When you think about podcasts, do you see visions of Three Nerds in a Basement sending out long, random messages into cyberspace? If you said “yes” to the previous question, you are in good company. Before the widespread use and availability of digital media, personal computers and devices, podcasts were largely produced by amateur technology “nerds”. With the rise in the popularity of digital media for news and information, podcasts are now being produced by more traditional media sources.
Podcasts are a type of audioblog that uses digital media applications downloaded on smart phones, tablets or computers to create broadcasts about any number of subjects. Podcasts can be heard (or viewed) and distributed with little cost to the creator and audience.
WHO’S MAKING PODCASTS?
According to a USA Today article titled, “Remember podcasting? It’s back – and booming,” Apple has surpassed 1 billion downloads for podcasts via iTunes. According to iTunes downloads, six of the top 10 podcasts in the U.S. are created by public media, such as Radiolab and Freakonomics Radio from WNYC, and NPR’s TED Radio Hour, This American Life and Fresh Air. The public media podcasts are generally informative and based upon interesting subjects and are presented in a series. One Radiolab podcast that caught my attention was a series of podcasts on the Placebo effect, “The healing powers of belief, from the symbolic power of the doctor’s coat, to the very real stash of opium in your brain.” I found the podcast informative as well as credible.
Podcasting aimed at health and wellness issues have dramatically increased featuring subjects ranging from fitness, nutrition, and public health alerts and monitoring to series based health programming. “Slate” is an example of a very popular topical podcast that covers many subjects in addition to timely medical and health issues. Slate hosts broadcast the content in a conversational and personal sounding way to engage listeners.
An engaged listener is one that not only feels a connection with the host but may even change health behavior due to the podcast content. One Slate/NPR podcast collaboration is called “The Checkup” features episodes on health and health myths. The latest episode on “The Checkup” is called “Teenage Zombies“.
WHO’S LISTENING TO PODCASTS?
According to an Edison Research study, the podcast audience is young (half of all listeners are age 12-34) and affluent (4 in 10 podcast listeners have a household income of at least $75,000). The podcast audience uses smartphones or tablets for audio podcasts and are more likely to be social media users (78 percent compared to 56 percent of the U.S. population)
THE FUTURE OF PODCASTING
Podcast quality has dramatically improved over the past few years. This is due in large part to professional producers like NPR utilizing the podcast medium. Podcast networks have started to form and become successful in part because advertising revenue is becoming available to support them. In his book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organization, Shirky discusses the “network effect” that “networks become more valuable as people adopt them.”
Podcast networks including, “Slate” and “Serial”, provide opportunities for capturing a large listener base. Advertisers view these listeners as an opportunity to broadcast their messages to an engaged audience in a non-FCC regulated environment. As Slate writer John Alderman explained, “What we found, and what the advertisers found, is it’s incredibly powerful when the person is speaking to you, whether you’re in the car or making dinner,” “The conversational tone of podcasts and especially the Slate podcasts make it a truly personal connection.” A Midroll survey probing 300,000 podcast listeners found that 63% of these listeners bought something a that podcast host had advertised on their podcast.
In the future, it will be interesting to see if the success of podcast networks (with the addition of advertising dollars), can influence the spread of podcasting to the mainstream as well as use the power of engagement to influence mainstream health behavior.
Shirky, C Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organization, Penguin Press, New York, NY (2008)