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Podcasts have been a much-needed refuge from the real world of 2021. The past year may be one that many want to forget but for online audio it has been a memorable time.

On a personal level I found programmes to be a wonderful way to allow my brain to ‘breathe’ and my imagination to flourish when stuck in one place for too long. My listening tastes have also altered to accommodate the changed experience of living in the midst of a pandemic. Before Covid, my favoured programmes concentrated on current affairs, but as the year wore on many of these were unfollowed to be replaced by alternative fare. In place of arched frown from ‘The Daily’ by the New York Times came the often-helpless giggles provided by Fi Glover and Jane Garvey’s ‘Fortunately’.

Professionally 2021 was the year that saw a steep increase in the level of interest in podcasts. Back in 2017 when I founded Earshot Strategies, the notion of a podcast was often greeted by many potential clients with a quizzical response of either, ‘what are they?’ or ‘why do I need them?’. Now clients come armed with a repertoire of podcasts they like and firm opinions about what they want.

2021 has confirmed that podcasts are not a passing fad but a prominent fixture of the new media landscape. The year has also signalled both the opportunities and issues for programme-makers and listeners alike, which are liked to the astronomical growth in number of series now available.

Spotify recently reported that is has 2.9 million series on offer on its platform! These range of the commercial ventures tens of millions of listeners (e.g. WTF with Marc Maron), to the solitary programme makers producing episodes for themselves and a very few select individuals.

While this plenitude means more choice, it can also bring confusion in sorting through the too-many programmes to find the one that suits a personal taste or interest. This in turn has led to greater audience segmentation and highlights the fundamental difference between radio – which is a medium for broadcasting, and podcasts – which are perfectly suited for narrowcasting to a specific group.

In the past year I have seen the growth of highly produced programmes aimed at select target audiences. These range from a series for academics on the future of digital education (made by Earshot Strategies), to internal podcasts for employees in multi-national companies.

I have also seen a greater understanding about what needs to be considered in advance of making  programmes. Before even turning on a microphone or considering interviewees, clients are increasingly aware that they need to address several questions including: what is the objective of the podcast, what should success look (or sound like), and how audio fits alongside other communications tools?

In addition, clients increasingly understand the need target their chosen audience with programmes that are relevant, interesting and technically well produced. Free-ranging discussions that run for over an hour with crackly sound quality won’t attract or keep an audience when there is so much choice. But carefully considered and professionally produced programming will bring in listeners.

So where does podcasting go from here in the coming year? There will inevitably be more growth across the globe in the overall number of listeners. Non-English language podcasts which have increased audiences at an astronomical (e.g. Brazil and India,) will continue their heady ascent although probably at a more modest pace. Niche podcasting will gain in popularity in the developed markets, with more organizations and companies exploiting the potential of online audio for business, communications, branding, thought leadership and more.

The podcasting industry is aware that with so much material on offer it needs to find a better tool to make programmes discoverable, which in turn will further fuel audience growth. The race is on among developers to create such an innovation, and 2022 will hopefully be the year that we see a technical breakthrough in this area.

Even in the absence of such a technical innovation, 2022 seems inevitably to be another bumper year for programme-makers and listeners alike. There will be more diverse content, serving more listeners bringing entertainment and stimulation into people’s ears.

My personal wish for the coming year is that we will all be able to enjoy these offerings in an environment of less anxiety and greater freedom from the pandemic.

With that in mind looking forward in hope and expectation to a good 2022.

Written by Richard Miron, CEO, Earshot Strategies. 


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