The rise of podcasts

How audio is filling the gaps in our busy schedule

Can anything stop the rise of podcasts? We’re going to hazard a guess and say: not anytime soon.

A quick Google search reveals just how many podcasts are out there. There are podcasts that promise to make you smarter, make you think, make you laugh, make you a better person, blow your mind, or change your life (let’s hope for the better).

Podcasts can do just about anything. Got a topic you’re interested in? There’s a podcast that’ll discuss it. Only got 15 minutes to spare? Great, that’s all you need. Prefer fiction to fact? Not a problem!

Podcasts deliver information and entertainment in bite-sized chunks that many of us are greedily consuming on our way to work, at the gym and while cooking dinner. Oh, and they’re pretty good at creating communities of like-minded listeners too.

What do the stats tell us?

Some of the stats confirm what we already know – there’s a lot of podcasts on offer.

Data from iTunes in June this year confirms that there are more than 750,000 shows and more than 30 million episodes. According to Apple, those figures in June last year were 550,000 and 18.5 million, respectively. Suffice to say, the growth has been significant.

Research from podcasting consulting company 4DC tells us that around 2,000 podcasts are released each week. And of those, the top 5% will attract six-figure audiences. In other words, the kind of audience figures that make advertisers sit up and take notice – but more of that later.

Meanwhile, other figures from Podcast Insights reveal where we’re listening to our beloved podcasts: 49% at home and 22% in the car. This highlights a real benefit of podcasts – their ability to fit into our busy lives like no other medium.

A slow and steady rise

Much of the credit for the rise of podcasts is attributed to ‘Serial’, the true crime series which launched in 2014. But while the so-called ‘Serial effect’ played a part, podcast audiences have been rising steadily for some years.

In the early days of podcasts (they launched in 2003), to say investors were underwhelmed is an understatement. Back then, other investment opportunities seemed far more lucrative. Today, investors can’t get enough of them.

At the end of last year, Acast, which hosts more than 3,000 podcasts globally, secured $33 million in funding. And things are still going strong this year. US podcast services Stitcher and Wondery have joined forces to take on the UK with their platform Podfront, adding a fourth major player in the UK podcast market alongside Dax, Acast and Audioboom. Plus, the rumour mill has been going into overdrive that Apple Inc. plans to fund original podcasts exclusive to its audio service. Not exactly music to Spotify’s ears, but they’re spending up to $500 million on podcast-related acquisitions, so they’re keeping themselves busy.

A nice little earner

According to a study by Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and PwC, podcasts are expected to generate $1 billion in revenue by 2020.

That shouldn’t come as a huge surprise – where consumers go, advertisers tend to follow. Research by Acast showed that 76% of listeners will act on an ad they hear in a podcast. That is probably the case because people feel positively towards podcast hosts and loyal to the podcasts they listen to.

But even without ads and sponsorship, podcasts still have the potential to boost business. A loyal listener could easily transform into a loyal client. Of course, there are those who say the podcast has peaked. But from where we’re standing, there’s still plenty of room for growth. The podcast space would certainly benefit from a more diverse pool of hosts and voices. And there are plenty of opportunities: the rise of smart speakers means podcasters and advertisers can tap into new consumer listener habits; in-car listening (car manufacturers are busy developing software that recommends podcasts based on journey times); and subscription models to further monetise the content.

Many will hope they can replicate what’s happened in China where the podcast industry is worth a staggering $7 billion thanks to educational subscription-based content.

Time for your business to get on board? At Linney, we’re big fans of podcasts. Check out our own audio offerings – y:The Linney podcast on Soundcloud. And find out how we can help you create your own podcast strategy without simply jumping on the bandwagon.

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