• Alexander Smith

Understanding Our Podcast Obsession

2021: a world of virtual reality. Netflix, Imax cinema, Dolby Atmos, AI

and social media are all at our fingertips. Our world thrives on technology and produces it at a terrifying rate. However, whilst technology expands around us by the day, one media, produced in the most simple

manner, is flourishing. Podcasts.


In this hyper-consumerist world, where we have an abundance of high-tech choices for relaxation and enjoyment, why is it that we decide to spend our time instead listening to people we don’t know and can’t see, sat around a microphone discussing anything and everything? It’s odd and that’s what I want to explore. Emarketer.com and Statista.com estimate that the UK had between 13.3 and 15.6 million podcast listeners in 2020 and predict that number to jump to between 16.8 and 19.39 million listeners by 2024. Emarketer.com also demonstrates how drastically the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how much we consume digital media. The site explains how the growth in listeners has spiked, saying that there will be 23% more listeners in 2022 than pre-pandemic forecasts suggested.


So, not only was the podcast industry growing, but the pandemic has made it boom. Who would have thought it ten years ago? Podcasts have always existed, but now, with this level of growth, they are being taken seriously as influential media. There are two groups of people obsessed with podcasts: consumers and creators. Everyone wants a piece of the action, but why? Let’s start with the consumers. Why do I, and perhaps you, love to listen to podcasts?


Podcasts are my main consumption of media. I listen to weekly podcasts on sport and the automotive industry and then more intermittently, adventure and well-being when their descriptions or guests interest me. I have narrowed down the reasons for our (well, certainly my) podcast addiction in this article and perhaps these could persuade you to see podcasts in a different light or to listen to them if you don’t already. Self-governance over what I consume and how I consume it is the principal reason. The freedom to choose what you listen to and how you listen to it is key in the success of

the genre. I can be committed weekly, or just dip in and out when I feel the

subjects of discussion, or the guest in question, may be of interest. Freedom

to learn, relax or laugh, it’s up to me.


Podcasts also open up a completely new outlook on people and ideas. We gain a much greater perspective on topics and people when they are relaxed and free of time constraints than in the media trained amphitheatre of television or radio. If you gave me a chance to either listen to an interview with the Premier League’s greatest ever striker, Alan Shearer, on BBC One for 20 minutes or on a football podcast for an hour, I know exactly

which I’d choose. Yes, BBC production quality would probably be higher, yet the podcast he goes on will almost certainly be more open and relaxed.


However, Alan Shearer isn’t perhaps the best example for true podcast guests because one of the great things about podcasts is the idea that lesser-known people can have their story heard. Mark Beaumont, the cycling adventurer, may struggle to get five minutes on national television, even after cycling round the world twice. Podcasts, therefore, are a vital way for the world to learn about great achievements such as Mark’s. Humans find comfort in listening to other people talk. A podcast I listen to weekly called Smith and Sniff is branded an “automotive podcast”, hosted by the former Top Gear script editor, Richard Porter, and former Fifth Gear presenter-cum-Youtuber, Jonny Smith. This podcast usually ends up with what can only be described as two men wittering on, spending minutes at a time making niche 80s and 90s cultural references I don’t really understand. Yet, when it comes out on a Monday, rarely do I find myself getting to Tuesday without listening to it. Why? Well, I find it entertaining, especially the bits I understand, but secondly, I find comfort in these like-minded people talking freely about what they love.


This idea of weekly commitment brings about another reason to our

podaholic nature. We love a sense of community. The platform Patreon

has shown that. The general public are willing to donate money each

month to their favourite creators for something that is inherently free like

podcasts or YouTube content. Crazy? Perhaps not. Humans thrive on

this sentiment of being involved in a community of similar people. Creators have quickly become wise to this, tailoring content to keep listeners engaged, and often, to keep them sending money their way!

Finally, consumers consciously or subconsciously, especially in the

wake of the craziness of this pandemic inflicted world, crave the unostentatious nature and simplicity of podcasts in their chaotic lives. When people finish work or studying, often having spent the entire day using technology, they want to switch off. Perhaps they don’t want to go

on the latest high-tech games console or go and have their heads

blasted off in an Imax cinema, perhaps they just want to switch off. Now, the reason why consumers love podcasts, is mirrored (with a tinge of

commercial interest) in why creators can’t get enough of them either. Even

with so many forms of media in the world, people turn to podcasts to create their content. Whether it’s former footballer (Peter Crouch), practicing

Doctor (Dr Rangan Chatterjee), Sporting Icon (Gary Neville), Top Gear

script editor and writer (Richard Porter), adventurer (Mark Beaumont), or

simply people who are so passionate they want to discuss it publicly,

podcasts are the media of choice.The number one buzzword when we

look into why everyone wants to make a podcast is, again, freedom. Podcasts offer freedom like no other form of traditional media.


The only mainstream media that offers anything close to this level of freedom is YouTube, but even then, success on YouTube often demands an acceptable level of filming and editing quality which is almost removed when podcasting. Freedom is not just limited to production, however. Podcasts are free in almost every way. Subject, approach, atmosphere, they’re all blank canvases without the pressures of a production company or director. Creators, especially those from mainstream media, dream of the opportunity to create without boundaries, but this will never happen in TV or radio to the extent they desire because of the amount of money and investment involved. This freedom is extended to time as well. In podcasts, time is essentially limitless . Interviews are more in depth; stories are more extravagant, and participants are more at ease. It’s the ultimate virtuous

cycle.


Creators love the freedom to create anything and everything, guests love the freedom to tell stories and the public love the fact that what they are listening to is free, more than just monetarily. The importance of podcasts should not be underestimated for the arts too. It not only allows current creators to be more expressive in how they perform, but also, it allows new creators to express themselves easily and cheaply. It even gives listeners the opportunity to learn about new topics and subjects, allowing

them to further their education and grow as people. Creators love that

like-minded people will listen to their views, advice, or interviews on

topics they are passionate about. They can create their own community from scratch.


These communities are not only a great way to connect with other like-minded people, but they also allow you to pursue your passions and make new friends. As well as all these romantic notions of freedom to express and explore different avenues, you can’t escape from the fact that podcasting is a bandwagon. Media outlets and content creators are seeing the opportunities available in this field which heavily contributes to its growth. You know something is fashionable when Sky and the BBC are pushing their content and analysis through it. Not only do they like the fact people listen to them forming communities, but they also thrive on the fact they are cheap to produce and less restrictive than other outlets. The lack of restriction means that anyone can create a podcast, you just need to choose a topic that you are passionate about and grab a microphone - chances are someone out there will find it and love it just as much as you loved creating it!


I genuinely think everyone can love podcasts. There is something for

everyone, presented in a manner for everyone. Whether you are into sport,

fashion or just want to learn about a different culture, there is a podcast on

it out there waiting for you to find it. They have always been a widespread

media, but now they are a giant of arts and culture. I hope the boom we are

experiencing, this return to a simple, pure form of media consumption continues, but not to its own detriment.


Podcasts run the risk of being commercialised to within an inch of their lives and becoming the very thing people are trying to escape.

They are a raw form of media that only require a quiet space, a subject, a microphone and an internet connection. Creators need freedom, to be left to their own devices without media giants negatively entering the market, creating paywalls or expensive advertising opportunities, ruining what we cherish. Podcasts are for everyone to create and consume, and I am desperate for it to stay that way.



Illustration: Sarah Knight

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