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Podfather Reviews: Why longform content — like podcasts — can succeed

There has long been sensational headlines and hysteria for years that young people are losing their attention spans because of technology. That people addicted to their smartphones, smartwatches and smart-everything now have shorter attention spans than a goldfish

And yet, hour-long podcasts continue to find their niche in the media industry and succeed with a growing audience. People are listening to shows that have no visuals at all. Even Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast, with episodes sometimes stretching into six hours long, has fans that rave and rant for more. 

So why do longform podcasts succeed in the fast-paced world of immediate Twitter notifications and quick-hit news consumption?

Podcasting has never seen same explosive growth that the internet or television has seen in past decades. According to the most recent statistics by Edison Research, podcasting listenership has grown only between two and four percent each year since 2013, with an estimated 73 million people in the United States listening to a podcast at least once a month. 

If this was a race, that’s tortoise pace — slow and steady. This level of growth might be a sign of the nature of podcasting in itself.

Simply put, it can be tough to sit someone down and have them listen to this foreign thing called a “podcast” for an hour or more. Most people may not be interested in something that doesn’t the flashiness of a well-produced video. That’s what many media companies were thinking when some decided to unsuccessfully “pivot to video content” as a strategy to gain viewers online.

There may eventually be a ceiling with how big the podcasting industry audience can be. But to say the future of longform content like podcasting is doomed before arriving is false, and so is the narrative that our attention spans are shortening, too.

Attention span is often “task-dependent,” meaning that people dedicate as much time to a particular task as the task needs. So for reading a post on Facebook, that may only take a few seconds. Listening to a podcast episode may require more attention from a person, but if the content is interesting, then a person can adapt.

Just like documentary filmmaking has found a niche, podcasting will also. Longform content can succeed, and just because I said podcasting as an industry may have a ceiling in terms of listenership, the industry has yet to touch that ceiling.

And with any form of media, including podcasts, Susie Banikarim with the Gizmodo Media Group makes a great point in how to find success: “Make very good things that people actually want to read and watch. That’s it. That’s all. That’s everything.”

I agree, as long as I can add “listening” alongside “reading” and “watching” to her quote. Who knows? Maybe there’ll be good enough podcasts one day that even goldfish will want to listen to them.

Liam Niemeyer is a senior studying journalism in Ohio University’s Honors Tutorial College. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Will you give these a listen? Let Liam know by tweeting him @liamniemeyer.

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