Podcasting in 2010: The Calm Surface Obscures The Roiling Depths

I’m really excited to be presenting a significant session at this year’s Blogworld entitled The Current State of Podcasting. This one’s going to be a little different than what you’ve seen in previous years, where I’ve gone in and done my traditional bucketful of numbers augmented by folksy analogies. We’ve been tracking podcasting at Edison for five years now, with yearly reports on the growth and composition of the podcast audience, and even some work on the effectiveness of podcast advertising. Over that time, two things have happened, oddly simultaneously. First, podcasting from the audience perspective has grown steadily every year, from 11% of Americans having ever listened to an audio podcast in 2006, to the current figure, just under one in four. Second, however, podcasting as a “business” has changed in a somewhat counterintuitive fashion. In 2006-2007, when I first presented our data in places like the Corporate Podcasting Summit and the Podcast and New Media Expo, there were scores of startups in the podcasting space – content creators, aggregators, ad networks, specialty hosting companies, measurement companies and consultants. Chris Brogan and Christopher Penn started PodCamp as a way for independent podcasters to get together and learn from each other. Hardware and software makers alike converged on podcasting, and there were all manner of devices, podcatching software and specialist portals created to serve the space.
Today, the podcasting-specific conferences are gone. Blogworld has absorbed the best of the old PNME, of course, and this year’s excellent Digital Broadcasting track reflects the finest the field has to offer for podcasters of all stripes. Look, however, through the lens of the trusty wayback machine, at the sponsors from the 2006 PNME. How many are still in business? And, of those that are, how many remain podcast-focused? Even the venerable (in Internet years) PodCamp really isn’t about podcasting anymore, as it too has morphed into more of a generalist’s gathering of content creators of all stripes, with – of course – the obligatory heavy focus on social media. Yesterday’s podcasting experts are today’s social media gurus. This isn’t a knock – it’s an observation (and, of course, the social media space has become a significantly bigger market in a much shorter period of time than has podcasting, so for most it has been a smart shift.) In the words of BT, the only constant is change.
Yet, podcasting has never been more popular, never touched as many lives, and never made as much money as it does today. Though there have been dozens of Podangos, Todd Cochrane has built a pretty nice business with RawVoice. ESPN and NPR have taken podcasting to new heights of mass-appeal awareness and acceptance. Consolidation was inevitable, yes, but today there are success stories with advertising-supported models, sponsorship models and premium content models to be found all over the Interwebs.
podcast_listening_2010.pngAll of which leads to this innocuous-looking graph. The story this graph tells is one of calm, steady ascent – not exponential growth, but not a flatline either. In short, a nice, steady picture of incremental growth for podcasting as a medium. This graph, however, describes the calm surface over what turns out to be a far greater “sea” change below. For while the overall audience numbers show gradual shifts, the makeup of that audience has changed in some subtle, and some not-so-subtle ways. The podcasting audience is not only bigger than they were in 2006, they are different. In 2006, the podcasting world was full of bright thinkers with big ideas to capture the nascent podcasting audience. Today, many of those initial entrepreneurs have moved on to the next, new thing (and, in some cases, to chasing the same elusive early adopters that proved to be unmonetizable in podcasting’s early days.) Yet, if you dive below the surface of today’s podcast consumers to understand just how this audience has changed as it has grown, there is enormous opportunity for those willing to take a fresh look at the space.
Today, podcasting is generally seen as part of a channel strategy – a valid part of a multi-platform digital buy. Yet the shifts in podcasting’s audience – those roiling depths beneath the calm trend line of that graph above – suggest that there is yet another act in podcasting’s play, for those who truly understand the trends and can capitalize upon these latent opportunities. That’s why I am genuinely excited about my session at Blogworld (and not just in the Press Release version of “excited,” either). Instead of only presenting a snapshot of data – the 2010 podcast statistics – I’m going to be doing a deep dive into five years of our data, and five years of covering the space as an analyst, to really uncover the shifts that have taken place beneath podcasting’s surface over the past half-decade. I promise you, you will leave this session with new ideas, new action items, and maybe even a new perspective on an “old” digital medium.
I hope to see you there.

2 replies
  1. Bernie Borges
    Bernie Borges says:

    Tom,
    I won’t be able to make Blogworld, and therefore will miss your presentation on podcasting (bummer). I am a podcaster and have been for about three years now. To date, I’ve primarily podcasted for the pure enjoyment and contribution to my branding strategy. I regularly interview guests to discuss various online marketing strategies. Expect an invitation from me for a future podcast interview.
    While the data you share which shows growth is very encouraging, my fear is that it’s relatively impotent growth. Video trumps podcast as a medium. While I would greatly like to see podcast as a medium continue to grow, I’d like to see material growth among consumers and advertisers. When the numbers get north of 40% I’ll get more excited. Meantime, I’ll continue to podcast to contribute to the medium as a viable communication channel. I’m open to any ideas where I can contribute to the aggregate good of the podcasting medium.
    Cheers,
    Bernie Borges
    Find and Convert Podcast

    Reply
  2. Tom Webster
    Tom Webster says:

    Hey, Bernie – sorry you won’t be at Blogworld! I’m not sure I would say that podcasting’s growth is impotent growth, necessarily, but I would say it’s different growth, which is what I will be getting to the bottom of in my presentation. Also, “video” and “podcasting” are not mutually exclusive :) It is true, however, that (by a nose) podcasting is still consumed more as an audio medium than as a video medium, which defies the general trend on the Internet, but video podcasts have a vastly different use case (and subset of competing media/behaviors) than audio.
    I have no doubt that, by our definition of podcasting, the behavior will hit 40% in the near future. But that 40% will be qualitatively quite different than the 15% of a few years ago.

    Reply

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