What are podcasts?

Merriam-Webster provides this basic definition of a podcast: “a program made available in digital format for automatic download over the Internet.” That’s it.

A podcast is an audio file that is made available so people who want to listen to it can easily do so on their computers, tablets, smartphones, or iPods. A podcast is like a radio program – minus the schedule, the ads, and the static interference. It is a listening medium that is available where and when you want it. You don’t have to wait on the radio station to play your favorite programs, you can now go on iTunes and download dozens of them so you can listen at a time that is best for you.

Podcasts are popular

Podcasting is a relatively new medium. It came into its own in 2003 and 2004 with the coming together of RSS feeds, audio content, and Libsyn, the first real podcast host. These three ingredients sparked the podcasting gold rush which was spurred on in 2005 by Apple’s creation of iTunes which made finding, downloading, and listening to podcasts easy for the legions of people who owned iPods and iPhones.

Back then, though, it did not look like podcasts would threaten any established form of media – radio, TV, or print. But, today, the story is different. According to a 2015 Pew Research Center report, “The increased reach and upward trend line of podcast consumption is evident in every available measure – the percentage of Americans who are listening to podcasts, the level of public awareness, and how many podcasts are being hosted and downloaded.”

Let’s crunch some numbers (current as of April 2015):

  • The percentage of Americans who have listened to a podcast in the past month has almost doubled since 2008.
  • One-third (33%) of all Americans 12 years of age or older now say they have listened to at least one podcast.
  • Overall awareness of podcasting is increasing, with roughly half (49%) of Americans ages 12 and up aware of podcasting by early 2015.
  • There has been a steady rise in the number of podcasts created and downloaded over the past three years.
  • Mobile devices are increasingly the preferred way to listen to podcasts. Libsyn, the first podcast host, recorded that in 2014, of their 2.6 billion podcast downloads, 63% were requested from mobile devices.

Is the popularity of podcasting on the rise? Yes. Is there still a lot of room for growth? You bet there is. The only direction podcasting can go is up. Both for the number of podcast creators and podcast listeners.

Here’s a great statement from Omni Reboot magazine that sums it up: “A concept that was once foreign to most is rapidly becoming a favorite in our generation’s desire to hear what they want, when they want, and how they want it. Listeners can tune into their show of choice at their convenience and play, pause, and repeat directly on their iPod, tablet, or personal computer. And while podcasting may still be considered the ‘baby’ of all media outlets, recent studies show that nearly 15% of all Americans are tuning into a podcast daily. That’s around 48 million people in the US alone, if you do the math.”

Podcasts are growing more popular by the day. In our next post, we’ll talk about why you should start one.

This post is a part of the PODCASTING FOR MINISTRY blog series.

Click here to view all posts in the series.
Click here to view the table of contents for this series.

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