By Adam Fraser.
I have been a big fan of podcasting for some time. Not normally an “early adopter”, I think I may actually qualify in this case having jumped on the podcast bandwagon as far back as 2009. I think its a medium worthy of further investigation whether you are a marketer or a ‘consumer’ of content.
Podcasts have their origin in the post internet area with the advent of MP3 files and MP3 players (of which the iPod was the most popular). The term podcast was coined by journalist Ben Hammersley in a newspaper article in 2004 and has stuck ever since. Consider podcasts your own personalised, cutomisable radio station which can be easily consumed from any setting in today’s smartphone dominant world.
The benefits to consumers and the reasons for podcasting’s growth include:
- Multi-tasking capability leads to time efficiency – you can listen to podcasts while performing other activties – walking the dog, running, driving, folding laundry, gardening – thus allowing podcast content to be squeezed into hitherto non-productive times
- Customisable – unlike conventional radio, you listen to what you want, when you want it; it’s on-demand audio 24/7
- Portable – with advent of smartphones, podcasts can be easily consumed anytime, anywhere
- Frictionless – especially since the launch of the recent Podcast app which is pre-installed on all Apple devices, podcast episodes download automatically via wifi – no need to “sync” with a computer anymore
- Breadth of content – From light entertainment to the insights of global thought leaders, podcasts are a great education and entertainment medium; also, content quality has certainly improved in recent years
- Intimacy – a deeper emotional connection is developed via voice; you feel like you “know” the presenter in a way it can be harder to develop via written words and other content forms
- Price – to date podcasts have been free
No question that the internet itself, followed by the growth in mobile and smartphone penetration, were the foundations upon which podcast growth was built.
After a few blips in the road, it looks like podcasting is beginning to gain some traction and hit the mainstream. Podcasts and podcast networks have become a serious commercial business. In the USA 15% of adults listened to a podcast in the last month and 30% have listened to a podcast at some point. Apple confirmed in June 2013 that it had surpassed 1 billion podcast downloads on the iTunes platform, and it now hosted more than 250,000 podcasts in 100 different languages. The recent Serial podcast certainly seems to have ‘cut through’ to the mainstream in a way podcasts hadn’t previously.
That all being said, podcasts still have some way to go to catch up mainstream radio. Looking to the USA as a guide, 52% of audio consumption is still via broadcast radio, compared to 1.7% being podcasts. However the incumbent market leader (radio) should not underestimate the growth and disruption potential of podcasts. Think about the impact YouTube has had on TV consumption; I believe the time is approaching where podcasts could begin to make a similar indent to radio.
As I have discussed in a previous blog, the consumer of today wants to consume content on their timetable, on a device and at a location of their choosing. Why be restricted by the schedule of a radio broadcaster, when you can choose exactly the type of audio content you want to consume, download it and listen at a time and place of your choosing? The basic consumer proposition of the podcast is superior. Exceptions may be live events (breaking news, live sports) but for general entertainment and learning, the podcast as a distribution mechanism wins (assuming of course quality of content is consistent).
So if the fundamental proposition is better, why have podcasts taken longer (than say YouTube) to hit the mainstream and take more market share from radio? A range of things come to mind including:
- Technology: until relatively recently the means to download a podcast had more friction – connect to a computer with a cable, sync with iTunes etc Improvement in smartphone technology, and the podcast apps there-in, have materially improved ease of access.
- Video v audio: TV was starting from a more dominant starting point v radio hence the more obvious initial target for disruptors
- The breadth and quality of podcast content took longer to develop and improve
The game changer to me which could catapult podcasting even further into the mainstream is connected cars. Approximately 44% of radio is currently consumed via commuters driving in cars. Yes you can currently play podcasts via your car audio system but there is currently friction making this more fiddly and cumbersome than pushing a single button to listen to the radio. Once connected cars gain share and the technology develops further, it will become as seamless to listen to exactly what you want via a podcast as it currently is to switch on the radio.
Just 14 manufacturers control 80% of the global car market. Each one of them has a connected-car strategy. A mobile research group from the USA predicts that in 2015 50% of cars will have Internet connectivity, and this will grow to 100% by 2025. The podcast market is already circling to meet the expected demand from connected drivers on the backbone of Android Auto and Apple Car Play.
Radio has been relatively insulated from much of the digital disruption of the past decade. Its time has now come.