Why are Podcasts so Popular in 2021?

Let’s be honest. You probably aren’t going to read this whole article.

But what if it was read to you out loud while driving to work, working out at the gym, or completing chores around the house?

Better yet, imagine listening to a smooth, relaxing voice like Morgan Freeman’s. You’d be hanging on every word, and ready for the next episode immediately after.

That is the beauty of podcasts, and today they are more popular than ever. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of digital media such as podcasts has only continued to rise.

Here are some of the current statistics for podcasting in 2021:

Spotify has overtaken Apple as the number one podcast host platform (Source)

The History of Podcasts

Podcasts actually predate the internet. They go back to the 1980s and were initially called ‘audio blogging.’ Similar to early bloggers, this was a way for anybody to share their experiences and thoughts with other people via audio recording. However, due to a lack of means to distribute the recordings, it took another 20 years before the genre took off.

In the early 2000s with the rise in popularity of portable audio devices such as the iPod, the concept of transferring these ‘audio blogs’ to an audio player as an MP3 file became mainstream.

By 2003 people were able to download audio blogs to their iPod and journalist Ben Hammersley coined the term ‘podcasting,’ hence the word ‘pod’ in podcasting.

In 2005 Apple officially added podcasting to its iTunes Music Library. In 2005 during an onstage interview at D3, Steve Jobs demonstrated how anybody could create a podcast using their Mac and share with the world.

Since 2005, more than 700,000 podcasts have been created, with over 30 million episodes of content, most of them for free.

Incredibly, about a third of those episodes have been created since June of 2018. With the proliferation of of smartphones, now everyone has a podcast player in their pocket.

The most popular podcast network today is a close competition between iHeartRadio and NPR, both with over 22 million monthly listeners. These networks offer some of the most popular podcasts, including Stuff You Should Know, Planet Money, and TED Radio Hour.

In early 2020, Joe Rogan signed a record $100 Million deal with Spotify to exclusively host his Joe Rogan Experience podcast for three years on their network. To date, this is the largest sum paid to a podcaster for distribution rights for their podcast show.

Multitasking and Podcasting

As the world becomes busier, the podcast format has become incredibly popular. Audio content allows the listener to multitask. A recent study showed that while 49% of podcast listening happens at home, 22% happens while driving, 11% at work, and 8% while exercising. The length of a podcast typically allows a deep dive on topics or an extended conversation between two people.

One of the most appealing aspects of listening to downloaded episodes of a podcast episode is that the listener has playback controls. Especially if listening to an interview podcast it is much easier to choose your own pace and to be able to rewind and fast forward.

Podcast audio content gives listeners the ability to dive into topics without having to set aside time to read or watch a video. Podcasts also offer articles in smaller bite-sized chunks perfect for daily commutes or busy routines.

When using the Apple podcasts app or Spotify, each podcast consumer can choose to subscribe to their favorite shows and have each new episode downloaded immediately. This is in contrast to youtube or social media, where often a person must visit the platform to see new content.

Many people enjoy listening to podcasts while commuting or exercising.

A Podcast For Everyone

The advantage of the podcasting format is that it offers endless variety and options. Any topic a person may be interested in can usually be found online in podcast format. From a true crime podcast, comedy podcast, pop culture, news, opinions, there is something for everyone. And for a budding podcast creator, the ability to share information on a podcast hosting platform about their topic is easier than ever.

Giving listeners a large variety of content to choose from (typically updated every week or sometimes daily) keeps them engaged over a long period.

In 2021, the top five categories for podcasts are society & culture, business, comedy, health, news & politics. Podcasts offer deep dives into the minds of industry thought leaders through interviews. In less than an hour per day, listeners can become industry experts on their favorite topics.

Monetizing a Podcast

While all this free content is a massive win for the end-user, it is very time-consuming for the creators. The equipment costs, production time alone can cost a great deal.

To offset the cost, many podcasts have taken on sponsors and do small ad reads to help cover the cost. Podcast advertising has become more common in recent years, with many companies using it to attract new business from the podcast audience.

Ad revenue for podcasting grew by over 50% from 2017 to 2018 and is expected to grow over 1,000% from 2015 to 2021.

For podcasts that have more than 5000 downloads per month, there is a growing market of companies that are willing to sponsor the podcast. Another option is crowdfunding, which through sources like Patreon enables listeners to donate.

Reaching The Perfect Audience

The large variety of podcast topics allow for advertisers to reach niche consumer markets comprised of highly engaged listeners.

Host-read advertisements garner higher trust from the listeners and do not interrupt the flow of the episode with an unfamiliar voice.

Some podcast hosts carefully curate their sponsors based on their personal use of the products or services.

Perhaps the most significant benefit for advertisers is that 80% of listeners finish almost the entire podcast episode. Drop-off rates for listeners are considerably less for podcasts than other platforms, such as YouTube.

A Bright Future for Podcasting

These characteristics of listeners combined with relatively low competition make podcasts ideal for advertisers.

The sponsored advertising trend for podcasts is encouraging for marketers and consumers alike.

More ad revenue creates more incentive to create content, which, in return, provides more topics that entice more listeners.

As the podcast trend continues to grow each year, one thing is clear: human beings love to listen to each other talk.

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