Thursday, 20 April 2017

Podcasts aren't dead

I recently came across this article about podcasts on the BBC News website. It claims that despite being hailed as the future of radio broadcasting, they still remain a "niche pursuit" and aren't catching on in the mainstream. I agree somewhat but I don't think we should be writing them off completely. Here are some reasons why...

The future: Storytelling in a digital age

People respond to short, digestible and downloadable content that they can consume on the go. The podcast has revolutionised radio in the same way that Netflix and Amazon have revolutionised TV.  Podcasts allow consumers to pick and choose the content they want, when they want it.

The popularity of the TV serial drama has proven the age-old hypothesis that we love a cliff-hanger – from Dickens to Dallas, we will tune in again and again to find out the long drawn out conclusion. The only difference is now we don’t have to wait.

This, combined with our growing distrust in the mainstream media, has lead more and more of us to find alternative sources of news and knowledge.

For the blogger and YouTube generation, we prefer to find our own source of the truth – preferably told in an entertaining way, through the medium of a story or relatable character. With this in mind, the way organisations promote to and engage with their audiences is changing too. 

The new activism?

The podcast is one of new ways for people to feel politically and culturally engaged. Pod Save America is a popular “resistance” podcast run by three Former Obama staffers, keen to organise opposition to Donald Trump. The idea that just about anyone can launch and promote their own podcast (similar to blogging) means that we are all welcome to join the conversation. It feels less exclusive than mainstream media.

As listeners we don’t feel preached to – it’s more relaxed, casual. Like vloggers can begin to feel like our online friends, the podcasters we tune into weekly have the same effect. We trust them and we want to hear their thoughts. This is where marketers and advertisers can take advantage of new, ready-made captive audiences.

New approach to marketing

New York-based Gimlet Media has just launched the second series of Open For Business, its show for eBay, which debuted last summer and became the top-ranked business podcast on the iTunes download chart. It has also produced Tinder’s podcast, DTR (Define the Relationship), which made the overall iTunes podcast top ten in several countries, reaching number 12 in the UK. Nazanin Rafsanjani, the company’s creative director, says:

"For eBay, it was about offering help to people running small businesses and "making them feel less alone – tackling the topics they’re wrestling with on a daily basis". Meanwhile, Tinder wanted to tell stories that resonated with a young female audience, to try to counter notions that the dating app is an unfriendly place for women." (Source:

This seems like a fairly new approach which isn't driven by the usual marketing agenda. Perhaps it is for this reason that it will achieve more resonance with audiences.

Podcast audience in the UK

Rajar's latest report shows that around 4.7 million adults in the UK download and listen to podcasts - roughly 9% of the population. Although these are small numbers, it's an increase on the figures from 2015 (around 6.5%). 

Helen (Zaltman, of Answer Me This) believes it’s an exciting time to be involved in podcasting:

“It’s a really great medium, it’s so democratic. It’s very cheap to make, so much cheaper than radio and TV. There’s no one between you and the audience — there are no filters. (Source:

So although the uptake still not be of the same scale as TV or radio, the impact is certainly great. The fact that they are still (albeit slowly) rising in popularity proves they aren't dead. I think we should watch this space - recent chats I have had with people around my age have revealed a fair few more podcast fans than I expected. If they really are a niche pursuit for professionals in their 20s or 30s, maybe this could be the key to their success?

After all, wasn't it this same generation of millennials which drove the YouTube and Netflix boom, eventually culminating in mainstream popularity? 
It might be a slow-burn, but I think word of mouth and recommendations from friends (as was the case in the early days of blogging and vlogging) could result in a rise in the podcasting culture.

Popular content in 2017

My favourite podcasts

Stuff You Should Know - Extremely likable Josh and Chuck discuss every subject under the sun, from the history of the Trail of Tears to empathy, from bonsai to foreign accent syndrome. Great if you love learning random facts and very entertaining.


Guys We F***ed - Hear from Corinne and Krystyna as they chat through all issues of feminism and femininity. Dubbed 'the anti slut shaming podcast', they often have guests, take questions from listeners and offer advice.

WTF with Marc Marron - Comedian Marc Marron interviews a host of well known personalities (alongside a hearty and welcome dose of his own). Feels much more like listening into a chat between friends than a formal interview.

If I Were You - Jake and Amir (of YouTube Collegehumor fame) answer listener dilemmas and offer very questionable advice. And try as hard as they can to stay on topic, with entertaining results.

Anna Farris is Unqualified - Actress and wife of movie star Chris Pratt chats to celebrities and asks them big questions - about their dating deal breakers, for example. An enviable selection of guests including Sharon Stone and Eric Stonestreet of late.

I'm interested to find out from as many people as I can: do you or have you ever downloaded a podcast? If so, how often? What is it about them that appeals to you? Please let me know in the comments!

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