Podcasts see massive boom in listeners and investment

Global Business

Podcasting is not new. But you’d be forgiven for thinking it was, judging by the excitement surrounding it right now. This format, which has been around for 15 years, is taking off in a big way. Google launched its own podcasting service to take on Apple. The BBC has made podcasting a central focus of its offerings in the UK and now streaming music giant, Spotify, has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into podcasting services. It’s said that more than 20% of its listening audience could come from non-music at some point. It also bought three major podcasting production acquisitions in a matter of months.

CGTN’s Phil Lavelle reports. 

According to researchers, one in three Americans now listens to a podcast each week. Previously, the number was one in four. Industry experts ‘The Infinite Dial’ say there was an increase of 20 million listeners in the last year alone. According to the Ovum Research Company, listener figures are expected to grow 600% over the next few years, from 287 million in 2016 to 1.85 billion in 2023.

The question here is why is a medium that has been around for more than a decade taking off now. Comedian, Iliza Schlesinger thinks she knows.

She hosts a podcast called ‘Ask Iliza Anything’ and tells CGTN, “I think a podcast gives you a sort of raw, oftentimes unfiltered access to information. I think people gravitate towards that sort of intimate experience. It’s like a book. you can pick out anyone that pertains to you. It’s not like there’s a couple of news channels out there and you can get your information that way and so it’s really like a choose-your-own-adventure and I think people enjoy sort of curating their podcast lists based on their various interests.”

The big challenge for the industry is working out how it makes a profit. The beauty of podcasting is that it is democratic, meaning anybody can have a go and talk about anything. All that’s needed are a microphone and an internet connection to get started. This is not the content that listeners would typically pay for. But Hernan Lopez, the founder and Chief Executive of the Wondery network in Los Angeles sees something different here.

“I think that we are reaching an inflection point”, he tells CGTN.

Wondery is the producer of a number of hit podcasts including Dirty John (50 million downloads) and Dr. Death (30 million downloads) among others. He says that the key is making the podcast a slick, highly-produced item.

“Most podcasts will only ever reach hundreds, maybe thousands of listeners. What we do here is equivalent to what a movie studio, or a television show or network would make…If you think of television, for decades, there was only free television, then cable television came into existence, the same with digital news…Most people thought that digital news would be free until organizations like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal started to implement paywalls. That same thing, I think, will start with podcasting.”

There is another revenue stream here too that companies like Wondery are increasingly tapping into, partnerships. Podcasts like Dirty John and Dr. Death have been developed into TV shows as well. The idea is that you increase awareness of the story via the show, leading people to the podcast and they then hear the adverts which pay for it all. The hit Julia Roberts show, ‘Homecoming’ which was streamed by Amazon also came from a podcast of the same name.

And it’s an attractive career, says Rico Gagliano, a seasoned podcaster who’s been involved since the early days, who likens podcasting to radio, but with a more personal connection.

“I think an audience’s relationship with you as a podcaster is more intense and intimate,” said Gagliano. “If they find you, they’re really interested in what you’re saying and they’re into you as a personality, rather than just something they just stumbled upon when they happened to be in the car or on the commute and whatever happened to be on, they ended up listening to. They sought you out and they want to hear what you have to say, specifically. And they end up sticking with your sometimes for a really long time.”

Gavin Ballas discusses the massive growth in the podcast industry

CGTN’s Rachelle Akuffo spoke to Gavin Ballas discusses the massive growth in the podcast industry