Video killed the radio star, but podcasts are the current generation's format that's helping to bring back audio.
The podcast, which often adheres to the format of a traditional FM radio show, has taken off in the last half a decade with the rise of smartphones and a lower barrier to entry.
To start a podcast, you need only a smartphone or laptop for recording and posting. Microphones and editing software help take it to the next level. Basically, anyone with access to this equipment, and with something to say, can start a podcast and share it immediately to iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, Spotify and a range of other podcast-friendly platforms.
According to a March 2018 Nielson Total Audience Report, around 525,000 podcasts, and more than 18.5 million episodes, are in circulation. That's a lot of information to sift through, but that's the point. There's a podcast for practically everything you might be interested in, and a lot more people are listening than you might think.
Concordia University Saint Paul studied the skyrocketing audio format, finding that 68 million people are listening to those 525,000 podcasts and, unsurprisingly, 44 percent of them are between 18 and 34 years old. Millennials are enthusiastic about the relatively new format, and 65 percent of active listeners started in just the last three years.
So what do podcasts mean for radio? Some advertisers are shifting their dollars to the "off-the-air" airwaves, which include more voices across the board than just radio DJs and NPR personalities. With such a wide variety of podcast hosts from all walks of life, businesses can find a comfortable niche for their ads.
Podcast advertising in the U.S. hit $314 million in revenue last year, according to a study by the Interactive Advertising Bureau. That number is up 86 percent from $169 million in 2016 and estimated to increase to over $500 million by 2020. Podcasts are being monetized, though they're still making pocket change compared to the radio industry's steady $17 to $18 billion in annual advertising spending.
But the two industries are working together in many ways toward a common goal of expanding audio consumption.
"I don’t really look at it as a versus," says Paul Smith, general manager of 105.5 The Bridge and 98 Rock radio station. "It’s an and, an extension. Certainly, the interest in podcasts has been increasing, and that shows peoples’ consumption for audio is growing as well."