What Is A Podcast and Why Are They Unbelievably Popular?

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Before we get to what a podcast is I’m going have a go at a little telepathy.

Don’t worry, you’re in the right place. This blog is all about using the web to learn new things and unlock more potential, which neatly brings me onto guessing why you’re really here.

Hold on, it’ll only take a second…

Yep, got it.

So, it turns out you’re not just here to learn what a podcast is or why they’re so big nowadays; you’re also here – drum roll – to consider starting one.

Right?

If so, you’re not alone – it’s big business nowadays. In 2020, podcast advertising revenue approached $1bn in the US alone!

Whatever your reason for visiting, you’ll love the information in this post: it’s a solid explanation of what a podcast is and why they’re so popular. What’s more, there’s links to other essential reading at the end 😉

Enjoy.

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What Is A Podcast?

At its most basic, a podcast is an audio file. Think of it as a radio show, except this is one that you can stop and start whenever you like.

More specifically, it is an audio episode that focuses on a specific theme or topic and is typically part of a series. Podcasts are usually listened to using an app on your smartphone in which episodes download automatically if you subscribe.

They differ from the radio because they focus on a much wider array of topics and themes. Moreover, many podcasters investigate new subjects and seek out unique and original formats to deliver their shows.

Podcasts can be: 

  • On any topic: Literally.
  • Any length of time;
  • Delivered as often as you like (daily if you can keep it up);
  • Just you or involve guests, and/ or multiple hosts;

Whatever a listener seeks, they’re sure to find a show that suits their interests. 

Podcast vs. Podcast Episode

Distinguishing between a podcast and a podcast episode can be confusing. The terminology doesn’t really help. Let me break it down for you. A podcast is a group of episodes — think of it as the entire program. 

A podcast episode, on the other hand, is just one single recording from the entire podcast program. 

You can think of this as a TV show to help you out. In this sense, a podcast would be the TV show itself, with an entire season of episodes, whereas a podcast episode would be a single episode of that show. 

Video… Really?

The majority of podcasts you’ll find are audio-only — though you may come across some with video.

Yes, they do exist but are more akin to YouTube videos than actual video recordings of the host creating the audio podcast itself. Check out Joe Rogan on there to see for yourself.

Personally, video podcasts are not for me because they’re too complicated. The reason podcasting has grown so much is that it’s often ‘background’ content, something to listen to while going about daily tasks.

You can’t exactly watch a video while cleaning, cooking, or driving, can you? Audio content is perfect listening for so many scenarios (more on this later). 

What Do Podcasts Sound Like?

The majority of podcasts that you’ll listen to will sound quite familiar to you. As in, they’ll appear to be much like a radio or talk show program.

They differ, however, when it comes to content which is often entirely new and unique. This is all down to the completely liberal and free ranging subject choices that podcasting enables and why it’s so interesting to so many.

As I mentioned earlier, most podcasts you come across will focus on a particular topic, and each episode will follow this. These topics can be pretty general, such as how to relax and relieve stress, or very specific, such as the best plugins for image compression in WordPress. 

Whether general or specific, each and every episode of the podcast series will follow along the lines of the same topic. Typically, podcast episodes are run by a regular host or a pair. They’ll form the basis of the show, and will usually invite guests on to share their thoughts or partake in an interview.

Most podcasts are quite simple and involve someone (or a couple of people) talking about a topic they’re interested in.

Some are more professional and feature high-end audio effects and custom music, whereas others are much more amateur. Both types can draw massive followings and build very loyal audiences from around the world.

I find that the majority of people like a bit of both.

The biggest draw to a particular podcast tends to be the host and topic, not sophisticated editing. Most individuals find themselves gravitating to those they like and have an interest in rather than focusing on how they approach their content. 

The Difference Between Podcasts and Audio Files

This is where people can get confused. 

If we look at things in the simplest of terms, they’re technically the same thing. For example, if you go to a podcast website and download an episode, you’ll see pretty clearly that you’ve just downloaded an audio file. 

The real difference between the two comes about when you hit ‘subscribe’. What was just an audio file can now be called a podcast; the subscription action connects a listener to a broadcast of audio files.

The technology that connects podcast directories (and thus listeners) to the audio files stored on a podcast hosting platform is an RSS feed. Think of this as a list that notifies the podcast directories, and in turn listening apps, when an update occurs.

Listening apps (e.g. Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts etc) manage podcast subscriptions using RSS feeds, downloading new episodes for you as they’re released.

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What are the Different Types of Podcast?

1. Interview Podcasts

This style of podcast is when the host, or pair of hosts, interview new guests in an episode. You’ll find that this is quite the popular format, as it doesn’t require an enormous amount of groundwork — typically just coming up with questions and conducting research on the interviewee. 

That’s not to say that it doesn’t take a skilled host though who can connect with, and invite, guests not to mention decent interview skills.

2. Solo Podcasts

A solo podcast is a great place to start for those wondering where to begin. This type of show is hosted by a single individual who presents the monologue and runs the entire show. 

Solo podcasts can cover pretty much any topic, from story-telling to news reports, to Q&As, to opinion-based episodes, and more. On balance, they’re more straight forward to produce: you need a topic, a voice, and the ability to record it.

An excellent example of a solo podcast is The Cozy Robot Show which is hosted by Mike McHargue, Marvel’s science advisor. Mike takes his audience on a journey of exploration, examining the world around him with curiosity and feeling.

3. Multi-Host Podcasts

A multi-host podcast is one in which there are two or most hosts. This type of show can be more energetic than the solo format and is great for those with business partners ready to team up and start a series. 

Most podcasts in this category are based on varying perspectives and opinions, sometimes involving both light-hearted and serious debates.

Multi-host podcasts also dissipate hosting pressure. More people means more ideas and more sharing, so there’s less focus to keep the audience engaged on any one host.

Mix and Match

All of the these can be mixed and matched as you go along – there is no right or wrong answer. Your audience, however, might not appreciate you chopping and changing too often so bear their listening experience in mind at all times.

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The answer to this question is really simple.

This post is about a 7-8 minute read (so not that long) and the truth is, many readers won’t have got this far.

Why?

Well, there’s a few other secondary reasons which are explained below but ultimately it boils down to time.

I’m sure you’d love to read all my wonderful blog posts in full and those of other bloggers, but you probably don’t have the time. Moreover, you need a screen and an internet connection at all times whilst doing so.

And, this is the thing.

Podcasts are so simple in nature and yet so powerful in effect because they can be listened to in almost any scenario. Okay, the business meeting you have in the morning won’t go well if you sit through it with headphones on!

But, you get the point.

1. Accessibility

Podcasts are unbelievably accessible because episodes are downloaded and can be listened to any time you like. Come to think of it, much of the enjoyment comes because you can listen to them whilst going about your day.

I don’t know anyone that listens to an episode whilst doing nothing else. It’s just not the type of content that you cosy up on the couch with a glass of wine or beer unlike a movie or TV series.

And, that’s the other thing. I don’t about you, but I find it kind of liberating not having to watch something for a change.

So much of the information we consume nowadays is on a screen or TV which simply takes more concentration. I love a good movie like the next person but just listening is such a tonic for disconnecting sometimes, and a welcome break.

Their inherent convenience and unrestricted nature makes podcasts compelling to pick up and unappealing to put down.

2. Cyclical Demand

There are over 43 million podcast episodes in the world for listeners to choose from.

The chances are whatever you want to listen to can be found in a podcast somewhere: whether you fancy an in-depth discussion on true-crime, want the latest political news, or want to level up a business skill.

But that’s not all.

Podcasting is where blogging was a number of years ago: the demand for content nowadays appears to be infinite. This means the main barrier to entry for starting a podcast (i.e. no demand) is more-or-less removed.

New podcasters means more new content and increased listener numbers, which leads to the continued notion of unlimited demand.

And, so it goes on.

3. Intimate Connectivity

Podcasts allow audiences to better connect with the host compared to traditional visual media. The reason for this lies in the medium itself.

Think of it this way: in a movie or a television series, actors follow a script or a screenplay when performing their roles. The same goes, too, for when they attend talk shows or when they appear on a news segment. We do feel their characters and their authentic personalities, but it’s all a bit staged.

In other words, they are not exactly “real” in every sense of the word. 

Most podcast hosts build their shows on their real personality, much like radio presenters. This makes them authentic and makes everything feel down to earth and the whole experience much more intimate.

As a result, audiences connect deeply with podcasters because they come across like ordinary people rather than some projected idol. As a result, listeners actually know them and trust them much like they would a friend.

The Big Question

All this adds up to a very compelling cocktail of podcast pleasure which is why they’re so popular for listeners and creators.

In my view, there’s never been a better time to be a podcaster because of a point I mentioned earlier: that podcasting is where blogging was five to ten years ago.

Let me show you what I mean.

There are approximately 1.75 million podcasts (source) compared to 600 million blogs (source) at the moment. This means for every podcast there are 342 blogs.

Podcasting is 342 times less competitive than blogging!

In other words, there’s a massive opportunity to claim your space as a podcaster. Better still, you can pretty much choose any topic you like, including many that have become saturated in blogging.

So, let’s finish by going back to the start of this post.

Lots of people seek out information like this because they’re thinking of starting their own podcast.

So, the big question is…

Are you one of them?

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Further Reading 😉

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