Opinion: Where is podcasting heading and is it a threat to radio?

As podcast listening continues to grow and those who listen to them are listening longer, what does the future hold for this relatively new platform.

When the motor car came along, the horse and cart virtually disappeared, but television didn’t cause the demise of radio. Because podcasting and radio are more closely linked, could the original form of broadcasting be under threat from the new kid in town?

We put this question to two leading figures from the industry, Sebastian Sauerborn and Matthew Sherwood, asking them to give their views on how they see the future of podcasting and the value it gives.

Sebastian Sauerborn was born in Germany, moved to London in 2003 to set up an advisory firm in the City. He then bought a ranch near Austin, Texas and fell in love with America. Sebastian has extensive media experience, he’s a frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts, and co-hosts his own business podcast about expanding to the USA. “Move Your Business to the United States” is in the Top 10 of the iTunes business podcast charts in various countries with hundreds of thousands of listeners. He is also executive producer at Alamo Pictures, a London-based production company behind the podcast Factual America, he says:

“Podcasts are a growing phenomenon. They’re very much on trend and I think this will continue for the long term, as they offer people the chance to explore specific areas of interest and find their niche.

While radio tackles various subjects, you can’t listen in depth to the information you’re interested in, which is one of the main benefits people recognise in podcasts.

If we are to compare local consumer behaviour when it comes to podcasts with the one existing in the US, we’ll notice that in the UK there’s still room for expansion. 45% of the American population is listening to podcasts on a regular basis, whereas in the UK we have roughly 15% less. One of the reasons for this discrepancy is the US’ long history of self-edification by listening to audio, especially during a long commute to work.

Compared to radio or television, podcasts are also more affordable to produce and as a consequence they’re popular among brands, as it’s an excellent way to get across your expertise in a subject matter without investing heavily. They also help company spokespeople stand out as thought leaders by other means than advertising or marketing.

People tend to switch off when interacting with paid-for content, but when they hear a story they’re interested in, they listen closely. The storytelling aspect provides a huge opportunity which brands can capitalise on. It can also help businesses grow their network, as it’s a good way to meet key industry people and have an honest conversation with them, during which they tend to let their guard down.

However, I don’t see this as being a podcast vs. radio or TV scenario; it’s more a matter of co-existing. Nothing lasts forever, as we’ve seen in the case of certain social media platforms, however the podcast concentration will remain as long as there are interesting topics to discuss about. It’s also likely that podcasts will merge, as companies are currently doing.

With the increasing popularity of podcasts might also come a caveat to be aware of: they can easily turn into infomercials, which won’t drive people back to listen to the next episode. The content needs to have stand-alone value and can be related to a business, but not be entirely about that business.

We can say with certainty that having a quality podcast can reflect well on a brand. We’ve seen it time and time again with the podcasts we produce. They have been very beneficial in terms of image and reputation. At Alamo Pictures, our production company set up a year ago, we’ve actually done more podcasts than films because of the context, and the brand is primarily defined through this.”

Texan born Matthew Sherwood is a former lead North America editor for The Economist’s B2B publishing arm, he has written for many publications, interviewed world leaders, and chaired roundtables and conferences.  He has appeared on news media channels across the globe and is now development executive at Alamo Pictures and host of the Factual America podcast, he says:

“It is considered so easy to set up a podcast nowadays, that we can expect almost everyone in the world to have one eventually, he jokes. While we’ll always have plenty of podcasts to choose from, it isn’t likely for this industry to have a middle ground. You’re either at the top, in terms of having the most popular or the best produced podcast, or you won’t have much audience, but you’ll stick at it because it’s done out of pure passion and interest.

The fact that podcasts aren’t scripted adds an entertainment value to them because they’re authentic. People just want to hear a good conversation about something they’re interested in and if you can weave in a story element, you’ve found a winning formula because it’s in our DNA to appreciate a good narrative.

This form of journalism is also more accessible than the other options out there. Most people don’t necessarily feel they have the time required to read many outlets while searching for the tailored information they require. In that sense, users control the content of podcasts, as they can choose based on their preferences. We focus purely on American documentaries and with the help of our guests we analyse the films from a European perspective, and this is what sets us apart.

The traditional media landscape is likely to explore the podcast options as well, so I don’t think we can talk about competition, as radio won’t be threatened by this if they’re flexible enough to adapt.”

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