Podcasts may be a relatively recent communication media, but it is undeniable that it is currently undergoing a moment of increasing popularity. According to Chartable, in 2018 alone, 210,000 podcasts released their first episode in Apple Podcasts, averaging at 575 new podcasts a day. Two exclusive interviews with professionals in the field, in both Brazil and Portugal, offer a glimpse of the podcasting industry.
Origins of podcasting
Podcast as we know it was invented in 2004 as a way of downloading internet radio files in audio format to mp3 players, such as iPods – the influence of the brand Apple was marked in the name. But it was really in 2014 and the year following that podcasts became mainstream. Many credit the change in the ways this medium was perceived to the investigative work presented week-by-week in Serial.
In this award-winning podcast, then relatively unknown reporter Sarah Koenig explored the murder case of high-school senior Hae Min Lee and the subsequent trial and sentencing of her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed. The podcast has captivated listeners throughout the world and Syed’s case became the topic of much debate. In March 2018, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ordered a new trial, although, his conviction was reinstated a year later.
Perhaps Serial was the spark podcasting needed to ignite its boom in popularity. Podcasts are now produced and listened to across the globe, not being limited to Europe and North America. According to the Digital News Report by the Reuter’s Institute, in 2018 people from South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Australia, and the US have some of the highest percentages of podcast listeners.
Both amateurs, recording from their garages, and big corporations recording from high-tech studios, use this medium as a way of communicating, exploring creative outlets and connecting to a wide audience.
The Portuguese boom
Through big audio platforms such as Spotify and Itunes, or those specialized only in podcast feeds, as Radio Public and Google Podcasts, it is possible to find programs on any topic and in any format.
This flexibility and the wide number of options are exactly some of the reasons that explain the increase in popularity, according to Ruben Alexandre Martins, journalist in charge of the podcast division of the Portuguese news outlet Público. Ruben is writing his doctoral thesis on podcasts in Portugal / University Institute of Lisbon (ISCTE-IUL). He points out that one of the biggest advantages podcasts present is the diversity of content. “We can create a sort of personalized radio, our own personal playlists based on our interests”, he adds.
As podcasts grow in popularity, they also become more clearly separated from radio, “taking a life of its own”. Radio stations are bound to a certain format regarding time, language and themes. Furthermore, the voices on the radio are relatively few. On the other hand, anyone can create and publish their podcasts online. The voices are multiple, diverse and can appeal to a very wide range of listeners. Even in news-related podcasts, Ruben points out that “we are able to have a more intimate contact with our listeners […] speaking directly to them and creating a sort of engagement the radio is not able to have, at times”.
Those are some of the reasons that might explain the recent rise in Podcasts popularity in Portugal. According to the numbers gathered in Ruben’s research, 80% of the podcasts active today were created in the past 48 months alone. Although it took some years for the boom in this media format, he explains that the creation of new programs with new topic appealing to a diversified public tend to bring even more listeners, as there is still a large margin for growth in the country.
On the other side of the Atlantic
In Brazil, podcasts began gaining some traction, although slowly and in much smaller numbers, in 2008. That was the year of the first PodPesquisa, a survey aiming to understand the profile of the podcast listener in the country.
Luciano Pires, president of the Brazilian Podcast Association (ABP, in Portuguese), explains that “the freedom to choose what, when and how much to listen to” are reasons behind the podcast boom. Also, podcasts add value to mechanic activities such as walking, washing dishes and commuting.
After all, multitasking seems to be an important factor in podcast listening behavior. The Brazilian survey indicates that the majority of podcast listeners spend 1 to 4 hours every day listening to their favorite shows, but normally it is paired with other daily activities. 34% of the listeners claim to pay moderate attention to what is being listened to, and only 4% don’t perform any other activity while listening to podcasts.
One of the particularities in the Brazilian audience is that women are still a minority of listeners and producers. “Podcasts were born in an IT environment, which is predominantly male. Female participation has been growing slowly, and it’s far from the 50% rates in the US. Here (in Brazil) it is still roughly 15% female producers, but the number of women producing podcasts is growing and is only a matter of time until we get to a balance”, says Luciano.
Although Portugal does not see the same drastic difference in terms of listeners, regarding gender, Ruben points out that 75% of podcast producers are men.
Regardless of the side of the Atlantic, the future looks bright for the podcasting industry. Luciano believes that the tendency is of irreversible growth: “With the growth of the smartphone market, the ideal platform for podcasts, more people will access them. It is estimated that, in every 10 smartphone users, at most 2 know or consume podcasts. The potential is gigantic”.
In Portugal, Ruben says that brands still don’t realize the potential of the medium. While in other countries such as Brazil, the United States, and the UK, there are sponsors and publicity financing the industry, in Portugal there is still an ample margin for growth.
From comedy to hard-news, talking about minorities’ daily struggles or revolutions in history, there is a podcast out there for every person. And if not, it has never been easier to create your own – and disseminate your message across all the four corners of the world.