Slow burn of the podcast industry


By ADAM EARNHEARDT

acearnheardt@ysu.edu

Some technological innovations take a little longer than others to catch on, and some never do.

Our neighbors owned a Betamax in the mid-’80s. I walked around with a minidisc player in the mid-’90s. Both inventions still serve as sad punch lines to bad tech jokes.

The same cannot be said for the success of the podcast.

As inventions go, this one is a head-scratcher.

Adam Curry and Dave Winer receive co-credit with the birth of podcasting. Winer created the software for syndicating audio feeds in the early 2000s. If you’ve heard the term “RSS feed,” that’s Winer’s work. Curry is credited with launching some of the first content for podcasts in 2004.

It was technology journalist Ben Hammersley who gave us the term “podcasting” in a 2004 article for The Guardian.

Then nothing; virtual crickets from the podcasting world for the better part of a decade.

OK, that’s not entirely fair. We’ve had good podcasts available to us since the beginning. It’s just that most of us weren’t listening. Thanks to Apple’s iPod and the addition of podcast downloads to iTunes in 2005, entertaining audio content, rich with news and interviews, started to fill the store.

Downloading podcasts to iPods and computers was really the only way to listen in those early days. But we still weren’t listening. Not like we are today. So what changed?

Two things: 1) better content and 2) better devices.

First, there’s an argument to be made for This American Life’s now infamous 2014 season of Serial as the savior of a stagnate podcasting industry.

Sure, good podcasts were available before Serial. But according to a report published last week by the Pew Research Center on the State of the News Media, the podcasting industry saw a drop in listeners between 2012 and 2013 (about 2 percent).

After Serial, podcast listeners jumped 3 percent. Did Serial save podcasting? Maybe. The series had more than 68 million downloads in 2014 and won several media and entertainment industry awards.

Let’s face it, radio people know audio, and they know how to tell good stories. It probably helped that Serial’s producers had their connections to National Public Radio.

According to the report, “The average weekly unique users who download NPR podcasts, which include some of the most popular podcasts in the iTunes library, such as Up First and Planet Money, rose from 5.4 million in 2017 to 7.1 million in 2018.”

There’s more and more content made available to us every day from people who know how to tell great stories.

Second, we have great devices and apps for streaming, downloading and listening to great audio content. If you’re new to podcasting, check out Stitcher, Overcast, SoundCloud to find your favorite content.

Podcasting has enjoyed a slow growth. Now that they have good content and we have the right tech to listen, podcasters have our attention.

Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adamearn.com.

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