Podcasting has been around for nearly 20 years, having been introduced in virtual anonymity in 2004. During much of the intervening period since, it has been a bit of a red-headed stepchild in the world of digital communications, with GIFs, video, infographics and memes hogging the majority of the spotlight. In fact, two years after the advent of the podcast, in 2006, only about 22% of the US population even knew what they were.
This is somewhat understandable considering the troubling modern trend of reduced attention spans and an insatiable appetite for visual stimulation among information consumers. Podcasts are an investment in terms of time and require the brain to process mainly audio-based information. That makes it kind of unsexy and involves a little bit too much exertion for those who’ve become accustomed to the passive (read: lazy) ingestion of content.
But DAMN!, something got into the water, because the podcast business is now booming! By mid-2023, there were 5 million podcasts globally, 70 million episodes and nearly 465 million listeners. In contrast to the 22% of US citizens that were aware of podcasts 17 years ago, 78% of us are now in the know, with 1/3 of the population active podcast listeners. As an industry, it's estimated to be worth nearly $25 billion.
In the PR space, podcasts are proliferating like domestic hamsters (c’mon, everybody knows that domestic hamsters give birth within 16 days of conception, with their furry little offspring able to reproduce, themselves, after 3-4 weeks. By the way, is there such a thing as a wild hamster?).
But I digress. The point is, there are a lot of PR podcasts. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, News Direct is all in on the mania, having just established the News Direct Podcast Channel, which includes both its own podcast, News Directly, as well as serving as a home for other professional podcast programs that can be posted on the channel to take advantage of our awesome domain authority (74) and our high traffic volume (more than 1m per month). We’re not above bandwagon jumping.
Given this somewhat counter-intuitive trend, swimming against the tide of decreased engagement with detailed content, I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is a positive development. Anything that exercises the brain cells seems like it would be a good thing in my book. And it is especially encouraging that the PR space has so strongly embraced it, because that will give it legs. If this is how communicators communicate, then it will likely have staying power.
Conversely, there can be a risk of over-saturation, which makes it imperative for the preponderance of PR podcasts to provide (alliteration intended) quality content, relevant subject matter and compelling guests. They should be focused on imparting and explaining vital and current information and trends, rather than acting as a marketing tool for the host and his or her agency.
Which all means that the future success and sustainability of the PR podcast as a communications medium is dependent on it continually evolving on multiple levels, especially in terms of consistently raising the bar on exceptional subject matter and offering a diversity of viewpoints.
Our objective with the News Direct Podcast Channel is to achieve exactly that kind of excellence, versatility and variety, from both our own News Directly program as well as from the podcasts that we showcase on the platform.
The long-term viability and popularity of the podcast format remains an unanswered question - hopefully it will live long as prosper. But for the moment, it appears as though the concept is in its ascendency, which in my humble opinion is a net positive for the public relations profession.
Many thanks to LinkedIn and DemandSage for the podcast statistics cited in this article.