Why audio is the

Sara Weber
Mar 20, 2015 · 4 min read

next big thing

Podcasts will be huge — but not because of Serial

Podcasts used to be this weird thing only nerds listened to. Something that was produced by people with a special interest in a niche topic (aka other nerds). Or by radio stations who made part of their regular program available for their listeners after it aired, a kind of digital wastebin where you threw in what was lying around anyway.

But all of that changed. Radio companies realised that they could share the great audio content they already have with a broader audience. For me, NPR opened up the world of podcasts with shows like Snap Judgment, This American Life, Planet Money, Pop Culture Happy Hour and Fresh Air.

Serial, the podcast by the producers of This American Life, episode 1

Then there was Serial. Made by the producers of This American Life, Serial was a big hit, with a crazy hype surrounding the show. It was the ultimate podcast success story.

And you know how it is with success stories: People are seeing one single event as the beginning of an era. “This will be a new start for podcasts, this will make people more aware of podcasts, this will help bring podcasts into the mainstream.”

I love Serial but I don’t think that one single show has the power to push a whole genre forward. I think it needs more than that: Podcasts have to get out of their niche. My mom has no clue what podcast are let alone how to get them onto her phone or mp3 player — she listens to audiobooks and that is enough for her.

But if my mom doesn’t know podcasts, then they are not mainstream. They have the potential to be though. In the recent weeks and months, the podcasting scene has grown — and fast.

PRX and Radiotopia’s design show 99% Invisible, Episode 15

Podcast networks are sprouting up everywhere these days. With Gimlet Media, Alex Blumberg has started his own company — and featured it prominently on Startup, a podcast about starting a podcasting company.

PRX and Radiotopia has raised more than $600,000 on Kickstarter for shows like 99% Invisible, Criminal and Love+Radio.

And this was only the beginning. Because there is something happening right now that will really push podcasts forward: Media companies that haven’t done audio so far are entering the podcasting world. And they are bringing their audience with them.

Just to be clear: the fact that non-radio media companies are doing podcasts is not new. One of the best examples is Slate with podcasts like The Gist, Culture Gabfest, Double X and the recently restarted Working. The New Yorker also has made podcasts like Fiction and The Political Scene for years.

But now even more of the big guys — the big media companies with their millions of users — want to get in:

  • Reddit recently started Upvoted, a podcast about stories that developed within the Reddit community.
  • Slate has introduced Panoply, a podcasting network that is partnering with media companies like The New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, The Huffington Post, Popular Science, Inc and Real Simple. The first podcasts are already out: Inc Uncensored is about startups and entrepreneurship, The Vulture TV podcast is about the world of television and Burnt Toast is about food culture. And there is more to come.
Sneak Peak at Buzzfeed’s Another Round, first episode out March, 24
  • Buzzfeed has announced that it will launch podcasts, too. So far, there are sneak peaks available for two shows: Internet Explorer with Katie Notopoulos and Ryan Broderick and Another Round with Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu. Both shows will premiere March, 24.

With these companies joining the podcasting game, it will be really interesting to watch the market grow.

Just imagine all the readers that New York Magazine, Reddit and Buzzfeed attract. Imagine them discovering podcasts, getting into them, wanting to hear more. This will be the opportunity for podcasts to go mainstream. Not because there is this one successful show out there but because there is this one show out there for every single person— and then some more.

Now that all the media companies have established some form of video content on their websites, audio seems to be the next thing to do. Will podcasts ever be as big as radio or TV? Probably not. But I think that they can be huge, way bigger than they are now. And I think that we will see a lot more media companies experimenting with audio.

Podcasts might have been a nerdy thing. But those times are over. Now, podcasts are sexy.



Sara Weber

Written by

Journalist. Covers media, startups, business, tech. Dreams of San Francisco and ice cream sandwiches. Torn betweet two time zones. Lives in Hamburg.

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