Don’t be downcast
about podcasts

microphone-639192_960_720EVERY TIME a new communication technology emerges, people lose no time predicting the demise of an existing one. 

The printing press was going to ruin the human mind. Motion pictures, radio, and TV were all going to eliminate reading. TV and, later, streaming were going to do in movie theaters. Digital media threatens the death of printed newspapers. 

There may be something to that last one—time will tell—but the other doomsday prophecies never came about. But now podcasting has some people worried about the survival of radio.

If you listen to podcasts, you’re not alone. Last month, Fast Company reported that there are over a half-million to choose from. That number comprises some 18.5 million episodes in over 100 languages in 155 countries. Two months ago, Apple Podcasts alone passed 50 billion episode downloads and streams.

Not counting prototypes—because counting them would be something of a stretch—podcasting as we know it today had its start in 2004. It received a significant boost from Apple in 2005 with the ability to download podcasts via iTunes. Since then the growth has been explosive. 

Of course, iTunes isn’t the only game in town. Android device users can use Google Play to download podcasts. And iOS and AOS support SpotifyPocket CastsOvercast, and others.

Top ten podcasts of 2017

According to Podtrac, the ten most downloaded podcasts of 2017 were:

  1. S-Town
  2. Serial
  3. This American Life
  4. Radiolab
  5. Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
  6. TED Radio Hour
  7. Invisibilia
  8. Freakonomics Radio
  9. Dirty John
  10. Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!

With hindsight, podcasting’s explosive growth shouldn’t be surprising. These days pretty much anyone can produce studio-quality music, on-demand books, movies, and radio-like content, all from home. And it’s almost as if pretty much anyone does. Of course, content and quality are all over the board, and not every podcast is a hit. Still, there is no shortage of hits, and that has traditional stations and networks taking note. Not a few wonder if podcasting is poised to put them out of business.

A number of factors make podcasting a tough competitor. Advertisers are lining up to sponsor them. Sheer volume and variety of content ensure programming for every taste and interest area. Podcast content is not under the same FCC restraints as radio content. Fans can tune in to podcasts when it suits them rather than according to a broadcast schedule. Podcasts allow for binge listening and catching up on past episodes. And a couple of people in a garage studio can be more nimble, more cost-effective, and more free of red tape than a major radio corporation. 

Still, I think it’s a bit soon to make funeral plans for radio.

For one thing, radio can and does steal podcasts’ thunder by making content available in podcast format at broadcast time or shortly thereafter. Perhaps you noticed that three of the above-listed top ten podcasts are NPR programs.

For another, there are things radio can do that podcasts can’t. Here’s a big one: Radio can provide up-to-the-minute news, but podcasts can’t. Even better, radio can provide up-to-the-minute local news, weather, and traffic, all of which local markets need. (For the same reason, satellite radio hasn’t done in local radio.)

For another note of encouragement, consider that the Pew Research Center found that radio listenership has remained more or less constant from 2002—a full two years before podcasting took off—to the end of 2014—a full ten years into the boom.

Podcasting presents an opportunity for financial institutions.

Short of starting your own podcast—which may not be a bad idea—banks can advertise on podcasts that are popular in their markets. It’s possible to run prefab spots or, even better, let the podcasters write and deliver spots for you. That gives you the advantage of an implied endorsement in the style of the very people the market tunes in to hear.

If you’re not a podcast listener, I recommend giving it a try, not least in order to keep up with the way your customers experience technology. With over a half-million available, there’s a good chance you can find at least one to your liking.

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