You can trace the moment when podcasts became a mainstream medium. When it “boomed”, so to speak. It was October of 2014, when the Apple’s iTunes store first offered a podcast titled Serial from NPR. Within weeks, the true crime podcast was a trending topic on Twitter and water cooler discussion around the country. To date, that first season of Serial has been downloaded more than 150 million times.
How did the success of Serial spark a podcast landrush? Series producer and host Sarah Koenig proved that great storytelling could succeed on a platform originally seen merely as “radio for the internet.”
Serial is “about the basics: love and death and justice and truth. All these big, big things,” Koening told The Guardian in 2014.
With Serial and other podcasts proving the concept, thousands of content creators and producers launched programs in the ensuing months. Today, iTunes is quickly approaching one million podcasts, and close to 30 million episodes of programming have been downloaded.
According to PodcastHosting.org, 16 million Americans identify themselves as “avid podcast fans.” As was reported, “62 million Americans listen to podcasts every week.”
Importantly for advertisers, ad revenue on podcasts is expected to exceed $1 billion in 2021. And this is not a niche market: podcasts are reaching “51% of US audiences aged 12+ monthly” according to Edison Research.
Advertisers are flocking to podcasts like Popeye to spinach. From 2017 to 2019, advertising revenue more than doubled from $313 million to $678 million. That figure should soar above $850 million in 2020.
As Koenig has noted, telling stories in a serialized manner, around a topic that appeals to a niche or larger audience, “is not an original idea. Maybe in podcast form it is,” Koenig says, “and trying to do it as a documentary story is really, really hard. But trying to do it as a serial, this is as old as Dickens.”