Podcasts Will Finally Take Off Soon… Maybe As Soon As This Week

2015: Year of the Podcast?

2015 was supposed to be the “Year of the Podcast.”  Everyone with a smart phone was supposed to start listening to higher quality pods on slick new apps, in their cars, on their commutes and in their living rooms.  What actually happened in 2015 was more of a transition year for podcasts than an explosion.


In 2015, we saw some breakout podcast stories like Serial, the Bill Simmons Podcast Network and StartUp/Gimlet, and they temporarily piqued the interest of the mass market (both my mom AND my mother-in-law listened to Serial).  For a month or two, it seemed like everyone had an opinion about Adnan Syed, but interest quickly evaporated and the masses turned their attention back to TV, blogs, news, etc. (btw great year for TV – Fargo, Wet Hot American Summer, Narcos, Mr. Robot, Master of None, and many others were all fantastic).

Here’s the issue: for the mass market, Serial created Serial fans, not podcast fans.  Bill Simmons has created Bill Simmons fans, not necessarily podcast fans.

The versatility of podcasts is simultaneously the medium’s biggest selling point and its biggest hurdle for mass adoption

The versatility of podcasts is simultaneously the medium’s biggest selling point and its biggest hurdle for mass adoption.  You can find a podcast about anything.  You can listen to a 5 minute tech update from the WSJ, an hour long decidedly non-tech update on Doing Your Business, a two-hour long rant about sangria from Adam Corolla, or an hour-long deep-dive on food science from Freakonomics.  You can hear a play-by-play about what it’s like to be an intern in NYC, 90-minute interviews with Tim Ferriss and other famous people, or a weekly fan report on all things Taylor Swift (100+ episodes!).

For the masses to adopt podcasting as a medium, they’ll need to be open to discovering new shows for themselves, and dropping shows they don’t like.  If you don’t like the Bill Simmons podcast, don’t delete Overcast and quit podcasting- why not try listening to Jalen & Jacoby or Rich Eisen?  Don’t like the a16z pod?  Instead of quitting the medium altogether, check out Re/Code Decode.

In the same vein, if you liked Serial, why just sit there waiting for Season 2?  Why not look for other types of stories, news and content via podcast?  Because it’s hard work to find a podcast that you love.

Boredom and Constraints

My obsession with podcasts was largely a function of boredom and weird media and time constraints.  I was finishing up my second year as an investment banker in 2009, with my next job all lined up.  I had a few lame duck months, and the staffer didn’t want to put me on any important new long-term projects.  My jam packed 95-hour work weeks gradually transitioned to 40-hour-nothing-to-do-at-my-desk-all-day-but-need-to-maintain-facetime work weeks.  At work, I couldn’t use Facebook or Gchat.  I obviously didn’t have a TV at my desk and streaming services were all blocked (except NBC.com – but “how I watched the entire Friday Night Lights series in my cubicle” is a story for a different time).

Anyway, I was bored and tired of reading the internet all day.  I started listening to PTI and Mike&Mike at my desk every day on ESPN.com’s embedded  player.  I liked the daily habit, and shortly got hooked on This Morning with Gordon Deal for my morning commute (back when it was still part of the WSJ Radio Network).  Gradually I expanded into weekly and every-few-days pods like The B.S. Report and This American Life.  I subscribed to all of these shows on my phone and I became hooked, but it took time.  It took patience.  It took perseverance through some terrible shows.  It took some googling.  But most of all, it took boredom and constraints.

For the same reason that I got hooked in 2009, I think the mass market Serial fans out there are going to re-engage in podcasts very soon…as soon as today actually.

For the same reason that I got hooked in 2009, I think the mass market Serial fans out there are going to re-engage in podcasts very soon…as soon as today actually.

Holidays are filled with boredom and media constraints. And I’m not just talking about boring dinner table conversations and a few days of no-wifi-at-grandma’s.  Think about all the time people are going to spend traveling this week and next week.  I don’t care if you’re flying, driving, taking a bus or riding a train- there’s a TON of dead time in transit.  Sure, long haul flights or trains can be good for watching video or reading, but what about all the other dead time you aren’t filling with TV and books?  Packing, hailing a cab, waiting for a train, standing at a bus stop, waiting in a security line, strolling around your gate with no wifi, sitting in your seat before takeoff, staring out the window, deplaning, waiting for your bags, waiting for your ride, etc, etc.  This is ALL perfect podcast time.


Quick anecdotal support: This week’s guest on Venture Studio was Craig Shapiro of Collaborative Fund.  When we told him we’d published his episode on Tuesday AM (12/22/15), his response was [paraphrased] “Great, thanks, it was fun, I’ll help spread the word, but tough timing on the release date.”  Logical enough, right?  After all, it’s a holiday week…  Not so fast, Craig!  This was our most trafficked first day and first-two-days in the 15 weeks we’ve been doing Venture Studio.  Of course there are plenty of ways to explain these numbers (e.g. Craig was an awesome guest), but I think it’s quite notable that we didn’t see a drop or even a flat week in a traditionally “slow week” for other types of online media.

I predict that all of those part-time podcast fans that were created in 2015 are primed to crank it up and listen to pods this week.  How should they do it?  Here’s an easy step-by-step primer:

  1. Find your app.  Try Stitcher, Overcast and SoundCloud.  Skip the iPhone’s native app.  I recommend Overcast.
  2. Find your daily news fix and subscribe.  How do you currently hear about or read the news?  Newspaper?  A specific blog?  Twitter?  CNN.com?  However you’re used to consuming news, try to find something similar on audio format.  I recommend This Morning with Gordon Deal.  Pro tip: play at 1.2x speed + Smart Speed on Overcast.
  3. Find your weekly news fix.  How do you like to digest bigger picture news items?  John Oliver?  The Atlantic?  The Economist?  I’d recommend starting with The Economist Radio (All Audio) or any of the WSJ podcasts.
  4. Sprinkle in a few weekly “other” business podcasts.  For example, if you’re interested in venture capital, subscribe to Venture Studio, the 20 Minute VC or a16z.  Pick and choose which episodes you want to listen to.
  5. Sports? Pop Culture? General Interest?  What blogs do you like?  Why?  How do you waste your time on the internet?  Maybe you can scratch this itch with Andy Greenwald/Chris Ryan, Tim Ferriss or Freakonomics.  Maybe NPR is your thing.  Whatever it is, subscribe, check it out and be patient.
  6. Wild Card.  Go crazy.  Check out Product Hunt’s podcast section. Remember- you can always remove and unsubscribe from things you don’t like.

And for good measure- here’s a link to this week’s Venture Studio podcast:

Let me know what you’re listening to!  Here’s what I’ll be listening to this week:



View story at Medium.com


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