How podcasts conquered the world while making us smarter and more social
Updated: Sep 2, 2019
Or how podcasting, the underdog of the digital media, went unnoticed for almost a decade to become one of the most powerful media channels today.
Catchy title, huh?
Indeed, it is catchy, but I wasn't going to write yet another blog post about how podcasts are "getting out of the niche" or how "podcasting can be used to do X or Y".
In this blogpost I want to show you how podcasting has become a full member of the digital media landscape, and how it educates, entertains and makes us more social.
Only recently podcasting has earned the respect it deserves
For a long time podcasting was this dormant gem was maturing in the shadow of their more popular brothers and sisters video and blogging.
Not much attention was paid to podcasts up until the recent few years. I seems like people couldn't imagine much of a benefit of just listening to something, when you could also see.
And yes, sure, there is a ton of occasions where video is just a better fit for some content, than audio. And I myself have to confess that I while I'm not there all day long, I consume YouTube content on a regular basis. At the same time, let's not be fooled by the shininess of video – a ton of YouTube content, where people are just sitting in their rooms recording themselves with a webcam. That could be a podcast as well and it would save us all the hustle of having to stare at a screen watching mediocre video with no added value.
Podcasting did not boom at first
Early podcasters and listeners did not actually manage to grab the attention of the masses. Podcasting was a niche hobby made by nerds for other nerds who just "knew" how it works, yet weren't that open to share their knowledge with others, or imposed strict rules of what is acceptable and what not. And please, do not get all outraged about my usage of the word nerd here. I am a fucking nerd, and proud of it. So if anything I'm seeing this as a self-criticism because I know how elitist we nerds can be, without even knowing it.
Podcasting for the masses
Fortunately, podcasting finally broke out of its self-imposed cage because some brilliant people finally "cracked the code" and made podcasting ready for the masses. High quality content has been hitting our ears for a while now, especially in the English-speaking world powered by the world's largest podcast market, the USA. Other countries are catching up quick though, and Germany or France are quickly becoming true podcast producing powerhouses as well.
But let's not forget that not only did the content producers contribute to the growth and popularization of podcasts. The technical aspects of podcast consumption, such as software that was way easier to use than in the early days had a massive impact on podcast adoption.
I want to believe that I also had at least a little impact on making things better for everyone, by working on Podigee, the podcast hosting service that I co-founded and run as CEO these days. From the beginning, one of the main objectives for my co-founder Ben and me was to deliver the easiest way to get a podcast published and distributed. In that we surely succeeded. Others were there too, of course, new ones are coming in with fresh ideas. If you who are reading this work in podcast tech as well, competition or not, I have a high respect for you, for making things better for everyone. Good times for podcast tech!
If you have been listening to podcasts for a bit longer, you know how painful it was subscribing to a podcast back in the day by manually managing RSS feeds, downloading and transferring the files. This is now all gone!
And now that podcasting reaches the masses so much easier, a whole content production ecosystem is growing around podcasts fueled by maturing monetization options. Shows get better, more professionally produced, content has much more quality and is presented in an accessible way.
Podcasting is entertainment and education to go
The power of podcasting lies in its unique distribution channel. It is audio-only, thus allows to focus a lot better on the content, and it is very portable. Tell me one other medium that allows you to walk out the door, take the bus, train or car, go grocery shopping, jogging or just for a walk, all while learning new things and being entertained. This is huge!
We live in times where information overload is a real thing. We are constantly receiving a stream of data that need our attention. We humans are especially susceptible to visual input, because survival, you know. Podcasts are a deliberate intent at simplifying media consumption, reducing it the bare minimum required – the auditive channel. Heck, all you need these days to listen to a podcast is a watch on your wrist and bluetooth headphones!
Podcasting is not competing for eyeballs, and that makes it powerful. Despite what many people think, there is only so much time we can spend sitting in front of a screen. There is just so many situations in daily life where we cannot stare at a screen, while listening is not an issue at all.
Sure, podcasts compete with audiobooks and music, but let's say that audiobooks are so closely related to podcasts that it's only natural to have a pretty large, shared audience, so it doesn't really matter. Music is different, though. Although in theory podcasts and music do compete for ear time, they just have their moments and the one does not replace the other. Personally, when I need to think and reflect on things while taking a walk or going with the train, I much prefer to listen to music. But as soon as I feel a bit bored or need something more stimulating for my brain – boom, there is podcasting again!
Podcasts make us more social
I know, bold claim again. But at least in my bubble, where most people listen to podcasts, there is nothing that sparks conversation better than talking about the last episode of a podcast or recommending new stuff to each other.
"Did you listen to the last episode of this podcast" is the new "did you watch this show yesterday". Or "did you know that this and that?", "where did you get that from?", "heard it in a podcast, I think!"
One thing that podcasters and listeners agree with in most cases is that comment culture is so much better in podcasting, you can't even compare. The worst comment on a podcast would probably be considered one of the nicest on YouTube.
So people actually like discussing and sharing their thoughts over a podcast with others. And when they do it, they do it in a very civilized manner. One of my favorite podcasts is "Lage der Nation", a weekly podcast in German that in each episode reviews and analyzes the political events and developments of the last week. And it's crazy that episodes of this podcast get well over 200 comments, while keeping an educated and respectful tone.
Still not there yet, but growing fast
Sure, one could argue that podcasting is still not there yet, in terms of usage, as compared to video or even radio. But it is progressing year over year, especially in the younger population. So the trend can only keep going upwards in the coming years. More so as voice interfaces start to become more present in our lives. But that's a topic for a whole different blogpost...
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