Podcast: Revolutionizing Radio

You are missing one of the great innovations of the past decade if you are not listening to podcasts on a regular basis. A podcast is simply a radio show that has been recorded and can be downloaded or streamed through your computer or smartphone. Why is podcasting so important? Because traditional broadcast radio is going through a transformation much like broadcast television did with the advent of subscription/cable TV. Two major differences are: 1) podcasts are free, and 2) unlike unproductive time spent watching TV, podcasts are typically educational and listened to while commuting or while doing other activities.

Serial – the first blockbuster:

Podcasting has been around for over a decade. However, a podcast called Serial from NPR (National Public Radio) in the fall of 2014 was a game-changer for the industry. Many podcasts are single stand-alone episodes but Serial is a weekly show that lasts for 10-12 episodes. The first season investigated the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, an 18-year old high school student in Baltimore, Maryland. It is a true story, and the research, interviews, production value, and journalistic integrity of the podcast made it both interesting and educational. Serial Season 1 was the fastest growing podcast in history, reaching 5 million downloads by its sixth week.

Explosion of new content:

The success of Serial set off an explosion of content creation. There are now thousands of podcasts. Some of them are truly excellent. I frequently find myself saying: “I can’t believe that I can download this show for free.” Some podcasts I would willingly pay for, but luckily, I don’t have to. Podcasts are supported by advertising, just like Google, YouTube, and traditional radio. The nice thing is there is usually less than 2 minutes’ worth of commercials in a one-hour show and you can even fast-forward through the commercials. I am constantly asking how this can be profitable for these broadcasters.

How podcasts make money:

I am pretty sure that most podcasts are not yet profitable. That being said, there are some encouraging signs for the industry. Production costs are reasonable by traditional media standards and podcast ads supposedly work really well, at least according to Adam Sachs, CEO of Midroll Media, who sells the ads. The audience develops an intimate and loyal relationship with the host and really pays attention to the ads, which are often read by the hosts. Advertisers pay approximately $18-$25, per thousand listeners for popular podcasts. More national advertisers are experimenting with podcast ads as the market has grown, and podcast networks are evolving to cross-promote shows and cross-sell ads. More than three billion podcasts were downloaded last year, and many listeners are devoted, listening to an average of six podcasts per week.

The profitability and business model are still evolving. Nevertheless, it is clear that podcasting is a huge trend in media that cannot be stopped. Fewer people are listening to live radio and, instead, are picking podcasts that target their interests (economics, home remodeling, pop culture). The ability to start, stop, fast-forward, and rewind are critical, especially when you consider that 2/3 of podcasts are listened to on mobile devices. You might want to rewind if Google Maps so rudely interrupted your podcast to tell you to turn left.

Podcasts make formerly unproductive time entertaining and educational:

Podcasts have the ability to enrich people’s lives. You can tell that I am a raving fan. Why? Because I am now learning and being entertained every time I am driving to and from work. I also listen to stories as I clean the garage or perform other traditionally mundane tasks.

The biggest surprise is how easy it is. You need virtually zero technical abilities to quickly download and begin listening to podcasts. On an iPhone, the purple Podcast icon comes standard on your phone. Once you open the app, you can search for a topic or a specific show, click subscribe, click the specific episode, and it will begin to play. If you use an android device, you will first need to download a Podcast app, such as Pocket Casts, from Google Play.

In case you are looking for some listening recommendations, take a look at the list of the Top 100 Podcast Rankings. I am a big fan of This American Life and Planet Money. Both shows represent a great blend of the interesting, entertaining, and educational. Happy listening!