This Is Why 2015 Could Be The Year Of The Podcast

I’ve been an avid podcast listener for the past six years. Podcasts have been a major source of new information, insights and inspiration across a range of topics that interest me.

They’ve transformed hours of otherwise tedious commutes in cars, taxis and planes into pockets of immersive listening that have been educational, motivational, and entertaining.

I’ve also sat on the other side of the earbud as a podcast producer. For the past three years, I’ve churned out nearly 60 episodes of a program on Chinese business and economic trends that has been downloaded nearly a million times in 190 countries.

Podcasts are not new: they’ve been around for well over a decade now. In 2006, the addition of podcasts to iTunes proved to be the tipping point that led to an explosion of new podcasts and the introduction of millions of new listeners. Today, iTunes houses over 250,000 podcasts.

Podcasts are reaching more and more people. According to Edison Research, about 39 million Americans, or 15 percent of the over-12 population, listened to a podcast last month, up from 12 percent in 2013 and 9 percent in 2008.

And the field is still wide open. The quarter-million podcasts available today pale in comparison to the nearly half billion English-language blogs, or the four million hours of videos uploaded to Youtube each month.

A number of recent trends and developments indicate that 2015 could be a breakout year for podcasts. But before I cover some of the recent developments driving the supply side of the equation, let’s first take a quick look at what’s behind the explosive growth in consumer demand for podcasts.

There are a number of reasons why podcasts are a unique medium for consuming content — and why we love them so much:

Multi-tasking: Podcasts are on-demand audio that allow you to consume content while you go about living your life. You don’t need to be tethered to a chair, eyes glued to screen, to listen to your favorite podcast. You can listen while you jog, do the laundry, or perform a multitude of tasks that you can’t do while reading a blog post or watching a video.

Mobile: Podcasts go wherever I go. I can listen to them whether I’m stuck in traffic in a taxi in a tunnel underneath the Huangpu River in Shanghai, waiting in line to board a plane in Tianjin, or driving to work in Taipei.

On-demand: With podcasts, you can listen to whatever you want, in whatever sequence you want, and whenever you want. Granted, blogs and video are also forms of on-demand content. But when combined with the multi-tasking and mobile elements described above, podcasts are truly unique.

Pushed. Thanks to the magic of RSS feeds, podcasts appear on my podcast app as soon as they are published. A little red dot at the top-right of the podcast icon is enough to alert me to a new episode waiting for me.

Global. I can stream or download the same podcasts as anyone else in the world, regardless of where I am. At the end of 2012, Apple launched the iTunes store in an additional 56 markets, bringing its global reach to 119 countries. While alternative platforms do exist and are growing — Soundcloud, Stitcher, and several other smaller applications — Apple iTunes remains the 800-pound gorilla in this space, with 85% of total podcast downloads flowing through its massive directory.

Podcasts are free! Enough said.

Demand for podcasts is hot. But the supply side of the equation has a number of equally exciting trends and developments that are expected to push podcasts deeper into the mainstream:

Low barriers to entry for new content producers

Like the blogging and video revolutions that have enabled millions of people to become content publishers, podcasting has similarly low barriers to entry. Anyone with a laptop, microphone and free audio editing software can record and publish a podcast that can reach thousands of listeners around the world.

Availability of training material is moving the needle on quality

Of course, the price of such easy access to the tools of production means that the quality of what is being published ranges all over the map. More podcasts do not necessarily lead to better podcasts. The quality of podcasts available today ranges from the very good to the truly amateur. But an abundance of training material is helping to move the needle on quality. More and more professional podcast producers are sharing their experience, techniques, and tips, both for free and for a fee.

In his new podcast, The Podcast Method, Dan Benjamin dives deep into both the creative and technical aspects of producing a top-notch program. Several successful podcasters also offer extensive training courses for which they charge a fee.

Alex Blumberg, former producer and reporter for the award-winning radio show This American Life, and now producer of the hit podcast Startup, offers an in-depth video course on “powering podcast storytelling” on CreativeLive.

Professional producers are raising the bar on quality

Professional radio producers have been developing new podcasts and repurposing their radio content as podcasts for a long time. But in 2014 we saw a number of professional players take podcasts to a whole new level. The viral podcast hit Serial, a spin-off of This American Life, is probably the most buzzed-about podcast of all time. With an average 2.2 million downloads per episode, and more than 20 million downloads in total — from just 12 episodes — Serial has permanently exploded the myth that podcasts are a niche format.

Content producers are monetizing

Podcasts may be free for devout listeners like myself, but that doesn’t mean they don’t make money for the ones who produce them. More and more podcasters are monetizing their content in a number of ways, including good old-fashioned advertising. Adam Sachs, CEO of Midroll, a podcast advertising company that places commercials in more than 150 shows, told The Financial Times that he charges rates of between $20 and $30 per thousand impressions (calculated on a projected number of downloads per episode) — about five times the cost for traditional radio advertising.

Some podcasts are supplementing — or circumventing altogether — traditional corporate sponsorship by leveraging crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter and Patreon to build listener-supported models. Roman Mars, the host and creator of the award-winning podcast on design and architecture, 99% Invisible, has raised $1.16 million in Kickstarter campaigns.

Even if podcast producers don’t monetize their shows directly — and many still don’t — they are translating brand awareness into powerful lead magnets for products and services they sell on their websites and in off-line channels.

The upshot of all this: the fact that podcasts are generating revenue will attract more players to join the fray, and encourage investment in higher quality content. Greater competition will likely push more marginal players to either up their game or withdraw.

The final frontier: car dashboards

They’ve conquered the desktop. The’ve conquered smartphones. And in 2015, podcasts will conquer the “final frontier” of distribution: car dashboards. Apple and Google are busy signing deals with automakers to get their systems — Apple CarPlay and Android Auto — onto the dashboards of new models rolling off the lots. It’s a game-changing move that will bring podcasts to millions of new — or otherwise infrequent — listeners.

Thanks for reading! Please check out my other posts at my blog, Digital Ink Never Dries. Find me on Twitter @glennleibowitz

Image copyright: im_kenneth

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