“Serial” was a great podcast. I listened to it faithfully each week, and like most of those that listened, I was disappointed with the lack of conclusion. But once it was over, I wanted more. I had grown accustomed to listening to a story and I began a quest for more podcasts that would quench my thirst. It turns out that I was not alone in my re-found love of podcasts.
The word “podcast” is now 10 years old and originated in reference to the iPod. When podcasting first started, it was mostly amateur talent, roughly and irregularly produced. And there is still a lot of that out there. But the popular podcasts have now become full productions with professional talent focused on a single theme and regularly produced. They have sponsors and are owned by larger media companies. Podcasts are entertaining and/or educational content that allow users to select exactly what they want to hear and when they want to hear it.
Podcasts have always been this way, so why are we just now getting excited about them again? My opinion is that because “Serial” was a national hit and widely discussed, listeners realized what they were missing in the podcast world. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the resurgence of podcasts aligns with the time that “Serial” was at peak popularity. However, there are some other reasons that are speculated to be the impetus behind the newfound popularity of podcasts.
NY Magazine credits the quality, the relatively low production costs and connected cars.
“The secret to radio’s success has always been the drive-time commuter. An estimated 44-percent of all radio listening takes place in the car, and that’s the way the radio industry likes it. Car-based listeners are captive, they tune in for long stretches at a time, and they’re valuable to advertisers. And drivers’ dedication to the AM/FM spectrum has made radio a remarkably stable medium — even in 2013, according to the Pew Research Center and Nielsen Audio, 91 percent of Americans over age 12 listened to the radio on a weekly basis.
“Now, though, cars are going online. Both Google and Apple have rolled out connected-car platforms (Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, respectively), and most new cars sold in the U.S. these days come with the ability to play smartphone audio over the car’s speakers, either through Bluetooth connectivity or through a USB or auxiliary plug. One industry group, GMSA, estimates that 50 percent of all cars sold in 2015 will be internet-connected, and 100 percent by 2025.
“Connected cars are a boon for the entire streaming audio industry, but they’re especially exciting for podcast makers, whose shows are perfectly suited to in-car listening. Just as TV watchers can now choose Netflix or Amazon streams over surfing channels, radio listeners will soon have a bevy of on-demand options at their disposal.”
Regardless of the “why,” there is no question as to the fact that podcasts are more popular than ever. I imagine the future of podcasts will include branded content, dedicated brand channels, and more sponsored content. With brands acting as publishers of fresh, relevant and high-quality content in print, video and photography already, it is a logical next step to produce podcasts with a specific, niche audience in mind. Podcasts are simply another channel for positioning a brand as an industry expert, an entertainer or an education resource.