Editor’s note: This piece is based on a talk by Tom Webster, the vice president of strategy for Edison Research, which (among other things) is probably the leading research firm for the podcast industry.
It advances a number of arguments that I think you’ll find interesting — and which have wide applicability to the digital media world beyond podcasts. Nick Quah discussed some of these arguments in today’s Hot Pod column; here’s the whole piece.
This is a long article. It will be challenging to some, especially those that have been in podcasting a long time (which, for the record, I have). I’ll make a deal with you, however — I’ll back up every assertion in this post with credible research data. You, in return, keep an open mind. Deal?
Last week I gave an opening keynote at Podcast Movement, which has become one of the most important events in podcasting. In my talk, I took stock of where we are in the medium, where we need to go, and what we need to do to get there. I suspect some of what I had to say raised some eyebrows, but the issues that I mentioned need to be grappled with. So, I’d like to share those issues here with you, and I welcome your constructive dialogue.
I first became involved in podcasting back in 2005, when I pushed to get the medium included on our annual flagship media study, The Infinite Dial (which we publish every year with our partners at Triton Digital). We announced our first data on podcast consumption in 2006 — it was basically a rounding error then — but we believed it would continue to grow.
Since then, it has grown, pretty steadily year-over-year, in several important ways. First of all, we have tracked awareness of the term “Podcasting” for over a decade. it was flat for several years, but since 2015 it has risen 15 percentage points, and is nearing two-thirds of the U.S. population 12+. People will often point to this graph as a kind of validation of podcasting, but (as I always point out on the annual Infinite Dial webinar) this only means that 64 percent of the country is familiar with the term. They’ve heard it mentioned — maybe on the radio, maybe by a friend. However, it does not mean that 64 percent of the country actually knows what a podcast is. Indeed, I can assure you that millions of these people do not, and I’m going to set down the proof of that assertion in a moment.
At this point, I think it’s necessary to stipulate something right up front: I have never advocated that we change the term “podcasting” to something else, though some have colorfully misinterpreted my stance in that way. No, the name is what makes the medium special — if anything, I think we should double down on it! But let’s be honest about something: