Tech lessons from the 10-year overnight success of podcasting

Podcasting first arrived on the tech scene in 2004 with the development of Apple's iPod, and it got a lot of media buzz at first, only to be eclipsed in the coming years by YouTube and social media. For a while, it seemed like podcasting had fizzled out as the latest in a line of overhyped new communications technologies.
 
But then a funny thing happened – even though the national media spotlight had shifted away from podcasting, people all over America and all over the world just quietly kept on creating and listening to podcasts. Podcasting became a secret club for niche audiences. Comedians like Mark Maron and Chris Hardwick used podcasting to talk directly to their fans and build up their own online media platforms. Legions of tech geeks and political junkies and comic book nerds took to the online airwaves to create their own podcasts, talking with their friends about the latest news, trends and controversies affecting the industries and entertainment figures that they loved.
 
When the NPR true crime podcast, “Serial,” became a national phenomenon in late 2014, with millions of obsessed listeners addicted to each new weekly episode, it was clear that podcasting had emerged from obscurity to become a national phenomenon once again. Podcasting is the tech and entertainment world’s “10-year overnight success story.”
 
Today, podcasting is experiencing a renaissance. And there are a few lessons here for technology leaders and marketers on why podcasting has become such a popular medium.
 
For example:
 
High audience engagement
 
Not everyone listens to podcasts. But people who listen to podcasts tend to listen to a LOT of podcasts. According to Edison Research, podcast listeners spend 25.9% of their time listening to podcasts, almost as much as the 27.5% of their time that they spend listening to AM/FM radio. Podcast listeners also tend to keep coming back, week after week. When people subscribe to a podcast, it keeps luring them back for more engagement.
 
 
Narrow niche audience appeal
 
Podcasts tend to attract a tightly focused, enthusiastic audience. If a podcast discusses technology or politics or comedy, its audience is likely to be well informed and passionate about that topic, and this is reflected in the caliber of advertisers who tend to advertise on podcasts. Podcasts, on a per-thousand-listener basis, command some of the highest ad rates of any media, even higher than the Super Bowl.
 
 
Longer wait, bigger reward
 
Listening to podcasts is not “easy” because the technology – even after 10 years – is not yet super user-friendly. It requires a certain level of tech savvy for people to be able to download podcasts, play them on their phones, and especially to sync their podcasts with their car stereos. But for the very reasons why podcasting is kind of “hard” for people to do, it’s also very successful. It attracts a special audience that’s a bit more educated, a bit more affluent, a bit more tech savvy than the average radio listener or TV watcher. Because the audience is a bit “different” from the mainstream mass market, that also makes the audience more valuable to advertisers.
 
Podcasting creates communities around topics of shared interest, and has made celebrities out of people just for their skill in front of a laptop mic. Podcasting’s 10-year “overnight success story” is a lesson: even if a product launch isn’t as successful as hoped, even if media hype dies down, sometimes the most important thing for tech professionals to do is just keep plugging away and doing the work. Talk to the people who matter most to your company – the people who are your biggest fans and believers. Even if you have to toil in obscurity for several years, if you can find an audience and a market that believes in what you’re doing, your eventual “overnight success” will be all worth it.

 

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