For decades, oral storytelling has played an essential role in culture. It comes as no surprise that after years of evolving in the background, audio formats were transported into the digital sphere. Podcasts were born in 2005, spread through RSS, and popularized by the radio personality Adam Curry aka. the Podfather. The format was so groundbreaking that iTunes began carrying podcasts by June that same year.
According to Edison Research, in North America, the podcast audience has consistently grown at a rate of 10 to 20% per year, and won’t be slowing down in the near future. As of 2018, there are more than 525,000 active podcasts, heard by 72 million people on a weekly basis. The most influential factor in the recent success of this format is definitely the diffusion of mobile technology. Initially, podcasts were mainly heard on computers, but, since 2010, more than 50 percent of traffic comes from smartphones. Sensing the shift, major technology players have decided to take part in this new trend. At the moment Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, and Spotify have a dedicated section for popular and exclusive content. As well as apps such as Pocket Casts and Overcast.
Giving a deeper look at why podcasts have become so popular in recent years, we find strong evidence in three of its characteristics:
Freedom of listening
Digital formats are trumping traditional media for many reasons; audiences having more power on how and when to access the information is one of them. No more waiting for a specific provider to release once a week episodes, now users have the choice to “binge ” on an entire day of their favorite content or to pause it midway and return a week later without missing a thing. The same can be said about podcasts, their format is unique to fit into anyone’s busy life.
Focus on niche markets
One of the main differences between online radio and podcasts is that instead of relying on demographic markets based on music, the latter appeal to interests, passions, and hobbies. From entrepreneurship and business to political analysis, and the latest trend: crime series; nowadays, users can find a podcast that caters virtually any of their needs.
Easy to listen
We live in a world where audiences are getting used to being entertained every second of the day, normally by multiple devices at the same time. As audio based platforms need less concentration, podcasts communicate more effectively than the written word alone.
So why should content creators embrace podcasts? Even if the format is rather new, ROI plays a major role in the discussion around its viability and success. If at first funding was difficult, now the landscape seems to be ready for businesses that venture into audio content marketing. In its most recent fund-raising initiative, the podcast network Gimlet Media raised $6 million USD. “The company expects to take in more than $2m in advertising sales this year from clients including Ford and Microsoft. It is also developing branded podcasts for advertisers, an area of increasing interest to marketers and to podcast producers.” Shannon Bond reported in the Financial Times.
The future is full of possibilities. Paid subscription services promise direct revenue from listeners, enabling content creators from all niches to create high-quality podcasts for smaller audiences that find deep value in the content, thus enabling sustainable ROI.
Other reasons that may boost the popularity of this already mainstream format are the branding and reputation benefits already showing for storytellers, such as:
Targeting the right people
When the word of mouth gets going, new listeners will get to the content after searching for information on a specific topic. This ensures that creators are reaching them with the right information at the right time more often than not. Return of investment depends heavily on this, as with a strong following and a pertinent theme, sponsors will want to partner with the podcast to publicize their products or services. The good news: podcast ads tend to have optimal performance and a higher conversion rate than video ads.
Customizing your message
A great advantage of audio content is that creators can modulate their messages, reducing misunderstandings, conveying the right tone, timing, and humor in a way that other formats struggle to get across. Listeners will be hearing stories straight from the source, rather than only reading the words and having their own interpretations.
Becoming an industry expert
What kinds of businesses are using podcasts? Everything from candle-making to financial consulting, and social services. Any expertise can find an audience, it’s enough to understand what topics could be covered on an ongoing basis. When the content is good enough and aimed at the right niche, it could also have an easier time of being featured on a mainstream platform, thus gaining recognition.
With a successful track record and many benefits to show for, it seems that podcasts are here to stay. It’s up to the new generation of content creators to keep it current as the media landscape continues to evolve.