produced on a daily basis, avid listeners should be reassured that they won’t be running out of shows to tune into any time soon.
For creators, it’s more good news, as the steady growth in popularity is providing shows at all levels a steady stream of listeners.
On top of all of this, the industry is still incredibly lucrative. Podcast advertising is up 35% compared to last year and is forecasted to exceed $1b total market estimate this year. These numbers speak to the immense and continued popularity of the format.
The future of podcasting
With this upward trajectory, what does the future hold for podcasting?
In a report published in 2020, the Nielsen Company forecasts that the U.S podcast audience could double by 2023. This huge growth will bring about an ever-increasing demand for content meaning creators will have ample opportunity to grow their fan bases in years to come.
One of the main driving forces for this growth, however, is quality. As we’ve discussed, the industry is easy to break into, but as with any successful show, the key is staying ahead of the trend. The very thing that keeps listeners coming back time and time again is new and interesting developments within the format.
In order for content to stay fresh, it is essential that shows adapt, staying relevant with the times. In an industry that is steadily becoming more saturated, and more lucrative, competition is bound to rise. At the end of the day, each show is vying for the listener’s attention, and only the most interesting ones will be able to keep people engaged in the long run, forcing innovation within the industry.
What is the point of podcasts?
Podcasts are a way to entertain and educate. They can do one or the other, or even both, however listeners tune in to a show to be engaged and learn something. What the topic is, will vary between shows (or even episodes of the same one!).
So, while the point of podcasting is broadly the same as all popular media, the devil is in the details here. They can be informative, keep people up to date on current affairs, be a device for storytelling, or allow communities to have a voice and discussion, the possibilities are endless.
Why do people like podcasts?
People like podcasts because they are entertaining, and easily work around a daily routine. Things that previously seemed like a chore; doing a shop, the morning commute, are made enjoyable when listening to a good podcast.
Shows are versatile, they can be light entertainment, or they can be heavy investments with their own lore, arcs, and storylines. This is the ultimate appeal of a podcast, the sheer variety of content available.
What do you need to create a podcast?
SM7B’s, a state-of-the-art studio, and celebrity guests may help a podcast stay popular, but none of these are necessary when creating an engaging show. To start a podcast, you simply need a passion for a topic, a recording device, and a way to upload it. The rest are bells and whistles.
Take a look at the most popular podcasts and you will find they had humble beginnings. Sure, nice microphones, mixing software, or even a dedicated editor can give production value a bump, but you can just as easily get an episode recorded with a smartphone and a script.
This has been a brief overview of the world of podcasting, and why everybody seems to have one. Whether you are a listener, or a creator this article should have given you a little insight into podcasts of past, present, and future.