The Iron is Hot: Podcasting in 2015

Every year for the last 22 years, Edison Research has conducted a random survey of Americans (aged 12 and up) about their use of online audio. The numbers for 2014 are in, and those of us who publish content in this medium have a lot of reasons to be excited.

Even before these numbers came out, there were already some very big, if anecdotal, reasons to feel good about where online audio is going. The This American Life spinoff Serial exploded onto the scene in October 2014, reaching 5 million downloads faster than any other podcast in history and racking up a mind-boggling 3.4 million listens per episode. In just a few months, the podcasting startup company Gimlet Media went from a twinkle in Alex Blumberg’s eye to raising $1.5 million in capital, and is now producing two of the most popular podcasts in the world, Startup and Reply All. Even NPR, that bastion of tradition in the world of audio programming, has been quick to move on this audio renaissance, releasing a 6-episode pilot season of the fantastic Invisibilia — which is, as of this writing, the #1 podcast in the world.

But this latest report from Edison Research gives some clues as to the reasons behind this sudden podcasting boom. In many ways, podcasting was a killer app that preceded its vehicle: the term “podcast” was coined in 2004, but the first iPhone did not appear until 2007, and the first Android phone arrived in 2008. In Edison Research’s poll in 2009, only 10% of respondents owned a smartphone; by 2014, that number had risen to 61%, an estimated 140 million Americans, including nearly 75% of those under age 55.

Smartphones aren’t necessary for podcast listening, of course, but they make the process much easier. In the early days of podcasting, we had to download episodes to our computers and then side-load to whatever audio device we were taking with us. Now, with abundant Wi-Fi and 4G coverage, the process of finding and listening to a podcast can be a lot more spontaneous. I believe this drop in the barrier to entry makes people a lot more likely to try a new podcast when they hear about it; they don’t have to wait until they get back to their home computer, by which time they might well have forgotten about it.

In spite of this huge increase in podcast accessibility, though, the number of people who have actually listened to podcasts hasn’t increased nearly that much. Edison found that 30% of respondents had listened to a podcast at least once, and 15% had listened to a podcast in the last month. These are increases over previous years, but they are slow, moderate increases.

To put it another way: there is a huge, and exponentially increasing, market of people who have the potential to listen to podcasts right away, but most of them are not yet doing so.

This is a huge opportunity.

Serial pulled down numbers that no podcast had ever seen before. That is a very strong clue that many of the people who listened to Serial are podcast newbies. Now that Serial’s Season One is over, these people are going to be looking for new audio to consume.

How are we going to help them find it?

Posted by chriswlester