My Meaningful Media

In Praise of Podcasts

In the early 2000s, the iPhone hadn’t yet been invented and streaming was still a geek’s wishful thinking. iPod ruled the world of music, and 3G wasn’t even a reality for most us. So, at the dawn of a new digital era, the promise of an exciting new way to access and consume content caught my attention: I discovered the podcast.

At first podcasts represented the possibility of listening to the radio on the go—something that wasn’t feasible with the iPod, as it didn’t include an FM tuner. This gave me the freedom to manage and compose my own lineup of radio shows with ease and convenience.

Radio has always had a prominent place in my life. For me, it is the most up-close and personal medium. I fondly remember listening to call-in shows at night in my bed with my headset on. These moments were a gateway to a new world where teenagers like me could share their experiences and thoughts. It helped listeners to fit in and feel part of a community before social networks were born. As I grew up, I switched to news and generalist stations, but the feeling of belonging to a community never vanished. Radio triggers a powerful feeling through the voice of its hosts, as if it were an intimate whisper in our ears. 

It was that same feeling of proximity that drove me to ad hoc podcast creations. Their content has evolved and become more professional throughout the mid-2010s, but they have remained authentic and faithful to their initial, unspoken pact—based on a promise to deliver quality, authenticity, and creativity. The winning equation of meaningfulness? Indeed, in today’s saturated era of images, where instantaneity and profusion are creed, podcasts turn out to be a way to escape, where we can pause and take time to think, discover, be enlightened…In other words, podcasts are deep where everything else now seems shallow.

So it is no surprise that advertising is more effective on podcasts, as the audience is more actively engaged with the medium, which is considered trustworthy and reliable. (A study by Midroll found that 80% of podcast listeners can name at least one brand that advertised on an episode.) What’s more, podcasters can claim to be the “influencers of smart people.” Even as a growing number of people are listening to podcasts, it is still a niche media habit that tends to attract a more educated and affluent audience. This type of “discriminating audience” is largely uninfluenced by traditional advertising, which makes podcasts a key conduit. 

On top of that, what I like about advertising in a podcast is that the brand is perceived more as a sponsor than as an advertiser. They share common values, which makes the ads more relevant and well aimed than might be found in other ad-backed content such as Spotify. And what’s more, the ad is often delivered by the host of the podcast—a native ad approach that lends even more trust and credibility to the brand. 

But could podcasts be the victims of their own success? Lately, we have seen in the news concerns about a so-called “podcast bubble,” meaning the hype is exaggerated. Media companies as well as brands could be stepping into the arena simply because it is the new gold rush. Could we be witnessing the foretold death of the umpteenth media fad? I don’t think so. For sure, some will be lured by the trend and for them the shine will fade. But for those who harness the essence of the medium and dare to innovate, the future is bright. Those with great content and stories will prevail. And that is what makes the podcast such a meaningful medium to me.