The Rising Prevalence of Podcasting

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podcast picture

They’re everywhere, those little white knobs that rest ever so gently in the ears. They used to have leashes, locked into mobile pocket computers. Now they are free, cordless earbuds unbound by the manacles of rubber and silicone.

With sales projected to skyrocket within the next couple of years, cordless earbuds have rapidly become the primary medium for whatever you like to listen to. Which begs the question…What are we listening to?

More often than not, it’s a podcast.

With more than 700,000 podcasts available through streaming services like Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify, it’s no surprise how popular podcasts have become.

A quick search will show that over 70% of the U.S. population is familiar with the term “podcasting,” and over 50% has listened to a podcast. The primary demographic hovers around the 21-40 year-old age range, with smartphones being the driving force behind podcast availability and, frankly, their popularity. They, along with those omnipresent ear buds, make it incredibly convenient to listen to a podcast or two while on a run or driving to work.

Music MPH has charted the meteoric financial rise of podcasting and found that total revenue from podcasting has risen from $62 million to over $400 million in less than five years, with projections to skyrocket entering the next decade. (For more podcast by the numbers information check out this infographic created by Music MPH)

Podtrac analytics show that the most popular podcasts come from platforms like National Public Radio, The New York Times, This American Life, and ESPN. As news sources continue to adapt, podcasts continue to become a popular outlet for news media. A majority of these platforms offer shows like The Daily, Stuff You Should Know, and This American Life, which cover various forms of news, sports and media.

And that’s not even mentioning the podcast giant Serial. Breaking multiple podcast records with its release of Season 1 in 2014, Serial led the charge for what came to be known as a ‘podcast renaissance.’ Serial covered the relatively unknown true crime murder case of Hae Min Lee, digging into the handling of the case and how Adnan Syed, the convicted murderer, might actually be innocent.

As Serial continued to take the U.S. by storm, the Baltimore police force, which had investigated the case when it first broke in 1999–launched a new investigation into the case with new evidence and information that the podcast unearthed. Sparking a wave of true-crime podcasts, there have been several suggestions that Serial changed the way the public views criminal justice within the United States.

Another widely popular podcast, Freakonomics, inspired a few faithful listeners to instigate two new law changes in Hawaii. As the state reaps the benefits of individuals who now are incentivized through prize-rewarding personal savings accounts, it goes to show that you never know what might happen if you find yourself listening to a podcast.

But as informational and entertaining as these podcast can be, they come with a darker side. Research has shown that silence is beneficial to brain cell development. And as one journalist found out, having podcasts (or any type of noise) circulating through the brain for over 35 hours a week might not be the best thing in the world.

As the popularity of podcasts continues to rise, marketing teams around the world take notice. Podcasts have quickly become a hotbed for all sorts of subtle marketing schemes, leading The New Yorker to discuss the seductive and manipulative storytelling form that heavily populates podcasts.

It would be remiss of me not to mention everyone’s favorite generation in the same breath as podcasts. According to Forbes, Millennials lead the charts as the most avid podcast listeners. It’s partly due to the content these podcasts deliver, but a bigger factor may be the very nature of podcasts themselves. Podcasts are on-demand, efficient, allow for easy use, and provide deeper dives beyond simple headlines—all elements that Millennials tend to gravitate toward.

No wonder that, in an effort to reach younger generations, most megachurches offer podcast recordings of sermons or lessons. Some even produce their own specialized content directly for podcast services.

In the world of the live stream, some in the church have cited the negative effects that come with podcasting. Christianity Today says, “When pastors push their sermons far and wide via podcast, they unintentionally devalue the message they have worked hard to create and communicate. They remove the sermon from time, context, and body of the liturgy where it belongs.”

In strategizing for how to appeal to different demographics, Churches will continue to find the line that can and cannot be crossed when discussing sermon podcast production and digital distribution.

As platforms like Spotify and Apple Podcasts refine their production, the number of podcasts will only keep growing. And that means the variety will keep getting stranger. In the meantime, we can all hold out hope for more podcasts with humans personifying things like Coca-Cola cans and newspapers.

Who wrote this?

Jackson is interning with Plugged In for this summer. Currently attending Texas A&M University, he studies English and Spanish, with hopes to teach High School English one day. When he’s not editing dissertations or holed up in a professor’s office hours, he can be found on the Texan streets running, camping, or at the nearest street-side taquería. His first love is peanut butter and is a proud subscriber to multiple peanut butter subscriptions nationwide. Allergies beware!

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

charitysplace 7 months ago
I have never been a podcast listener; I'd rather skim read an article focusing on the information I want than listen to the same information; it takes less time. If I had a long work commute I might change my mind. 
The Kenosha Kid 7 months ago

There’s nothing too revolutionary about the podcast form, but it is an interesting phenomenon that’s emblematic of the cultural atomization, polarization and profound loneliness of our times.

 

The scripted ones are basically just audiobooks without the books. The few I’ve listened to, both nonfiction (“Serial”) and fiction (“Welcome to Night Vale”), are full of NPR-ish verbal tics that are intended to come off as informal and conversational but instead feel calculated and annoying. But that’s just a matter of personal taste. A lot of people dig that style, which is fine. Like a lot of today's cultural phenomena, they cater to specific niche audiences who felt alienated by the old pre-Internet monoculture.

 

The unscripted ones are basically talk radio without the radio. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the format, but -- just like talk radio and cable news -- their practical effect has been to ensconce listeners in echo chambers curated by hosts who share their worldview or sensibility. That’s had a detrimental effect on our democracy, which really troubles me.

 

The most telling characteristic of podcasts might be the way they’re intended to be consumed – in solitude. In the age in which the Internet has supposedly brought everyone closer together, the biggest new media format has been one we consume alone.

E Hayes 7 months ago
I have to say, Christianity Today is wrong to say that podcasting is bad for the church.  I am an unmarried RN millennial.  In my first hospital job I was told that I had to work every Sunday because I did not have a family.  When I was in school, my mom would complain and find reasons to not drive me to church - she wouldn't let me drive the car.  Now, I still frequently have to work weekends and I'm lucky if when I can go to church if people even remember my name.
Being able to download podcasts through itunes of sermons is usually the closest thing I have to church.  I do read my Bible and pray daily, but it is not the same as having teaching in a church.
Churches should not stop putting up podcasts in an effort to get people to come to church.  It might possibly get a few people to drive to church, but if people are busy working on Sundays anyway, all that will happen is that they will have no church teaching at all.
The Kenosha Kid 7 months ago
I'm sorry you can't make it to church as often as you'd like, through no fault of your own. I think a good compromise would be for churches to make podcasts available for folks like you, while acknowledging that podcasted sermons lack the sense of spiritual community one gets from actually attending a church.
Anonymous 7 months ago
My family watches and listens to sermons constantly, from preachers like Brian Houston and Joseph Prince. I have been practically raised on megachurch preaching, which is ironic because our actual church is kind of small! 
 Our family doesn't actually listen to podcasts most of the time. We are really into radio stories like Adventures in Odyssey and the recordings of Jim Weiss, which I highly recommend. But the fact is, we tend to listen to a lot of stuff, with earbuds or without. 
-Emma Bibliophile
Karl The Klown 7 months ago
I met Jim Weiss at a homeschool conference a few years ago 
Anonymous 7 months ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

Hey Plugged In, when is Bob Waliszewski releasing part 5 of A Few of my Favorite Things? Going by the pattern of his past releases, he should have released part 5 by the end of this month.
Anonymous 7 months ago
There's a certain irony in the fact that PluggedIn got rid of the Podcast just a short while before the Podcast thing suddenly exploded in popularity....

Also, I was thinking of starting a podcast with my friends one time. Though what we would talk about and what we would do, I don't know.

Also also, if you aren't listening to Phil Vischer's Holy post podcast, please rectify that great sin immediately. It is golden.

-Evan
Karl The Klown 7 months ago
The Holy Post was pretty good until Skye became obnoxiously political. 
Anonymous 7 months ago
I haven't quite listened  to the newest ones yet. Was that a recent thing?

-Evan
Karl The Klown 7 months ago
It seems to have happened over the past year or so. 
Big Mike 7 months ago
yeah i've been listening for like the past few years and i just stopped listing to it
partly because skye is constantly just make cheap and ever present jabs at trump. not that i'm a big fan of the president but it seemed like he was obsessed with the president
Anonymous 7 months ago
Nobody should bash Donald Trump. He's one of our best presidents ever. Right up there with Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson,  and FDR.
Big Mike 7 months ago
First of all Trump definitely has his good and bad qualities and he's open to both criticism and commendation what I dislike is when christians on both sides who are to be filled with brotherly love bash each other because of one's political stance on trump to quote our orange president himself "there are good people on both sides" 
secondly i agree with you that Washington,Lincoln and Jefferson are incredibly president but FDR you look to be a conservative man or woman so i suggest you look at some of the atrocities he perpetuated. put a president like Coolidge on that list he was one of the most underrated presidents ever 
Isaiah Thacker 7 months ago
@Everyone: Can we please cut this burgeoning political debate short? This sort of thing never ends well, as evidenced by the direction the discussion is starting to go.
Hannah Cole 7 months ago
@Isaiah Thacker. You're right. I probably shouldn't have said anything. I'm not even from the US anyway so I have no stake in a political debate at all, haha.
Big Mike 7 months ago
@Isaiah Thacker 
I think we need to have discussions about politics,
as Christians we need to talk about the big issues of our time and one of them happens to be trump we need to have respectful debates so that we don't get stuck in echo chambers of our on political affiliations 
and as Christians and brothers in the faith we need to show that we can disagree with each other and still be civil, and if things do morph into food fights quit then but don't shut the conversation down before it even begins
The Kenosha Kid 7 months ago
I agree that political discussions are crucial for the same reasons you mention, Big Mike. I'm just not sure this thread is the appropriate forum, since the blog post is about podcasts, not politics.
Big Mike 7 months ago
 @The Kenosha Kid 
yeah your'e probably right

Anonymous 7 months ago

I loved the fact that FDR got us through World War 2 relatively unscathed. No other president could have done what he did during such a crucial time in our history, so I applaud him for it. And yes I am very conservative. I don't believe in guns, alcohol, abortion, or gay rights. Everyone should be more like Jesus and behave themselves, and then the world truly would be a better place.


And Big Mike how dare you say I'm not conservative. I'm certainly no bleeding heart liberal.

Karl The Klown 7 months ago
The best thing that FDR ever did, was expose the glaring flaws in Keynesian economic theory 
The Kenosha Kid 7 months ago
@Karl The Klown, it's completely off-topic, but I just can't resist. How did FDR "expose the glaring flaws in Keynesian economic theory"?
Isaiah Thacker 7 months ago
 @Big Mike Oh, I'm not saying we shouldn't discuss politics at all. I was more thinking that this isn't really the proper time, place, or circumstance for it, kind of like what Kenosha Kid was saying. Sorry that I wasn't clear on that.

Admittedly, though, I might be a little hypersensitive to this sort of thing. Many times, I've seen the topic of politics turn friendly, fun online venues (of a non-political nature) into hostile battlegrounds (or worse, hostile echo chambers where dissenting voices are viciously ganged up on). Sometimes, even otherwise-amicable people can get uncivilly defensive and/or belligerent if someone says something provocative, or if a hot-button issue is brought up (I've done it before myself, unfortunately).

I guess I was worried that sort of thing would happen here. Fortunately, it hasn't, so... never mind, I guess? This still seems like a poor choice of venue to me, but I won't object any further unless things get out of hand (not that I have any more authority than anyone else here, of course).

 @Karl The Klown One of my favorites is still his indirect contribution to the 22nd Amendment.
Karl The Klown 7 months ago
@The Kenosha Kid 
So Keynesian Theory is the basic idea that supply can create demand in short economic downturns. This was the basic premise behind FDR's New Deal; A set of federal programs designed to stimulate GDP during the Great Depression via federal investment. Now the problem with this is the basic notion that supply does not create demand, it is the exact opposite in fact. It is demand that creates supply. Also, one must note that oftentimes, in order to achieve such investments, taxes are raised to fund them, leaving less wealth circulating within the economy. This can actually lengthen recessions.
Also, federal programs (such as those imposed by FDR) are very had, if near impossible to get rid of. Take Social Security for example. It was meant as a short-term fix for retiring workers. Also, the retirement age and life expectancy were older and younger, respectively. Now, SS is going insolvent, with no sign of any action being taken on it.
Another thing to keep in mind is that, the government cannon't respond to market demands quickly. Meaning that goods and services that are actually in demand change too rapidly for federal forces, leaving the economy stymied