For those of you who live under a rock – yesterday was the final episode of Serial (an extremely popular This American Life spinoff). In honor of this glorious and sad day (don’t worry, no spoilers here) I wanted to look into what the heck is going on with Podcasts. If you’re like me (and 5 million other people), you’re probably obsessed with Serial. Podcasts are nothing new; in fact they’re about 10 years old (or as old as the original iPod). Ten years doesn’t seem like a terribly long time but consider the leaps and bounds technology and digital media have made in that time. So, what’s the deal? Why are Podcasts just now such a widely consumed digital medium? Is there a science to it or just pure luck?
Podcasts are defined as “a digital medium consisting of an episodic series of audio, digital radio, PDF, or ePub files subscribed to and downloaded through web syndication or streamed online to a computer or mobile device” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Podcast). They were first introduced shortly after the original iPod was released in 2001. For a while, Podcasts were doing okay although they had nowhere near they reach they have now. There were political and news shows, niche discussions and even college classes. The platform seemed to exist in its own world and didn’t grow in listenership. And then it seems, podcasting just died off. No one was really listening to them anymore, myself included. In fact I think I could count on one hand (up until about 6 months ago) the amount of times I had listened to a Podcast. So what happened? Is it because the new iPhone operating system comes with the Podcast app preloaded (this probably helps)? Is it because Podcasts are better now (maybe)? I personally think it’s because people are begging for storytelling.
Podcasting, to me, is a lot like social media in that it is all about telling a story. The way to captivate an audience, whether you’re creating a brand or recording a Podcast is to make something relatable, something mesmerizing, and addicting. Storytelling is a method of communication that has been used for hundreds of year. We as humans crave the kind of narrative that takes us away from our mundane lives (be it commuting, cleaning the house, working out, etc.) into another world. I believe that Podcasts (and perhaps this is an all too biased opinion) have become so popular because people want and need stories. Unlike TV, Podcasts can be consumed anywhere, anytime. They’re more thought provoking than surfing Instagram and they give you a glimpse into real life scenarios. I realize this isn’t a very scientific reason for the sudden boom in podcasting, but hey some phenomena don’t have explanations.