Team Sounder
Jun 18 · 8 min read

The Statista Research Department conducted a study in 2018 on the market overview and consumer habits of the podcast industry. They identified that the number of podcast listeners in the USA is estimated to be 73 million. By 2022, they forecast that the numbers will grow to 132 million.

The study backs its numbers to the rising trend in listening to podcasts with 44 percent of the population claiming to have listened to a podcast once.

With more users jumping into the podcast train, have you ever wondered how it all started? What is the history of podcasts, and what factors have shaped this industry to what it is today?

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

The History of Podcasts

You can trace the birth of podcasts back to Dave Winer and Adam Curry, the godfathers of the podcasting industry. Dave Winer was then a software developer and an RSS evangelist.

Podcasting came to fruition in 2000 as a result of a meeting between Dave and Adam where they were discussing the distribution of automated media. Their focus and conversation direction was mainly on videos rather than audios.

During this period, the world was not yet conversant with broadband internet connections. Therefore, Dave was uneasy with the capability of the internet to carry large video downloads. He was also unsure if the cost implication of transporting the content was worth it.

He deduced that the time for downloading the content was longer than the viewing time. When you downloaded the video, it was of poor quality, or you were not sure what to get.

He was, therefore, against the idea of creating a video downloading platform that was subscription-based.

Adam, on the other hand, had his focus on internet connections. His main concern was the bandwidth that goes to waste whenever you are not using your internet.

He wanted to get software that you could use to download only the items from your subscription list. Although it was not a new idea, there was no software then that could work as they wanted.

At the time, Dave was already creating a Real Simple Syndication Feed (RSS). The platform is meant to help in the creation and sharing of stories through the internet.

An RSS text file can contain both static and dynamic content. Therefore, you can use it to transfer content from one site to another.

Dave needed to find a medium that he could use to deliver content through a subscription system. The meeting that took place in 2000 set the stage for the development of his vision.

Getting Media Attention

At first, everything started at a slow pace. It was until the summer of 2004 when Adam decided to program and develop the first podcatcher application using Apple scripts. His partner, Dave, had his doubts on the functionality of the software.

However, Adam laid the concerns to rest as his application was successfully able to grab and download audio from Dave’s weblog. The program was able to read through the RSS and download the audio.

The podcatcher program had a specific way of working. It could sift through the files on the RSS feed and look for enclosures. Then, it could grab and download all the files in the enclosures.

Finally, it would use the iTunes API to add the files to the playlist. It would then become more comfortable to sync the audio to the iPod.

Dave Winer began working with Christopher Lyder, one of the leading Journalists at the time, by using his RSS feed on Lyder’s blog.

Lyder took recordings of interviews during the 2004 presidential elections and started to post the audio online. He then became a strong advocate for the continual development of software that supports the use of audio online.

During the same year, in October 2004, the name “podcasting” started to gain attraction. A journalist by the name Ben Hammersley used the name while describing the new internet radio broadcasting in The Guardian.

Podcasts Becoming World Renown

The number of people searching for the name “podcast” on Google increased with reports of 2750 hits on Google’s search engine in October 2004.

George W. Bush became the first President of America to create a podcast when the RSS 2.0 feed was uploaded on the White House website.

The numbers continued to grow considerably as more people became aware of the meaning of podcasting. In 2015, there was a record of more than 100, 000,000 searches from people from all over the world.

As the name gained popularity, new media creators started to jump into the boat, and more podcast networks continued to emerge. The podcasts conveyed different types of content. While some of them were based upon topics, others were for entertainment purposes.

Additionally, Yahoo also joined the podcast market in 2005 after launching a podcast directory that allows users to stream, download, subscribe, and review podcasts. They inspired the likes of Feed Burner to create their podcast directory.

However, Yahoo ended its services in October 2007.

The Entry of Apple into the Market

One year later, after the founding of the first podcast directory, Apple decided to join the ranks by setting up its directory to iTunes. Steve Jobs gave a clear guideline on how one creates their podcast, and he referenced podcasts to becoming the future of audio.

His acknowledgement was instrumental in increasing the fan base of the use of podcasts. Additionally, the entry of Apple into the market increased the accessibility of podcasts all over the world.

Users were able to subscribe to, download, and organize podcasts in the new iTunes. Apple also encouraged users to create podcasts through its Quicktime pro software as well as the GarageBand Software.

They also encouraged the use of MPEG4 Audio instead of using MP3.

The rise in popularity of podcasts started to compete directly with the conventional radio broadcasting model. Within less than two years, Apple was able to record 4.8 million podcast downloads, which was way higher than the 800,000 people from 2004.

Taking Podcasting Mainstream

In 2014, there was a podcast called ‘Serial’ that was released, grabbing the attention of millions of American Listeners. The podcast was about the daily livelihood of an American.

The listeners were always curious about the changing plots of the series. After the thrilling series ‘Serial,’ several people took a liking to the podcast, and the number has since continued to rise.

The Introduction of Smart Devices into the Market

The name podcasts were the combination of ‘iPod’ and ‘broadcast.’ The name came about as a result of the process of getting music into your iPod.

Initially, you had to download music or audio to your computer then transfer it to your iPod. The iPod had to have an internet connection for it to function.

The technology today is very different from that in the past. With the development in iPhones and the improvement of networks strength to 4G, it is now easier to stream and listen to podcasts.

Additionally, the smart speaker is another hardware device that is aiding the podcast industry. A significant number of smart speakers are used in the playing of podcasts every week. The numbers are set to continue rising.

The ongoing trend is the increase in the quality, quantity, and accessibility of podcasts. This trend is what is increasing the numbers of listeners. Due to increased awareness, many people are reacting positively to the use of podcasts.

Advertisement Through Podcasting

You can easily trace the roots of advertising to thousands of years ago. Different mediums carry their method and strategies to engaging with potential clients.

Traditional advertising mediums are becoming less effective. Marketers are beginning to embrace newer trends, especially in the digital space. One such method is the use of podcasts.

According to the IAB, the podcast ad revenue in 2017 was $314 million.

There has been a rather astronomical rise in the use of podcasts to perform advertising. Even though the podcasting industry has been in place for more than ten years, it has not been long since advertisers started giving much bigger budgets to a podcast.

But what makes podcasts to be effective methods of gaining consumer attention?

Since podcasts consist of audio, the listeners tend to trust and rely on every word in the podcast. Therefore, advertisers looking to get their brand known can use podcasts to reach more people.

Also, since people listen to podcasts due to their respect of the host, you can use that to your advantage by getting the host to endorse your products.

When a host endorses a product, they do not recommend two similar products. By doing so, they dilute the effectiveness and authenticity of the endorsement.

Paying for Podcasts?

The Chinese podcast market is the opposite of the American market. The Chinese podcasts do not rely on advertising but instead on paid subscriptions. The government estimated the paid podcasts in 2017 to be $7.3 billion.

Are consumers in the west willing to pay for subscriptions?

Consumers spend their cash on film, TV, and streaming ad-free music. But why do they not do the same for podcasts?

It is usual for new content to first start as free, then when the audience grows, it changes to a premium product that people can pay to get.

The podcast industry has been running for more than two decades. With more people familiarizing themselves with it, it is finally going mainstream.

Similarly to music streaming sites and online radio platforms, several people would avoid audio ads by paying a subscription fee. Spotify is such a platform that has made a tremendous effort in building their podcast.

The company shows the ads to force users to pay for a premium package that gets rid of the advertisement. There are, however, many companies that are not worth paying the subscription fee. They are similar to the articles you find on the internet.

Before you spend your money on a subscription, you should ensure that the content is exceptional and stands out. Even so, with the ongoing trend, you are more likely to see podcasts that are free and supported by audio ads.

From The Past to the Future

Podcasting is transforming the digital era and taking the mantle to be the lead source of both information and entertainment. Any individual or business can reap benefits from a podcast. It is one of the leading marketing tools that every business is trying to get.

By podcasting, you can close off the distance between you and your target market. It ensures you get a closer relationship with your audience by providing informative, engaging, and frequently updated content.

As podcasting continues to evolve with time, so will the devices that you use to store data. The Broadband network was a game changer to how data is stored. The 4G network helps you get real-time information.

Now that the wireless network continues to improve, we expect the devices that can help in podcasting will also change with time. Instead of having a two-step download process of the files you want, you can now do it with only one step.

However, even with the emergence of new modern tech, it does not necessarily mean that it is the end of the old technology. It is tough to get rid of an iPod just because there is an improved iPhone version.

Getting Started

Although the old technology may not be of use, they still hold significant historical value as they tell us of where we have been and where we are heading.

By thinking more about the history of podcasts, you get to wonder what lies ahead in the future. Will there be another platform that will help boost accessibility?

Will there be any hardware changes? What type of content can move the masses as ‘serial’ did? Once you fully understand the past and present, you will then get the answers about the future.

Sounder.fm

Sounder.fm is a place where podcasting is reimagined.

Team Sounder

Written by

We are obsessed with the audio industry. Here are a few of our thoughts on where the industry is heading.

Sounder.fm

Sounder.fm is a place where podcasting is reimagined.

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