The Future of Podcasts


Podcasts are big. There’s no denying it. Practically everybody you talk to has a new podcast that they’re listening to, and people talk about the newest podcasts with such fervour they could be talking about the latest episode of Game of Thrones.

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Take Serial, for example – the podcast that took the world by storm and detailed the case of Adnan Syed, a prisoner who claimed he was innocent. It reignited many people’s passions in the audio format - racking up over 110 million downloads in the process.

But just how big are podcasts? They’re big enough to have their own networks, such as Relay FM (featuring over 20 shows) and Gimlet Media, a start-up network that recently received $7.5m of investment from venture capitalists. But in terms of actual listens, it’s hard to say. The difficulty comes from the fact that Apple keeps its listening data close to its chest. An estimated 57 million Americans will download a podcast each month this year, but we have no way of knowing how many people actually listen to the podcasts they download (I know that I’m guilty of deleting more than I listen to), and if they are listening we have no idea for how long, or whether they skip content.

Apple held talks recently with some of the biggest names in the podcasting world, discussing ‘several pressing issues’ but it’s unclear exactly what the conclusions were. With podcasters crying out for more intuitive ways to discover content, the ability to monetise their podcasts and the lack of data on listeners, it’s possible that all will be set to change in the podcasting world.

But this makes advertising on podcasts particularly tricky. It’s a lucrative opportunity – and podcasts are only set to get bigger and bigger – but without knowing just how many people are actually paying attention, it’s tough to recommend podcasts as a viable advertising solution. Yet from personal experience, I have to say there’s nothing more convincing to get me to check out a product than hearing it from the mouths of a podcaster that I love and trust. My Audible download history can certainly attest to that…

Although sponsors for podcasts usually come in the form of digital enterprises, such as Squarespace or Hover, I’m finding that more and more I’m hearing about ‘real-world’ stores supporting the podcasting world. Ministry of Supply is a particularly interesting example, a menswear brand using technology found in NASA space suits, which advertise codes you can use online, or say in their stores to receive a discount. That’s not even mentioning the fact that the likes of Halo 5 and General Electric are making their own podcasts – and they’re doing spectacularly well.

Google are hot on Apple’s heels, however, and are poised to launch their own podcasting alternative later this year – with Spotify and Soundcloud following closely behind. With Google Analytics providing detailed insight into every facet of online entertainment – from vlogging to blogging – it’s safe to say that Google’s podcast app will shed some light on just how popular podcasts are, and will provide even more incentive for brands to start advertising with them. And with Apple’s podcasting app being largely unchanged for the last 10 years – and exposure for podcasters becoming more and more difficult to get hold of – could this be the dawn of a new age for the blossoming audio format?

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