Research suggests that the popularity of podcasts are continuing to grow – and have been been growing year-on-year – but the thing is, the growth hasn’t been that impressive. Yes, James Purnell of the BBC salivates that “Six million of us listen to podcasts every week – that’s almost doubled over the last five years. It’s gone up by around a third in the last twelve months.” However, he alway wisely comments that “even though these numbers are rising, still only 11% of the country listen to podcasts each week.”
So, why is that number still so low given the high quality of content now freely available?
Some people suggest – rather fundamentally – that a podcast is still difficult to define. What is a podcast, exactly?
Say you wanted to share a show that you loved with someone who had never listened to a podcast and had never even heard of the term. How would you describe the thing to them? I’ve worked in the podcasting industry [I’m happy to say that it definitely is an industry now] for around six years now and I struggle with this question almost daily. But rather than spend time driving my wife crazy, or asking people that just didn’t care, I thought I’d do something that seemed to work in the past. Ask the people who really know about this space: what is your definition of a podcast? Here’s what they told me:
In my opinion, A podcast is one or more people who talk into a microphone and syndicate it using an RSS feed on the internet. Sometimes they sound like the radio, sometimes they sound like a person recording themselves off of a boombox, and sometimes they sound like nothing you’ve ever heard before.
To be considered a podcast you need to have an RSS 2.0 compliant Feed for your Audio/Video/PDF content and your show needs to be in the Apple Podcast / iTunes directory. Just having a media file on your website - does NOT make it a podcast - Netcast maybe - but not a podcast. Per why you need to be in Apple Podcast / iTunes directory - if you are not in it - you are not in Overcast or Pocketcast or Podcast Addict or a few dozen other aggregator apps that pull from the Apple Podcasts directory.
A podcast is an episode of on-demand audio (you can choose to listen wherever and whenever you want). I use episode specifically in the definition to differentiate from an online news story that you put online.
It seems to me there are two answers. There's the techie one, that a podcast is an episodic audio series distributed via an RSS feed. Then there's the one which I'd give to my gran: podcasts are radio programmes from all over the world that you can listen to on your phone. As we move ever further away from the tethered origins of podcasting - of having to sync a non-Internet-connected iPod to a computer (remember that?!) - and deeper into the 'everything always on whenever you want' present, it also strikes me that the word 'podcast' has become rather quaintly anachronistic. It's as if we were still calling cars 'horseless carriages'. The most accurate way of describing 'podcasts' in 2018 is actually something like 'audio programmes on demand' -- the distinction between streaming and downloading now being increasingly moot for most listeners, just as it is in the world of Internet-distributed video. But, of course, no-one is suggesting a rebrand. 'Podcast' does the job fine.
I tend to tell people it's radio not just where and when you want it, but what you want where and when you want it. You're not bound to a schedule, but you can choose - like Netflix, but audio. I'd add that it's more conversational and intimate than radio... and it's mostly narrative-driven... But not always.
A podcast is a fully contextual and downloadable audio file that anyone can listen to at any time - either via a podcast app, website or smart-speaker. But a podcast is so much more than a file format. It is also a form of media that requires listeners to opt-in, offers a very intimate experience and can be a variable length, style and format. A podcast is also very much a lean-in listening experience and focuses on niche topics, subjects and stories.
A podcast is an on-demand audio content series - you can listen to it when you want, where you want, and how you want.
To me it's as simple as on demand audio.
Podcasting is about storytelling, and knowledge sharing, it’s about curious minds exchanging ideas via the travel of computerised sound waves.
So there you have it. Are you any the wiser? I hope so.