Since its debut nearly ten years ago, podcasting has been an evolving yet unpredictable medium. What was once thought to be “the next big thing” in the entertainment and tech coupling became an afterthought just as quickly. Many at the time could not differentiate podcasting from standard terrestrial radio, which resulted in an eventual slump that would be difficult for podcasting to grasp itself out of for the next coming years.
But we know that podcasting didn’t completely die. In fact, podcasting today resonates with audiences stronger than ever. So what happened?
Through more discerning media habits, consumers have made it abundantly clear they want absolute control over their content and refuse to be hand-fed media that doesn't whet their appetite. This trend has emerged most prominently with the growth of services like Netflix and Hulu outpacing even that of traditional cable outlets.
This same trend in digital media and content consumption has done wonders for resurrecting the podcasting medium. Being given the option to search and digest media on demand (literally), consumers have a specific idea of what they're looking for when choosing media options. The current podcasting landscape provides the necessary amount of differentiation to make it appeal to virtually everyone.
Early podcasts like the Dawn & Drew show, which included the tagline, “two ex-gutter punks fall in love, buy a retired farm in Wisconsin and tell the world their dirty secrets”, may have sounded a bit too obscure some years ago, but with online advancement encouraging constant creation, the flow of information, and a one-on-one connection with anyone in the world, the internet now seems to feed off of these niche communities (reddit, anyone?). Podcasters make themselves available to their audiences, and the medium today perfectly complements what consumers are looking for. Shows like Dawn & Drew have paved the way for independent broadcasters with unique points of view to express themselves. And people are listening.
The relevant question now is: what will podcasting look like in 5 years? Or even 10? Will it still be an all-inclusive breeding ground of creativity where anyone with a mic and passion can find their people?
To be certain, podcasting has always had one major advantage that makes it such a special and unique media outlet, which may also be its biggest strength in the years ahead: the niche market. That is, if podcasting can maintain its personality and continue to serve the niche audiences that mainstream media cannot, then the future is bright for all podcasters, both amateur and professional.
As people decide that they want to feel more in control of the content they consume, traditional media will have to adjust or continue to lose its share in the market. This is one of many features that make podcasting so special, and one that is in danger of being lost as large media companies begin to scan their eyes on the podcast territory. That being said, the majority of podcasters still are people who are not professionals and make podcasting a hobby because they’re passionate about a particular subject and want to connect with a like-minded group of people.
However, there’s a roadblock for these indie podcasters that just won't seem to nudge, and that's the challenge of discovery, which seems to be the greatest looming factor. As Patrick Beja explains, “Discoverability is almost impossible for podcasts, which is why iTunes is still the main way people find new shows to listen to. Everybody is trying to solve that problem, but those who'll manage to do that will be important in the market.”
This is why its important that podcasters themselves, and their hosting companies such as Podomatic, continue to work on the discovery problem while preserving podcasting’s long tail approach. If the only way to find great content is through popularity driven charts, then only the most popular podcasts will thrive. If there's a way to make it easier for a person to come across that special podcast that speaks to their most personal interests, then the podcasting industry will continue to grow.
The importance of maintaining podcasting's guerrilla media appeal cannot be understated as the medium becomes more assimilated into the mainstream. While it’s a giant leap forward that companies such as NPR have started to embrace podcasting, the format, its health, and its future will depend on independent content creators and the creation of a discovery tool that can help users and podcasters share their messages in a more effective way.
For all of the dreamers, DJs, movie buffs, gamers, comedians, writers, poets and opinionated pundits of the world, we leave you with this message; don’t stop creating and sharing yourself and your passions with the world through podcasting. You’re more important to this movement than you can imagine.