Alex Hesketh
Alex Hesketh
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Podcast power: from dying format to cultural dominance

By Alex Hesketh


No more than five years ago, recording a podcast seemed an almost outdated format. Listeners seemed to prefer to stick to their tried and trusted radio presenters and content creators (if they were still making podcasts) and the numbers of people listening to podcasts were dwindling. But today it seems audio is having a renaissance.

The resurgence is arguably at least partly due to the enormous success of podcasts like Serial, a twelve part murder mystery, and an offshoot of This American Life. The first series had over 80 million downloads, and this number will only continue to grow. The producers’ follow-up, S-Town, has already smashed these figures. The potential reach for content creators is growing exponentially, and we are being asked more and more to help record podcasts with clients. Here are a few reasons why we think the podcast is back, and bigger than ever.

On the go

With the advent of smartphones, podcasts are easier than ever to access. The rampant success of popular podcasts such as Serial was enjoyed dominantly by mobile users – listeners simply visited their website, downloaded each episode, and enjoyed them on their commute. While Apple still accounts for 60% of all podcast downloads, the market is expanding, and listeners can pick and choose more exclusively from their favourite content creators. For instance, business people are using podcasts more and more to stay on top of trends as it is simply the most time-efficient way of consuming content. The podcast can open up a whole new market of listeners who would otherwise just be too busy!

That little bit extra

Ten years ago, a podcast was more or less a synonym for ‘listen again’: the most popular podcasts were simply roughly edited versions of the most popular radio shows of the time. Whilst the top radio presenters do still draw listeners, the content is now more exclusive. Podcasts, such as evidenced by BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, now feature extra content not heard on the live show.  This means listeners who cannot tune in for the live show can get a snapshot of the day’s bulletin, but those who did tune in live also have a reason to download the podcast.

Imagination!

Perhaps the most notable change has been the increased production value of podcasting. Serial was influential in sparking this – any fans of the podcast will certainly remember the haunting piano intro – and podcasters have been given license to be more creative. The unique attraction of Serial was its method of encouraging the listener to pick apart the mystery themselves, offering no certain conclusions itself. While consumers may be attracted to the content by association, finding a way to get them to tune in week on week requires that element of intrigue and creativity. The field of play has been blown open, and podcasts are taking on new styles and formats every day – the possibilities are endless!

Top tips?

To effectively tap into this booming market, here are a few things to consider:

  1. Production value – recording an interview on your phone is fine for a soundbite, but not a whole podcast. It’s better if you can make use of a fully sound-proof studio, even just for a simple interview style as quality sound is easier to listen to.
  2. Add something else – the podcast needs to build or expand on your content. Think about your speakers, and what they offer on the microphone that can’t be replicated in text. A simple audio recording of something that can already be found on your website is pointless! Music and sound effects all add to the “picture” you can create in your head whilst listening to a good podcast.
  3. Know your audience – is your podcast aiming to be insightful, thought-provoking and contemplative? Or is it more for entertainment, and to tell a story? Having a clear mind-set of how you want your listeners to approach your content will be key to executing a great podcast.

Our fully equipped radio studio.

While it might have once been on the brink of extinction, podcasting has resurged as a new and innovative way to engage with audiences. If you’re interested in producing one, please get in touch with our team by contacting hello@shoutcommunications.co.uk or calling 0207 240 7373 for a chat.

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