Podcast hype

28. February 2020, MAXFIVE

Bloggers, politicians, journalists and chefs – it seems like everyone has their own podcast these days, sharing their knowledge, opinions or tips with listeners directly in this most personal of formats. But what’s the story behind all the hype? And will the ever-increasing popularity and growing numbers of podcasts see them eventually eclipse the reach of traditional media as a source of information?



The latest star in the digital galaxy

Tired of the same old stuff on Instagram and endless discussions on Twitter? How about a podcast instead? Podcasts have been on everyone’s lips for some time now: it’s a trend that just keeps on going. International consultants Deloitte listed the podcast boom among its top five tech trends for 2020. All of the available information suggests that this is one trend which will continue to shape the audio market for the next few years.

It really took off in 2004 when the iTunes expansion drive helped give podcasts even more exposure following Apple’s decision to add more than 3,000 free podcasts to its store. When the iPhone 3G came onto the market in 2008, users could suddenly download audio files effortlessly and listen to them anywhere. This kick-started a cycle that saw more podcasts appearing as listener numbers grew and grew. It only took a few years for podcasts to claim their rightful place at the top table. And it didn’t take long for the major players to sit up and take notice and swing their weight behind the boom either: Apple used podcast analytics to take a closer look at listener data, and Google was gearing up to launch a separate search header just for podcasts, while Spotify not only offered podcasts for its user base to listen to, but also branched out as a producer in its own right.

23% of Austrians confirmed that they had listened to a podcast

These days there are around 700,000 podcasts worldwide with a loyal – and predominantly young – fanbase. According to a survey conducted by statistics portal Statista on podcast use in selected countries worldwide in 2019, 23% of Austrians confirmed that they had listened to a podcast in the previous month. But it is in the USA and UK that podcasts are particularly popular. 35% of Americans surveyed said that they had listened to a podcast in the previous month. The total rose to 39% for Spain and more than half of respondents from South Korea (53%). Unsurprisingly, people also sensed a business opportunity: ad revenue for the USA podcast market is currently  around USD 479 million. While the German-speaking market is definitely playing catch-up, formats such as Gabor Steingart’s Morning Briefing – with 400,000 weekly downloads – show that the podcast boom has finally reached us too.

While the German-speaking market is definitely playing catch-up, formats such as Gabor Steingart’s Morning Briefing – with 400,000 weekly downloads – show that the podcast boom has finally reached us too.

Podcasts: the next Facebook or Instagram?

How come it feels like everyone has their own podcast these days? Podcasts are part of the revolutionary mindset of our times, and, like blogging, social media and the internet, they are helping to democratise communication. Podcasts are part of the development of social media as we move towards a more thoughtful approach to the information at our fingertips. Considering the sheer volume of content that we are exposed to on social media each day, it is certainly relaxing to focus on a single topic for a change. Most people are familiar with the lack of gratification associated with mindlessly scrolling through kilometres of Instagram feeds. So, do podcasts have what it takes to give us what Facebook and all the rest of them can’t? More than anything else, it looks like podcasts’ versatility will continue to fuel their popularity. Fewer ads than the radio, and the freedom to pick out the content that interests you, whenever it suits you: there really is a podcast for every occasion and preference. The podcast format easily fits around our hectic daily schedules. The most popular topics are news, music, science and technology.

But what does all this mean for traditional radio, given that the subject matter we now listen to on podcasts has always featured in the schedules? Could podcasts eventually replace radio?  The appealing thing about podcasts is that they rejig radio’s traditional properties. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that the two media are in competition: podcasts can also breathe new life into radio. There are lots of shows that started out as podcasts and have gone on to become radio favourites. None of the things that make radio what it is – concise, up-to-the-minute and entertaining – will be rendered obsolete by podcasts. Handled  properly, each could profit from the other. And the latest stats show that conventional radio ads still generate more revenue than podcast advertising. And, as we all know, money makes the world go round – and will shape the future of podcasts.

Be careful – it’s a trap!

As their popularity grows, some podcasts are moving over to the dark side. These days, there’s just such a huge number to choose from, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to fight your way through the podcast jungle in the search for quality content. As podcasts become more professional, they are also becoming more commercialised. Many podcasts are exclusively tied to exclusive partners such as Spotify. And in many cases, users have to subscribe to platforms before they can access the content they want. All of which is against the original spirit of podcasts, which was all about making information freely available. And the fact that every Tom, Dick and Harry can put out their own podcast these days comes with all the negatives that we know only too well from Instagram and all the others: buying “fake” listeners to propel a podcast up the charts, or wannabe fitness and food gurus who disseminate bogus science are just some of the factors that could see podcasts become a quick way to spread influence.

There’s no denying that the trend is still relatively new, and we will need to keep our eyes – and ears – open to get the best out of it.

The latest MAXFIVE project is a Podcast with SeneCura for all health issues.  To the podcast (German only).

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