The surge in the consumption of podcasts over the last few years has been unrelenting. To put its historical growth into perspective, Apple introduced podcasts as a part of iTunes back in 2005. In under 10 years, iTunes grossed the phenomenal milestone of 1 billion podcast subscriptions. I added my own contribution to that pile a few months ago and have enjoyed every minute. That growth isn’t looking to slow anytime soon, with predictions that the industry will create $1 billion in annual revenue by 2021. So what’s behind this explosion of interest?
Unlike many other media outlets, such as live TV, podcasts offer an unmatched level of flexibility when it comes to both topic and time. You, the listener, decide what and who to listen to, the amount of time you commit to listening and when it suits you best. Audio formats have become equal to, if not surpassed, their written equivalent for this very reason. Time spent cooking, commuting, in traffic or doing laundry are now opportune moments to learn and upskill. Changes in habits and an increased appetite for on-demand content have been met with this technological remedy.
Ask yourself this – would you rather sit down and read a 100-page report, or hear the researcher surmise it and answer follow-up questions in a 15-minute discussion? Whilst a good read can’t be beaten now and then, our increasingly time-pressured lives demand we get to the bottom of understanding and discussion in the most efficient way possible. Podcasts are certainly one of the most viable media formats in that regard, ranging from 5-minute chunks of information through to in-depth discussions lasting an hour or more. They can consistently produce content for that length as their audiences are engaged in that topic and often have a free or cheap mode of access to it. That content can be shared across a huge multitude of networks rather than just being restricted to one.
It’s very rare to see news anchor present with copious amounts of personality. Everyone watching at home knows there’s a teleprompter in front of them directing what to say and what will happen next. Podcasting, however, is vastly different – it’s personal! In short, you can get content through podcasting that you can’t get anywhere else. Presenters are free to design a show in any way they want and inject their personality into their shows. They know that those listening will at least have some vested level of interest in what they’re talking about, given how most podcasts are divided into their respective topics. It’s therefore easy for those making podcasts to hear from their community what they want next and meet that need.
In light of the current lockdowns in place in response to COVID-19, it’s extremely likely that podcasting – alongside other on-demand, topic-central formats – will be seen as a go-to for information, recreation and education for many. Beyond that, long term, it’s hard to see this revolutionary media format going anywhere anytime soon.