The Podcasting medium has established itself in the modern day as one of the principal methods that people around the world use to consume both educational and entertaining content.
With a base of around 850,000 podcasts now available to listen to on streaming sites and radio stations, and with a surge from around 820,000 users in 2004 to more than 4.8 million in 2005 representing just how meteoric a rise this medium has experienced, podcasting has certainly become one of the most popular and effective platforms for creating and engaging with content since the advent of modern technology.
This article will return to the beginning of the podcasting medium, examining how it developed from a simple blueprint for long-term entertainment into a very multifaceted and generally well-produced online precinct for the creation of many different forms of content.
It will consider exactly why podcasting has experienced such a meteoric rise in the online content-creation space, before asserting whether or not long-form content is here to stay, at a time where shorter-form content, like that produced on social media platform TikTok, appears to be at the forefront of both producers’ and consumers’ creative imagination.
What is a Podcast?
For those who are unfamiliar with the podcast, it generally constitutes a conversation between two or more individuals, sometimes stretching to over and hour and a half (but usually lasting for about an hour), discussing a particular topic, or set of topics, that will have been outlined or teased in the podcast’s title.
For example, the most recently published episode of Steven Bartlett’s The Diary of a CEO podcast, one of the highest rated across a number of streaming platforms, is entitled ‘Simon Sinek: The Number One Reason Why You’re Not Succeeding’. It is clear that Steven, the host of the show, will be in conversation with Simon Sinek, who himself will reveal to Steven, and the thousands of listeners the episode is likely to accumulate, his personal take on success and how to be successful in the modern age.
What is so unique about the podcasting format is that this episode, alongside most others, is unlikely to involve any cuts or breaks in the conversation. Where television or other forms of audio-visual broadcast may chase a cleaner and sleeker product, the podcast followed the ebbs and flows of a very natural conversation between two or more individuals, allowing for a more genuine insight into the thoughts and ideas of the guest, and a generally more authentic version of themselves as well.
A Versatile Medium
The Podcasting medium began as a resource built and structured solely for the purpose of entertainment. The first podcast, titled Dead End Days, was a serialised dark comedy about zombies released from 31 October 2003 through 2004, and a number of subsequent iterations tended to follow this publication down the entertainment route.
Throughout the 2010s however, as the podcasting format began to establish itself in the digital broadcasting space, some creators started to diversify their content, moving away from entertainment as their primary motivation, and leaning into more educational material. While this certainly did not mean that entertaining content had been superseded by purely educational podcasts, creators and storytellers were beginning to realise the miscellaneous potential of this new digital medium.
In terms of educating their listeners, podcasts can offer a ‘response to the changing demands of research and researchers’, making sometimes difficult content ‘available to new audiences that expect a more immersive and convenient media experience’.
The long-form nature of the podcast, despite having to operate within a space dominated by short, ‘quick-fix’ forms of content, has only served to supplement its popularity in recent years. An investigation carried out by Clay Martin Craig and Mary Elizabeth Brookes has highlighted that escapism is one of the three leading motivations, alongside entertainment and information, for podcast listeners.
The role of the podcast in providing some sense of escapism for its listeners ‘highlights the value of podcasts serving as a way of providing a presence for individuals when they are needing a break from society and people’. Of course, the longer the episode, the longer the listener is able to escape from ‘society and people’; the success of longer-form content can be attributed to the role it plays in helping its listeners to escape from their busy and sometimes stressful lives.
The development of the handheld device has also invited further expansion for the ‘video podcast’, which audibly functions in a very similar fashion, but visually, introduces recorded footage of the conversations being had, helping the listener, or viewer, to feel closer to the conversation.
With the obvious versatility the podcast offers, in being able to provide both educating and entertaining content, cater for a range of audiences, and offer visual material as well as audible, it is clear why the podcast has experienced such a surge in popularity over the last 20 years. It offers a unique consumer experience, allowing listeners to engage with a variety of different forms of content, observe, more intimately and perhaps more authentically, some of their favourite personalities, and find some escapism from their potentially stressful lives. Tune in, because the podcast is here to stay!
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- Craig, Clay Martin, Brookes, Mary Elizabeth, ‘Podcasting on Purpose: Exploring Motivations for Podcast Use Among Young Adults’, in International Journal of Listening (2021), 1-10, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/epub/10.1080/10904018.2021.1913063?needAccess=true.
- Cuffe, Honae H., ‘Lend Me Your Ears: The Rise of the History Podcast in Australia’, in History Australia, Vol. 16, No. 3 (2019), 553-569, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/epub/10.1080/14490854.2019.1636676?needAccess=true.
- Ellis, Jessica, ‘What is a Video Podcast?’, Wise Geek (2008).
- McClung Ph.D, Steven, and Johnson M.S., Kristine, ‘Examining the Motives of Podcast Users’, in Journal of Radio and Audio Media, Vol. 17, No. 1 (2010), 82-95, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/19376521003719391?needAccess=true.
- Shantikumar, Saran, ‘From Lecture Theatre to Portable Media: Students’ Perceptions of an Enhanced Podcast for Revision’, in Medical Teacher, Vol. 31, No. 6 (2009), 535-538, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/01421590802365584?needAccess=true.