On the face of it, podcasts – like every other digital medium – should be thriving in lieu of physical interaction. But it’s not as simple as that.
According to a recent study by RAJAR, 44% of podcast listening happened either driving or travelling in the past year. Listeners listen alone because they actively follow conversations and stories.
Lockdown has done away with a lot of that downtime. The commute is temporarily suspended and has therefore robbed us of our alone time with podcasts. We have changed our listening habits.
This report from NiemanLab – the doyens of digital measurements – said as much in their latest article on the topic by announcing that US podcast downloads may have dropped by as much as 4% in March.
Coupled with the fact that the amount of podcasts on Apple Podcasts have surpassed the 1 million mark, the increased competition for “ear time” suggests a dire time for podcast companies right now.
But this isn’t the full story because the growth of podcast listeners is also growing at a rapid rate.
Podcasts are now mainstream and wherever mainstream media congregates, mainstream talent follows… as do their followers.
Just as celebrities have taken to Instagram because all you need is your smartphone camera (in theory, at least), they have also taken to podcasting because all you need is a microphone and an internet connection.
In the past month, the likes of Louis Theroux, Katherine Ryan, Asim Chaudhry, Joe Biden and Zach Braff with his friend Donald Faison have all launched podcasts to continue to be creative and communicate with their followers.
And the results have given podcasting a much-needed boost in the arm. Wherever celebrities go, the content-hungry follow, and gradually podcast listening figures have been recovering.
According to the podcast metrics company Podtrac, download growth since the first week of January is up 25% and audience growth is up 6% several weeks since the lockdown was announced.
It’s given those with an existing audience a legitimate platform to be creative and podcasts are one of the main outlets where creators and fans connect.
Of course, the impact of the coronavirus on podcast businesses can’t be underestimated. Logistically, it’s a nightmare – we can’t use studios, face-to-face interviews are out of the window, advertisers have cooled off spending their money against our content.
However, we also must realise how lucky we are. We can utilise makeshift studios using USB microphones, cupboards padded with duvets and our portable recorders; we can edit using our laptops; and we can still distribute our shows to our audiences around the world with just an Internet connection.
We can carry on.
Tom Webster of Edison Research likens today’s events to shaking up a snowglobe:
“Initially there was incredible disruption in unpredictable ways, but the flakes are settling a bit.” proving somewhat that podcasts have enough elasticity to bounceback when the whole world turns upside down.
This is a sure sign that people need the intimacy of podcasts in this troubling time more now than ever. Long may it continue.
And for extra reading on the subject, take a look at this article from the LA Times.