The telephone killed the telegram. Video killed the radio star. And the internet killed everything.
“Video” didn’t end up brutally murdering the radio industry in a dark alleyway behind an Applebee’s, yet some in the industry in the mid-2000s feared the rise podcasting might, in large part to the internet.
Over a decade later, traditional radio is still here (for now). And the popularity of podcasting is still rising. An estimated 67 million people listen to podcasts on a monthly basis in the U.S., according to the most recent estimates by Edison Research.
New podcasts and initiatives by media companies such as Slate, NPR, Gimlet Media and more are sprouting up every week, and, to be honest, the growing amount of quality and diversity of podcasts is exciting. But what does that mean for the future?
I’m not going to try to predict the entire future of podcasting in 700 words. I can’t. I won’t. The industry is changing too fast and becoming increasingly too intricate to try to condense my thoughts on it into something that’s not obnoxiously long to read. But here are a few things that may be on the horizon:
The smartphone will still be “king”
Smart speakers like Apple’s HomePod or Amazon’s Echo devices are the newest must-have gadget. You can listen to music, news, and yes, podcasts with just a simple voice command. You can even listen to podcasts on your Apple Watch now.
It remains to be seen how much people will use those devices to listen to podcasts, but by and large podcast listening still happens mainly with a traditional mobile device (smartphone, tablet, etc.).
While I do expect listening habits to diversify with people using devices like smart speakers and smart watches, I don’t see the smartphone being dethroned anytime soon as the premier podcast source.
A lot of people listen to podcasts commuting somewhere, whether on-foot or in a car. Smartphones allow for that mobility easily by letting people have them on their person. Smart watches allow that too, but I just don’t believe the tiny screen size of a smart watch creates the best interface to use podcast apps.
I might be wrong, but if I’m trying to type in a name of a podcast I’m looking for, it would be difficult to do that on a watch. I’m still going to pull out my phone.
Let the “professionals” handle this
Podcast networks and podcast companies are leading the way in creating professionally made, amazing podcasts, but they’re also creating a market that is dominated by those network-made podcasts with little room for amateur podcasts to be discovered.
Podcasting is blessed with the fact that podcasts are cheap to make, and almost anyone can make one with a microphone and an internet connection. Professional audio-makers have jumped on this, creating really, really popular podcasts.
This, coupled with the podcast industry’s well-known discoverability problem, creates an environment where lesser-known podcasts that don’t have the support of big companies will have a hard time racking up listens.
There are some initiatives to create apps that intuitively let users search and discover podcasts more effortlessly, but there hasn’t been an all-encompassing solution. That will also probably only get harder as the podcast industry becomes more crowded.
More diverse voices (hopefully)
There are been many reports done about how the podcasting industry, both in terms of its listeners and creators, has a diversity problem. That it’s white and male, well, kind of like myself.
This isn’t great news for the podcast industry in attracting new listeners, and it isn’t great for creating new podcasts with fresh perspectives.
But as podcasts continually become more popular internationally, efforts are popping up to make podcasts more inclusive. There are new podcast festivals like “Werk It,” which specifically target women podcasters to help “empower” them in the industry. There are podcasts like Gimlet’s "Sampler" and NPR’s "It’s Been A Minute" that are hosted by people who are black.
Institutions like public radio are also making concerted efforts to diversify their newsroom and podcast staff. And I believe those efforts will pay off in the years to come, creating better podcasts for a larger audience.
And who knows? Maybe radio will still be around then, too.
Liam Niemeyer is a senior studying journalism at Ohio University’s Honors Tutorial College. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Where will podcasts go next? Let Liam know by tweeting him @liamniemeyer.