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The Power of Podcasting

August 13, 2015

People in tech love growth, especially those who work at startups. And as Brian Balfour mentioned ina recent post, growth is never done. The combination of these two ideas implies that the smartest people in Silicon Valley are consistently searching for new ways to acquire more users and build a bigger audience. This constant experimentation leads to new findings, which lead to new tactics, which ultimately lead to new channels of growth. Being early to these channels typically results in major growth opportunities, hence the urge to be at the forefront of a channel’s discovery. But as more channels are discovered, their cycle of effectiveness is accelerating, and thus diminishing at a quicker rate over time.

One channel that has not been fully optimized yet is podcasting. In this post we will look at why this might be and what the power of podcasting might look like as it grows.

“But John, podcasting has been around forever, why would it just be catching on now?” -Innocent bystander

To put it simply, mobile. To put it complexly, smartphone technology has empowered users to explore new channels that help maximize their media consumption for each minute of the day. Since there are a fixed amount of minutes per day, people must optimize current inefficiences if they want to increase their media consumption. And people are getting good at this, as evidenced in the chart below. Today we are consuming more media than ever before.

While it’s easy to read an article while sitting at your computer or watch a video while waiting in line on your phone, it is more difficult to do so while walking or driving, primarily because of the attention your eyes have to give to the road. This suggests that the best way to consume while on-the-go is with the help of your ears. Enter podcasts.

Podcasts are an ideal form of in-transit entertainment. They can be consumed at any time, with an easily accessible backlog of episodes.Smartphone portability allows you to bring them with you everywhere you go, and a subscription process delivers new episodes effortlessly to your pocket. Not only are they convenient, but the human voice in podcasting offers a unique personal connection, as relationships develop over time between the podcaster and the listener. I dare you to tell me that throwing on your headphones and losing yourself in a great podcast interview doesn’t make you feel as though you’ve pulled up a chair right next to the conversation.

Podcasting is not the new blogging, podcasting is the closest thing we have to mainstream virtual reality.

And the awareness process for new podcasts is a perfect fit for the social world in which we live in. New apps, like Overcast, are built on top of your Twitter social graph, allowing for infinite discoverability and endless recommendations. Friends and thought leaders can share podcasts with a touch of their finger, helping you to dive deeper on a topic, learn more about a certain individual, or get a taste of company culture. Expanded data plans have also enabled increased streaming capabilities. All of this is paired with the cultural shift towards more millenials walking around everywhere with white earbuds in, as if it is the societal norm.

But we are just seeing the tip of the podcasting iceberg. In my eyes, we have approached the great chasm between the early adopters and the early majority. It will likely take a bridge, built from architects at a company like Spotify and its 75 million subscriber base, to help podcasts cross it.

Apple helped nudge us in the right direction, as early innovators listened to iTunes podcasts. Early adopters helped usher in the likes of Soundcloud and other streaming podcast services such as Stitcher. Now, Spotify has begun testing podcast waters, as they open their guarded doors to a select handful of creators. When the company inevitatebly opens the distribution flood gates, podcasts will be easily accessed, shared and streamed from an already immensely popular network, providing the momentum they need to vault into mainstream media consumption habits.

And give credit to platforms such as Medium, which help encourage the embedding of sound files into blog posts. I’m sure as you read this there is a team huddled in a garage in California, working through a beta version of their social app, with the vision to make a new platform that reduces sharing a soundbite from a podcast to be as frictionless as sharing a tweet from an article. Just the other week there was an interesting idea making its rounds on the web, concepting an idea that focused on Medium authors being able to integrate audio as a mode of consumption for their post.

However, like anything in life, a trade-off needs to occur for podcasting to take off exponentially, hockey-stick-style. Podcasts of the future will be competing with not only the recent crop of top-notch podcasts, but with anything that captures our attention. The primary competitor that comes to mind is music, but secondary competitors include social networks, books, and even girlfriends or boyfriends. I believe that podcasting will continue to focus on a niche audience like any good startup does, in this case commuters and people in transit, before expanding aggresively to other verticals. When the time comes to expand to mainstream media, podcasts will not only need to provide explicit value to the listeners, but also a unique style of entertainment. Startup podcast by Alex Blumberg and Gimlet Media has been the best example of this to date. This podcast is a behind-the-scenes look at actually starting a company, telling the story in a unique format that could only be accomplished via podcasting.

Because of the low barriers to entry that technology enables, we are currently experiencing an influx of high quality podcasts that recently hit the market. Some of these include:

At this rate it will become even more important to be early to market, and even more important to constantly improve your podcasting skills.

I know what you may be thinking, what does this dude know about podcasting? Aside from editing and producing a show (shameless plug for intheloopica.com!), I’ve been a keen observer of podcasting mass adoption and recognized the recent upward spike.

The fact of the matter is, podcasting has come a long way in the past year as it experienced more focus and more resources from Silicon Valley. I don’t know what podcasting will look like in five years, or even next year, as more effort and more thought are applied to the creation and distribution of this channel, but I do know that this channel is going to grow. And when it does happen, it is going to happen fast, as we are approaching the second half of the chessboard. That is why neither brands nor individuals should be ignoring the power of podcasting.

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