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Podcasts: sounds like a revolution

Nov 05, 2019
Go back just ten years, utter the word ‘podcast’ and you’d have been greeted with a blank, confused stare. But mention it now and you’ll have a queue of people telling you what they’re listening to, what you should be listening to and why podcasts are the future. This audio phenomenon has taken the world by storm, with 12.5% of Brits and 32% of Americans tuning in to an episode regularly. And by recent calculations, there’s a virtual library of over 29 million to choose from. So let’s cut through the noise, find out what’s behind this meteoric rise, and see what it means for the future of audio.

Much of the podcast boom can be put down to the millennial generation and the shifting nature of how they consume entertainment. Where their parents turned to David Letterman and other late night talk shows for light comedy and guest interviews, the younger generation have Joe Rogan and 2 Dope Queens. Where once people pored through encyclopaedias for niche facts and explanations, now you need only listen to the ‘Stuff You Should Know’ series. And for every political, sports or health itch, you can find the perfect podcast to scratch it. In fact, the sheer number of topics covered means there’s a supplement for almost every aspect of our daily lives. But it’s more than simply increased availability, the beauty of the podcast lies in the interactive audio element – it’s something you can easily digest on the commute, in the kitchen or anywhere you are.
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It would be easy to assume that, with everyone locked into a new audio journey, traditional methods of entertainment such as TV were being left to gather dust. But there’s a new genre of podcast growing in popularity that puts paid to this theory – the TV show companion. HBO’s hit series Chernobyl capitalised on the appetite for their show by creating an audio accompaniment. They knew the series was built on a vastly interesting topic, and tapped into the idea that the only activity people enjoy more than watching their favourite show is talking about it. With a team of producers, researchers, writers and hosts working together, they racked up over 6.5 million downloads to accompany their 9 million viewers, as of June this year.

As well as sounding out ready-made TV audiences, there are also podcasts that flip the script and spawn TV adaptions of their own. Take Lore, for example – this is a podcast that weaves folklore and dark events from centuries gone by with the kind of haunting tales usually recounted by a torch lit face by campfire. And it has gained such a following that in 2017 Amazon brought those chilling stories to the small screen. More recently, Bravo transformed the investigative true-crime audio series, Dirty John, into an equally popular TV show of the same name starring Eric Bana and Connie Britton.

And then there’s Homecoming, a podcast that forgoes the non-fiction and true crime trend completely in order to tell a new story. Released in 2016, it features the voices of David Schwimmer, Amy Sedaris and Oscar Isaac to tell a fresh but mysterious tale of a caseworker involved in an experimental program to help re-assimilate ex-soldiers. Two years and many downloads later, Amazon saw the potential and made it into a visual critical hit starring Julia Roberts, and a second season is currently in production.
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One big takeaway here is that audio is no longer being drowned out by visuals or seen as secondary. Instead, the opposite seems to be the case, with podcasts leading not just the audio, but the, entertainment revolution. They’re contributing to an emerging medium that grows in influence and gets louder every single day, while helping to inspire and lift what we think of as more traditional methods of entertainment like TV. This is largely down to their flexibility, fitting seamlessly into our hectic, modern-day schedules. But more fascinatingly, it’s because they breathe new life into civilisation’s oldest form of entertainment… storytelling.