“I just don’t think it has much of a future” I was told by a colleague about the future of podcasting. As a podcaster myself, I immediately wondered if they knew something I didn’t. They didn’t exactly have data, but it got me wondering, is podcasting dying? I do PR for emerging tech, and my podcast is my primary driver of new clients, so I gave it a good look.
The current state of podcasting
According to numerous sources, the current amount of podcasts active varies between half 800,000 shows to 1,750,000. (Podcasting data is trash.) It sounds like a crowded party until you consider there are 31 million YouTube channels, and over 2 billion users.
Even though half of Americans have listened to a podcast, the amount of active listeners still has a lot of room to grow. Less than a quarter listens weekly and with advances, it will likely grow. So, is podcasting dying? Let’s dig in.
Current challenges in podcasting
There are several persistent problems with podcasting, but fixing these problems will spur growth. The most obvious issues are search-ability, but there are some tech issues too, but is podcasting dying because of these? I doubt it.
Podcast Search-ability needs fixing
Have you ever noticed searching for podcasts is difficult? Because they are available on multiple platforms with varying degrees of organization, searching is a mess. If you go looking for a particular episode, guest, or host you’re likely to get lost. And don’t even think about using Google—not only will you see random podcast platform results, but also junk-content sites that scrape podcast data and republish. #Gross
In some cases, if you search for a past guest on my own show who has not appeared on any other show, it might not even appear in your results.
Podcast Share-ability needs fixing
Sharing podcast episodes is also a disaster due to the diversity in platform options. One reason is because Spotify, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher, Pandora, and Amazon want to keep you on their platform. Anyone not using the app, and episode was shared from can’t click a share link. Consider what happens when you share an episode using an Apple Podcast link on Twitter? People with Androids can’t listen or subscribe. But is podcasting dying because of a lack of sharability? Again, no. These can be fixed easily.
How to share podcasts the right way.
The proper way to share a podcast and overcome the podcast share-ability problem is by creating a webpage for every episode to “live” on. You then share that web page, not a unique platform link. This isn’t perfect however. If a website is young, that page will often rank lower than all the platform links and scraped junk content in search, making episodes difficult to find. But again, it’s an easy fix.
What’s Next In Podcasting
The idea of podcasting dying assumes the platform is done evolving. I believe podcasting still has a bright future ahead of it, and here’s why. Podcasting has technically been around dating back to the 80s, but it really wasn’t mainstream until Apple pushed the tech mainstream in 2005. Even after that, it didn’t catch on until 4G data connections. Even today it hasn’t changed much.
Spotify, Amazon and Now Apple Bet BIG On Podcasting
If podcasting is on it’s deathbed, Spotify, Amazon, and now Apple didn’t get the memo. The companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars. Most notable Spotify invested 100 million dollars for the rights to The Joe Rogan Experience, and they’re not alone. Amazon’s purchase of Wondery was also a significant move, and now Apple has announced at their 2021 spring event, they are investing in premium paid podcasting content.
From The Wall Street Journal on April 20, Apple’s decision to focus on building out digital services and content has fueled a lot of growth and has been championed by Apple CEO Tim Cook. “The tech giant’s services division generated almost $16 billion in sales in the quarter that ended in December, an almost 25% increase from the same period the previous year.” Is podcasting dying? If so, “Tim Apple” didn’t get the message.
5G’s impact on podcasting
4G speeds unlocked podcasting in remarkable ways making it an on-demand platform. No longer did listeners have to remember to connect to WiFi or download podcasts before they left the house. They could simply tap and listen whenever. The same will likely be true of 5G.
Consider the capabilities of 5G in podcasting. Podcast platforms could theoretically integrate live audio and video capabilities with the ability to toggle video on/off. Consider how many hosts already stream their shows on YouTube. 5G will allow podcasting platforms to fully integrate functionality.
Live podcasting will be introduced as well. I saw a hunger for live experiences especially with young people back in my call-in radio days, but the industry completely ignored the opportunity. Live podcasting and tools like Twitter Spaces and Clubhouse fulfill that hunger legacy radio space completely ignored.
As Clubhouse likely* adds the “record room” option, they will set themself up for acquisition by Google Podcasts or perhaps even Spotify who has been gobbling up lots of podcast hosts.
*I say likely, because they had clear policies on room recording, indicating they had prior knowledge. Was that prior knowledge, part of their future planning? I’m guessing yes. (But, it’s just a guess.)
Podcasting chapters or “tracks”
Just like your favorite album, some podcast topics belong together in the same show, but technology doesn’t allow for this. Podcasts are required to exist in non-navigatable episodes, with no way to “skip” to the next segment.
For shorter podcasts, this isn’t a big deal, BUT for longer radio form podcasts, or 3-hour Joe Rogan podcasts, it sucks. Sadly, podcast chapters, while often talked about, aren’t mainstream yet.
Location-Aware / Local Podcasting
Local podcasting is going to really heat up in the next few years as young people continue to look for alternatives to radio. As a former radio guy, I know the power of real-time radio, but sadly the networks are still focused on an old rage-opinion content model to drive ratings. That’s probably why Axios and Amazon are doubling down on local content, as iHeart exits. For local podcasting to really take off though, we need a location-aware upgrade.
If you enter a new town, there’s no way to easily access local shows. You can search for it, but as previously discussed, search sucks for podcasting. (Not to mention listener numbers which are used to serve you suggestions, are easy to manipulate.)
As technology rolls forward and podcast hosts embrace geo-sensitive / localized podcasting, local-listener bases will increase. Is podcasting dying on a local level? NO! It’s just heating up.
The other reason I think it’s too early to ask “is podcasting dying?” is because of incredible podcasting partnerships and ideas that we can’t even conceive of yet. For example, Wynn Resorts is putting a podcasting studio in one of their lobbies.
Technologies like Clubhouse (still iPhone only!) are also having a positive effect on podcasting. Many podcasters are using the platform to replicate a live call-in function of traditional talk radio. I did this myself on a recent show, asking about asshole boss stories.
While some folks believe live-audio social media is an opposing technology, I believe it fulfills a complementary role. As Twitter spaces (also iPhone only… grrrrrrr) arrives on the scene, I think these technologies will further develop podcasting in ways we’ve never seen.
Are podcasts dying? Not so fast.
In conclusion, are podcasts dying? No, and they won’t be for quite some time. Investment from major tech companies like Amazon, Axios, Spotify, Apple, and Google are indicative of future trends, and technology investments are solidifying podcast’s future.
Video never did kill the radio star, but podcasting just might. As a recovering radio person myself, I saw firsthand how popular and strong the audio-first platform can be. Content is terrestrial radio’s biggest problem, not technology. As technology gives listeners more content choices radio never invested in, the field is set to explode.
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