The year is 2004: The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King won practically every Oscar and Mark Zuckerburg and his friends launched their little social network, Facebook, from their college dorm room. Britney Spears got married…twice, we all mourned as Friends aired its final episode, and our iPods or Blockbuster were the go-to sources of entertainment. Little did we know all of that was about to change, as 2004 was also the year a new word came into existence, a word that would slowly but surely make its mark on the entertainment industry, a word that was new and exciting and full of endless possibilities…that word was “podcasts”.
From humble beginnings, we jump forward a few years to 2010, when 1 in 4 Americans would declare that they listened to at least one podcast that year1. Hop forward to 2019 and that figure sky-rocketed to 144 million2! It’s easy to see why so many believe we are living in the Golden Age of podcasts. And as the dawn of a new decade inches ever closer, a decade where podcasts will command an even greater influence, we wanted to take a look back at all the developments that took place over the last 10 years in order to take the simple podcast and turn it the thriving industry it is today.
But before we reflect on this past decade, a little trip further down History Lane is in order…
While audio blogging had been around since at least the 1980s, the term “podcast” has its origins in 2004. Podcasts remained a fairly obscure concept ‒ in the early days, most people had no idea what this word even meant ‒ but by the time 2019 rolls around, 197 million Americans would have heard of podcasts! Huge statistics for a little word that was made up on the fly! That’s right, Ben Hammersly, the guy credited for inventing the word which has rocked our audio worlds, coined the term while hurtling towards the deadline for his latest article. And while he can’t take credit for the actual tech that made podcasting possible (shout out to Adam Curry and David Winer), he can take credit for a word that found its way into the New Oxford American Dictionary. In terms of developments, a milestone would be achieved in 2005, with “podcast” being declared the Word of the Year!
Besides the accolade of Word of the Year, one of the biggest developments in 2015 was Apple’s inclusion3 of podcasts in its iTunes app, as well as the slow and steady building of a podcast directory in its iTunes Music Store. Apple, in true innovator style, dominated podcast developments this year. Not only did they initiate the listing of podcasts in a directory, but they also included podcast-recording features in their latest versions of both GarageBand and the QuickTime Pro software. In a truly visionary statement, Steve Jobs declared that “[p]odcasting is the next generation of radio” ‒ a statement made at a time when users could only subscribe to just over 3,000 podcasts and download them onto their computer and iPod. If only Mr. Jobs knew how right he was! Come 2019, there would be over 700,0004 active podcasts!
For our last look at developments that took place in the first decade of podcasting, we keep our attention fixed firmly on Apple. In what could be described as a Neil Armstrong-like “one small step for mankind” moment in podcasting history, Steve Jobs, at a keynote speech, demonstrated how to record a podcast using the latest version of GarageBand. With a name like Steve Jobs focusing on podcasts, it’s no wonder that it sparked the interest of competitors and tech junkies alike, and it was the spark that ignited the podcast wildfire that would grow in intensity in the decade to follow.
By the time 2010 rolled around, studies5 show that North Americans were living a substantial amount of their lives online, more so than ever before. Facebook and Twitter had clearly become more than just social platforms for occasional browsing. This development is important as it built the authority of online platforms and led to a large percentage of people turning to these online sources for things like news reports and important updates, which consequently opened up new avenues for message delivery. This development on the social media front played a large part in laying the foundations for other media, such as podcasts, to be viewed as valid creators and distributors of world news and important information.
This was the year of technology developments in the podcast sphere. First up, we have Apple rolling out their podcast app, which was well-received for its creation of a podcast library. It must also be noted that there was a significant surge in the production of inexpensive recording hardware and software this year, which made it easier than ever for anyone to join the podcast revolution. Other technological developments, such as greater access to wifi as well as the introduction of 4G capable mobile phones made downloading media all the more attractive, which initiated the trend of media consumption whilst on the move.
2014 is seen by many as a turning point in the history of podcasts. Particularly, it was the year of many cultural developments and significant growth in the industry. Most in the field attribute the substantial expansion of podcasts in 2014 to the launch of Serial. The show quickly became a worldwide phenomenon, with everyone and their neighbors eagerly awaiting each new episode. Even SNL got in on the action with a hilarious parody of the podcast and an uncanny impression of Sarah Koenig. The success of Serial showed the world what podcasts could be, and it would be the forerunner for the bevy of true-crime podcasts that would flood the airways in years to come. Serial showed us that there was a far greater scope of possible premises for podcasts than simple table discussions. Imaginative storytelling, compelling journalism, docu-style series, and even crafty “how-tos” all became plausible subjects for successful podcasts. Many podcasters would also go on to imitate Serial’s style and develop shows that would get people tuning in week after week to hear the next installment.
Serial ushered in another fairly major development in the history of podcasting ‒ podcast advertising. Each episode of Serial contained advertisements promoting the show’s sponsors. This was quite the game-changer as it opened new doors by showing how, with relative ease, podcasters could monetize their show.
2014 also saw the inaugural Podcast Movement conference take place. The music industry has Coachella and Glastonbury, and now podcasters would have Podcast Movement! Back in 2014, it was the first podcast-focused conference of its size, and in the years since, has become the hub for all things podcasting. It’s hosted by podcasters, for podcasters, and with over 3,0006 podcasters reportedly attending this year, it’s become a staple on the podcasting calendar. It’s developed into a key player in consistently pushing the industry forward, as well as setting the scene for the numerous podcast festivals, conferences, and conventions that take place all around the world each year.
Halfway through the decade, we find that podcasts have begun to expand their sphere of influence within the entertainment industry. Between 2013 and 2015, the number of people listening to podcasts had doubled, quite possibly largely thanks to Serial! In this year, Apple celebrated 10 years of podcast support on iTunes and boasted over 200,000 shows. Independent reports – as Apple had not yet released its own dataset – showed that the top five most popular categories of podcasts in 2015 were Christianity, Music, Comedy, TV & Film, and News & Politics7. And speaking of politics, this was also the year that President Barrack Obama made his first podcast appearance on an episode of Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast.
A pretty big development took place this year when Apple launched its podcast analytics feature8, which gave podcasters vital info as to how listeners consumed podcasts, as well as giving podcasters insight into their audience’s listening habits. Many saw this as one of the bigger developments the podcast industry had seen for quite some time. Another massive development for podcasting in 2017 was the eventual ruling in favor of the Electronic Frontier Foundation in the patent-focused lawsuit launched against many popular podcasters and networks9. The initial case was opened way back in 2013 by the company, Personal Audio, who believed they held the patent on podcasting. Long legal battle short, the courts ruled that Personal Audio, in fact, did not invent podcasting, and freedom was once again returned to podcast creators.
2018 saw podcasts become ever more popular. There was a particular rise in mainstream media taking interest in podcasting. An interesting statistic in support of this development came to us via the Podcast Trends Report, 2018, which showed that 61%10 of the people listened to podcasts more than they watched television! This year also saw the rise of celebrity-hosted podcasts. From Dax Sheppard to Snoop Dogg, celebs were loving podcasts just as much as the next person and helped catapult podcasts straight into the limelight of mainstream media.
And our journey through the decade comes in for a landing in 2019. A lot of big things happened in the podcasting sphere this year. Most notable, perhaps, was the escalation in the audio war between Apple and Spotify. Spotify acquired three separate podcasting companies throughout the year and spent over 400 million dollars11 (yes, you read that right!) on these acquisitions. What was probably most significant about this development (besides the incredible sum of money!) was the message it proclaimed to the world about podcasts ‒ that they are not going anywhere, and are ready to take entertainment to the next level! A leader in the audio industry such as Spotify investing so much into podcasts really speaks volumes about the direction they see podcasts heading as we enter a new decade – onwards and upwards.
While it’s taken nearly two decades for the podcast industry to become what it is today, all indications show that it’s an industry moving full steam ahead. And with all the developments that have taken place over a few short years, the sky is really the limit when it comes to what the future could hold for podcasts. The dawn of a new decade may be uncertain in terms of politics, and the state of the world in general, but we can be sure that through it all, our favorite podcasts will be there, entertaining us, informing us, and educating us.
Who knows what new shows we’ll get to discover and what mysteries will unfold in the next 10 years? We couldn’t be more proud to be a part of such an incredible industry, and we’re buckled up and ready for the wild ride that the next decade promises to be!
1. Podcasting in 2010 – https://www.edisonresearch.com/the_calm_surface_obscures_the_roiling_depths/
2. Podcasting in 2010 – https://www.edisonresearch.com/the_calm_surface_obscures_the_roiling_depths/
3. History of podcasting – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_podcasting
4. The Meteoric Rise of Podcasting – https://musicoomph.com/podcast-statistics/
5. Business Insider – https://www.businessinsider.com/how-the-media-has-changed-in-the-last-decade-2019-11?IR=T#podcasting-exploded-as-a-digital-storytelling-medium-that-offered-longform-content-6
6. History of podcasting – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_podcasting
7. How Podcasts Have Changed in 10 Years – https://medium.com/@monarchjogs/how-podcasts-have-changed-in-ten-years-by-the-numbers-720a6e984e4e
8. 2017: Year of the Podcast – https://venturebeat.com/2017/12/30/2017-year-of-the-podcast/
9. The World is Once Again Safe for Podcasting – https://mashable.com/2017/08/08/podcast-eff-patent-personal-audio/
10. The Podcast Trends Report 2018 – https://discoverpods.com/podcast-trends-report-2018/
11. Spotify Has Acquired Three Podcast Companies This Year – https://www.musicbusinessworldwide.com/spotify-has-acquired-three-podcast-companies-this-year-total-cost-404m/