Jun 10th, 2024, 10:00 AM

The Rise of Podcasts

By Maya Vogt
Image Credit: Maya Vogt
The Subtle Takeover of Auditory Media

Although, for many, podcasts may seem like a pillar of life, the first podcast wasn't actually created until 2003, making podcasting an extremely young industry. That being said, it did not take long to catch on. By 2005, podcast was awarded word of the year by Oxford American Dictionary and the president was releasing his weekly address via podcast. When radio stopped being as prevalent with the dawn of walkmans, iPods, and cell phones, so did the entire concept of auditory news reports and talk shows. That empty space is where podcasts were born. 

Since then, podcasts have largely evolved, they now include video versions, hundreds of genres, and capture 40% of Americans. The industry is still growing, being evaluated at $2.22 billion and expected to grow to $17.59 billion by 2030. Part of this growth can be attributed to the pandemic. Media consumption grew, as a whole, due to social distancing and forced us to spend much more time indoors. This increased autonomy during the work day meant the average American had new found accessibility to listen what they want during the day. Many also speculate podcasts could have been comforting for those experiencing increased loneliness. There was a staggering 20% increase in global podcast listeners gained and an additional 1 million podcasts created in 2020 alone (a 202% increase from the previous year). Now, in the wake of the pandemic, we’re seeing podcasts establish themselves as a formidable part of media, side by side with music and television. 

As podcasts push into the forefront of media many celebrities of varying status have moved to capture a part of this success. For example politicians like Hillary Clinton with "You and Me Both," or Obama's music podcast with Bruce Springsteen, "Renegades: born in the USA." There are podcasts aimed at reviving the fame garnered by certain television shows, made by the cast members of shows like The Office or The Sopranos. Many notable figures like Meghan Markle, Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, Shaquille O'Neil, and Gwenyth Paltrow also have started personal podcasts. It's impressive to see such a variety of A-listers take to being open and active on social media, which raises the question: what's the motivation? Podcasts are a relatively low entry point for a professional medium, not requiring elaborate sets or cameras. Additionally, podcasts are often a more intimate and controlled setting for celebrities to move their own narratives. Finally, a large draw, for many, is the notoriety and money that can be found in podcasting. Many podcasts garner huge followings, as well as being clipped and pushed further on other platforms such as TikTok and Instagram. In Addendum, advertisements prove very effective on podcasts, likely due to their intimate nature, making podcast ad revenue a very viable market.

Aligning with the timeline of the development of the industry, the primary audience for podcasts is relatively young: mostly Gen Z and Millenials. For example, many of the students here at AUP enjoy weekly shows. AUP junior, Cheyenne Martin, reflects on her favorites, "I definitely listen to a podcast like twice a week. Mostly like TMG or the Broski Report, pretty much as background noise through the day." And she’s just one of many: ages 18-29 are the vast majority of podcast listeners



An impressionable audience often leads to predatory practices, and podcasting is no different. There has been a slew of controversial podcasts, mostly surrounding younger audiences garnered through social media. Some of the most famous podcasts are the most controversial, like Andrew Tate’s “Tate Speech,” Alex Cooper’s “Call Her Daddy," and Joe Rogan’s “The Joe Rogan Experience." The Joe Rogan experience has been cited many times as spreading misinformation, for example in the midst of the pandemic he claimed healthy people did not need the vaccine. Additionally, he has been known not to shy away from saying his open opinions, which on occasion include racist or antisemitic undertones. "Call Her Daddy" came under fire as some listeners thought the podcast veered from being a sex positive progressive podcast into an exclusionary misogynistic space. Andrew Tate was arrested in December 2022, at the height of his podcast, for human trafficking and rape charges. This was especially troubling considering most of the podcast’s content was about women, and his listeners were predominantly young men. That grew the conversation of how podcasts are being censored and the reliability of the information they put out. In a recent survey it was discovered that 30% of those who listen to podcasts actually trust them more than traditional news sources, despite over 50% saying they are primarily for entertainment purposes. This gives podcasts significant influence while not necessarily being held too accountable or reputable.


Despite these issues, podcasts will remain at the forefront of the return to long-form content. Considering most content has been getting shortened significantly over the past decade, many predict that the overstimulation of being bombarded with short-form content will drive audiences back to longer media, like the average hour-plus long podcast episode. The convenience of multitasking is a huge plus; being able to listen to a podcast while doing something else adds to its popularity. However the lack of distinction between which podcasts are informational versus entertainment-based will continue to cause misinformation to spread as the market continues to grow.