Podcasters have enjoyed steady, year-to-year audience growth over the past decade. As of 2019, Statista reports that there are an estimated 86 million podcast listeners, just in the United States. The same report forecasts a potential podcasting audience of 132 million by 2022. That’s enough of a spike for some analysts to question whether this new audio distribution platform could end up killing traditional, linear, broadcast radio.
After Apple brought podcasting to mainstream attention in 2006, independent audio producers enjoyed a wave of new listeners. However, those listeners still found themselves tethered to home or office network connections. Catching up on podcasts required carrying an MP3 player or listening through a computer, so the format failed to gain traction beyond a few niche audiences.
Back in 2013, podcaster and marketing consultant Mark Schaefer observed a shift in audience behavior, thanks to newly ubiquitous mobile devices. “The immersive, emotional nature of the medium,” when combined with devices that could subscribe and playback audio anywhere, makes a podcast the kind of “companion” that audiences crave.
Radio enjoyed a similar relationship with its audiences for nearly a century. Analysts predicted TV would kill it off, but you can’t watch TV while driving a car or doing most kinds of work. 8-track tape players and cassettes gave listeners more control of their music choices, but couldn’t match the personalities and the context of the medium’s boss jocks.
Broadcast radio still holds the broadest reach to audiences every week compared to any other media platform. Marketing Charts reports, “92% of American adults (ages 18 and older) are reached by radio weekly, compared to 87% of adults reached by TV and 81% by smartphones.” More Americans enjoy “traditional” radio each month than social media platforms, search engines, and e-commerce sites.
Podcasting won’t kill terrestrial radio. If anything, broadcast radio stations have started to figure out how to leverage their talent and create complementary podcasts. Instead of taking a bigger slice of the pie, they’re figuring out how to make the pie bigger for everyone.
But that growth comes with some risk for independent podcast producers. While open podcasting platforms will always leave room for hobbyists and experimenters, the influx of radio professionals into podcast directories means that independent producers will have to make very high-quality audio to hold their ground against more experienced studios.
Mistakes and low-fidelity sound quality that might have been acceptable in the early days of podcasting won’t hold up against the likes of NPR, Entercom, Gimlet, and Audible. Instead of wondering whether podcasting might kill broadcasting, podcasters should think about how they can bring more of traditional radio’s polish and production quality to the niche audiences that fuel their own passions.