What do you listen to in your free time? The radio? Your favorite band ever? A playlist that fits the mood? What about an hour-long true crime podcast about the craziest heist this side of the Mississippi?
For millions of consumers, the last answer is becoming increasingly commonplace. Although the reduction in commuting and gym visits in the beginning of the pandemic dropped podcast downloads by 10%, the format eventually benefited from increased media consumption during lockdown and saw a 42% increase in global listeners.
In fact, podcasts are becoming so popular that nearly 197 million Americans have heard of them, and 32% are listening at least once a month. If you’re reading this article, you’re probably part of that percentage.
It’s not just consumers that are interested in this format. Big players in tech are investing heavily in the future of podcasts. In late 2021, YouTube famously hired a podcast executive to oversee their audio efforts. Spotify also recently acquired the platforms Podsights and Chartable, the latest additions to their podcasting acquisition sprint.
The entertainment industry is also catching on– some of this year’s hottest new television shows such as The Dropout or WeCrashed were adapted from podcasts.
“Podcasts have become the sexiest IP,” Caroline Edwards, director of Podcast Initiatives at ICM Partners, said in an interview with Deadline. “If you have a successful show, it’s highly likely someone is eager to turn that into a TV or film project.”
Knowing this, podcasts are definitely still popular in 2022. That raises the question: Just why exactly are podcasts as effective as they are? And what trends can help us understand the future of this evolving medium?
iPod + Broadcast
First coined in 2004, the word “podcast” found massive popularity in a very short period of time. Born by molding the words iPod and broadcast together, “podcast” eventually became a staple word within the newly and rapidly-growing digital landscape of the early 2000s. In fact, it was even named Word of the Year by the New Oxford American Dictionary in 2005.
Soon after, the audible shows we all love began their rapid ascent. Apple became the first big company to provide native support for podcasts, Queen Elizabeth’s Christmas Day speech was available for download as a podcast, and a wave of popular podcasts — such as Serial, the first podcast to win a Peabody Award — reached millions of listeners.
The format has become even more successful since then. In January 2021, Apple’s Podcast Industry Insights (courtesy of Daniel J. Lewis) found more than 1,700,000 podcast shows and almost 44 million episodes. The number has surely grown since then.
Quality & Quantity
So why exactly are podcasts so massively popular? Are podcasts really that different from radio or other forms of digital content? One explanation is that podcasts are uniquely able to provide valuable and quality content– and a lot of it.
While the definition of quality may differ from person to person, it is hard to argue that podcasts lack variety. From history and news, to science fiction and comedy, the breadth of content found amongst podcasts is seemingly endless. What’s more, it’s becoming easier and easier for people to start a podcast themselves.
If you can’t find exactly the type of content you’re looking for, you can start your own podcast with relative ease! And if you’ve read our guide to home podcast recording, you know you don’t have to sacrifice audio quality to do it.
For businesses and brands, quality content that is tailored to their audience's interests is a great way to drive engagement and increase followers. Provide your customers with valuable, quality content and watch your followers rise. This audible alternative to written content can be consumed in a multitude of ways beyond just reading. Audiences can listen in the car, on a walk, or while doing work, all while creating a connection with your brand.
Take advantage of the personal nature of podcasts. The platform provides listeners with the ability to sit in on conversations amongst hosts and connect with them easier than many other mediums. After all, it is easy to get to know a person after joining them for hundreds of conversations.
Podcasting Down the Road
As podcasts evolve like every digital medium, one begins to wonder: what does the future look like? What trends can we see now and beyond today?
For one, we can identify that listener counts will continue to grow as they have been for years. With the greater accessibility of podcast creation tools, more users will be able to create niche content and provide exactly what people are looking for. This is in addition to the already popular shows and hosts creating quality content today.
Speaking of hosts, they will continue to gain trust and grow as influencers among their audiences. Want to build this trust and loyalty with your listeners? Create consistent, authentic content as people want something that supports their values and beliefs, not what is popular at the moment. Become an expert and thought leader on your subject, find different voices, and find fun ways to stay on the minds of your listeners.
Influencer Guy Kawasaki recommends hosting live streams, putting thought into your set-up, and highlighting your “likability, trustworthiness, and competence” to attract audiences.
Analytics are also key to the future of podcasting. Through a greater understanding of what your listeners want, you can gain data and use it to deliver a truly valuable experience. This data will lead the future of podcasting as it becomes more and more personal and tailored to the listener. It’s up to podcasters and marketers to determine just how to strategically use this data, but it is exciting to imagine what content can come from it.
While podcasts have only been around for a relatively short time, their skyrocketing popularity demands attention from thought leaders, marketers, and content creators. People are always looking for content that speaks to them directly, and creating an engaging audible experience is a great way to provide it.
Create valuable audio experiences, gain the trust of your audience, and use data to your advantage to stay in your listener’s ears– and on their minds.
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