In case you weren’t aware, podcasts are seeing an enormous surge in popularity. At least 112 million Americans have listened to podcasts, a figure up 11 percent from last year, with 67 million listening to podcasts at least monthly. Content producers and advertisers both are clamoring for more visibility (or listenability) in the space, and there’s much to learn from how podcasts got to this sweet spot—and what you can do to take advantage of the zeitgeist.
The Story of Podcast Popularity
So what’s responsible for this massive and ongoing steady growth? After all, podcasts aren’t new; they’ve been around for more than a decade, and audiobooks and similar listening formats have been around for even longer.
The answer can be found in a blend of these main factors:
- The exhaustion of screens. The internet has historically been limited to laptop and smartphone screens. While video has been dramatically rising in popularity over the past few years, many users’ primary form of content consumption has involved staring at a screen, scrolling endlessly down a newsfeed or reading endless threads of forum comments. Exciting at first, screens have become exhausting for many users, and podcasts represent a refreshing alternative. Rather than using your eyes, you use your ears; there are silences, pauses, and genuine human voices rather than words and images on a screen.
- Production value. The cost-to-value ratio for podcasts is incredibly low. All it takes is a high-quality microphone and a bit of setup time, and you can start your own podcast without much trouble. Plus, the average CPM for a successful podcast can be between $20 and $45, compared to $1 to $20 for web ads, or $5 to $20 for TV. This makes podcasts a lucrative potential opportunity, costing just a few hours of production time a week, but returning significant advertising dollars.
- Internet and mobility. Obviously, the current generation of mobile devices and internet speeds has helped to accelerate the consumption of podcasts. It’s possible to download new material anywhere, very quickly, and listen to podcasts without interference; the same can’t be said for TV shows and movies, as mobile screens are still too small for most users’ viewing preferences. This makes podcasts ideal for things like commutes and busywork.
- Early influencers. Podcasts saw an explosion a few years ago thanks to some early influencers in the space. A handful of standouts taught the world that podcasts could be a viable opportunity, and that opened the floodgates to content producers.
- Connected cars. Though still in their infancy, we’re starting to see the emergence of connected cars, capable of streaming audio from the internet from multiple sources the way smart TVs can stream video from an indefinite number of sources. This is introducing podcasts to America’s commuters, accelerating the popularity growth of podcasts.
So what are the important lessons that content producers can learn from this?
1. Preferences are ever-shifting.
First, note that consumer preferences aren’t headed in any linear direction. Podcasts saw a brief surge in popularity back when the term was first coined over a decade ago, but they fell by the wayside as consumers gravitated toward social media-related content. Now, consumers are back to the podcast game in full force. Most consumer content preferences evolve, at least in part, as a reaction to trends that came before them. This makes it dangerous to invest too heavily in any one medium.
2. Cost doesn’t dictate value.
Just because something is expensive to produce doesn’t mean it’s going to yield more value for your brand. There’s something to be said about production value, obviously; investing in original research for your written content or special effects for your TV show is going to make an impressive spectacle. The key takeaway here is that it’s possible to create targeted, interesting content that achieves significant visibility on even a thin content budget.
3. Technologies predict consumption trends.
In what should be an obvious lesson, technological advances tend to predict content consumption patterns. The rise of mobile devices and 4G internet helped drive the success of podcasts because it became more convenient for users to download and listen to them on the go. In the future, look to technologies like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to drive new patterns in content consumption. And when 5G internet hits, we’ll likely see entirely new patterns of mobile video consumption.
4. Influencers drive everything.
Finally, consider that even with all the other precipitating factors supporting podcasts, it would have been nearly impossible for the medium to take off if it weren’t for the handful of high-quality content producers that showed off how engrossing the medium could be. Influencers are the drivers of trends in our society, so it pays to watch them, learn from them, and if at all possible, network with them in your bid to become an influencer in your own right.
If you’re interested in jumping on the podcast bandwagon directly, you should consider creating a podcast specifically for your brand. Otherwise, there are many valuable lessons to learn from the popularity of podcasts that you can carry to your other content mediums.
This is an interesting time to be a content marketer, and I, for one, am excited to see the diversity of content mediums available to readers (and listeners).