How podcasts are so popular

Podcasting studio in What Cheer Writers Club in Providence, Rhode Island (JKizzieHumanities)

In 2005, people might frown when Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Inc., said that podcasting was a new generation of radio. First, "podcast" was completely a new term, a combination of the words iPod and broadcast. The term was coined by The Guardian columnist and BBC journalist Ben Hammersley a year before Jobs predicted the future of podcasts. Second, was it true that the sound format could beat the audiovisual format that had already become king?

However, as many people know, Jobs, like a great person who transcended the era, had a vision that far jumped forward. At that time, Apple Inc. offered around three thousand free podcasts on iTunes 4.9, and people still guessed what this blog's audio format would be like.

Count forward two decades later. Podcasts become one of the most popular contents in the digital media universe. According to Edison Research and Triton Digital, there are currently more than 800 thousand active podcasts and 54 million episodes worldwide.

The booming popularity of podcasts for at least the past five years has led people to ask: What is so special about this format? What's the difference with, say, listening to the radio?

From the creator's point of view, Hammersley briefly described it in the column that gave birth to the term podcast. "With no publisher to appease, no editor to report to, and an abundance of cheap tools."

Hammersley is right. Compared to television or radio content, the human resources needed for podcasts are far less. Then in terms of cost, podcasts can be made only with recording equipment and the internet. In infrastructure, now podcasts can be heard almost everywhere, not limited to iTunes, making their reach even easier and wider.

From the listener's side, Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, a digital media research organization based in New York, has the answer. According to her, podcasts have advantages in terms of style: more relaxed, casual, and not complicated. This style is clearly very familiar with the listener niche that is then formed: young people.

"What podcasting has is a youth audience that feels very passionately about the people that they listen to and that they engage with," Bell told the BBC.

Meanwhile, according to Olly Mann, one of the emcees on the Answer me This, the advantage of podcasts is intimacy. Listeners really choose themes and topics in the podcast, and people like it.

Another reason is, podcasts have a wide variety of themes. From general ones, such as economics, business, sports, to those whose niche is very specific and targets specific listeners, such as horror stories, crime series, even old Japanese games.