(By Kim Komando) I’ve been podcasting for a long time, and I’ve always found that it’s an important element in keeping my listeners up to date with the latest news in the digital world. I’ve also seen it explode in the last year, and I think that trend is going to continue. The audience for podcasts is going to continue to grow.
Why? Because it’s on your schedule and you can listen when it’s convenient for you, whether you’re at home, in the car, working out, or at the office. Technology continues to make the whole process easier — smartphones and mobile devices allow our audiences to take us with them wherever they go. And to top it off, it’s free.
To me, technology is what will ensure the future of podcasting. And it’s only going to get bigger. But to look at what’s ahead, it’s important to see how podcasting has grown so much in years past. Because there were key points along the way.
The Podcasting Revolution
Think about podcasting 15 years ago when it was really getting started. There wasn’t much content to choose from and it was a painful process to go through just to listen, as described by Rob Walch, VP of podcaster relations at Libsyn.
“When I first got in it, there was no support in iTunes. So if you wanted to listen to a podcast 14 years ago, you needed to download a third-party app called iPodder X and then install that on your computer, and then sync that up to iTunes – and then sync your iPod to iTunes to get your podcasts,” Walch explained. “Oh, and you had to manually go out and find the RSS feed to subscribe to iPodder X.”
It sounds so exhausting that it almost didn’t seem worth it. But then Apple happened in 2005. The late Steve Jobs, who was then Apple’s CEO, called podcasting the next generation of radio. Podcasts became native within iTunes in June that same year, and Walch says that was the first real inflection point.
The iPhone was released two years later, which meant you no longer had to sync with iTunes to download podcasts because now there was a constant internet connection. Then in 2014, the Podcast App became native on the iPhone with the introduction of iOS 8. And because it gained so much more awareness, that’s what really lit the fire.
The Importance of Podcasting Today
Now fast-forward to the present, where are more than 600,000 podcasts listed through Apple. And according to an Edison Research report, when asked if they’ve ever listened to a podcast, 11 percent of those questioned said yes in 2006. Look ahead to 2018 and that number is 44 percent. Now about 80 million people in the U.S. regularly listen to podcasts, while 26 percent of Americans are monthly listeners. So how did this happen?
First of all, anyone can podcast, and just like every other medium, you have standouts in the crowd. Then there’s the variety, the really niche subjects. Just about any topic you’re interested in, someone is podcasting about it.
But it isn’t just about finding podcasts you like, it was also about how you can listen to them; the convenience. I mentioned the iPhone’s beginning and being able to download podcasts directly. But look at today and how technology intersects, making it that much easier.
Start listening to a podcast in your kitchen, then seamlessly transition to your car. When you get to your destination, keep listening on your smartphone.
And now you can play them on demand from your smart speakers. Just tell Alexa or the Google Assistant what you’re looking for and sit back. It’s even more flexibility.
So where does it go from here?
The future of podcasting
I see the popularity of podcasting continuing to grow in the future. Technology will lead the way as everything from smartphones to smart speakers to smart cars become even more seamlessly integrated than they are now.
Rob Walch says the connected car itself isn’t the future of podcasting. Instead, it’s an opportunity for Android.
“The reality is the connected car is nothing more than a glorified Bluetooth speaker for your smartphone. So when I look at the future, where I see the growth, it goes back to Android challenges,” he said. “The sad part is there’s still not a true native solution yet on Android, which is why today there’s still a five-to-one ratio of iOS to Android consumption (of podcasts) – even though there’s five times more Android devices. Right now, it’s heavily skewed Apple and that just means it’s an opportunity on the Android side.”
But there are also a lot of other question marks. Will podcasts stay free? How much more of a role will advertising play? There are even whispers that podcasting could one day resemble streaming services with subscription costs, and exclusive content.
Regardless, the key is still adapting and evolving. People are on-the-go, and that’s not going to change. So podcasting needs to keep up with people’s busy schedules, and mobile technology will be leading the charge.