A tumultuous year threatened to derail one of the fastest-growing mediums out there as people were forced to stay indoors due to the pandemic. But podcasts proved to be resilient, growing steadily over the course of 2020 and reaching new heights in listenership, production and creativity.
Let’s take a look back at some of the top stories in podcasting this year.
Podcasts take a dip during the lockdown — but regain momentum months in
In March, much of the country was required to stay indoors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and podcasts took a hit as workers found themselves without a commute and gym rats without a place to catch up on their favorite shows. Popular genres such as true crime saw as much as a 30 percent dip.
However, this downturn proved to be short-lived. The top 10 U.S. podcast publishers saw download growth of about 6.5% in June and 3.6% in July. By December 2020, podcasts downloads were up 15% year-over-year, according to data from Podtrac.
Live reads continued to drive more effective ads
In light of automation technology, it would make sense if podcast ads started to sound more like radio or TV ads. But research has shown that host-read ads continue to be more effective — they drove 71 percent higher recall, 60 percent greater intent to seek information about the advertised product, 50 percent more purchase intent and 50 percent higher recommendation intent than non-host read ads. Agencies such as Veritone One that specialize in podcast advertising continue to recommend putting more money into host-read ads to maximize campaign effectiveness.
Podcasting reaches underserved audiences
In November, audio giant iHeartMedia announced a partnership with European podcast platform Podimo to translate the popular “Forgotten: Women of Juarez” podcast into Spanish. Following its success with the joint venture The Black Effect Podcast Network, iHeart detailed new efforts to launch podcasts for the Latinx community.
Spotify makes big moves
In 2020, audio streaming leader Spotify made podcasts a high priority. First, in February, was its acquisition of The Ringer, a popular sports and entertainment outlet with more than 30 podcasts. Then, in May, was its $100 million exclusive multiyear deal with Joe Rogan, whose show “The Joe Rogan Experience” ended up as the No. 1 podcast of the year.
Just last month, in November, Spotify bought advertising and publishing platform Megaphone, making Spotify an attractive place for podcasters to make their home due to Megaphone’s monetization capabilities. Combined, the moves made for a smart strategy against Apple for podcast dominance, as commentators have noted.
Apple loses market share but remains competitive
Never a company to rest on its laurels, Apple made some moves of its own. In November, Apple unveiled a long-sought web embed feature that would help podcasters promote their shows by allowing listeners to sample shows before downloading them. And, in April, Apple reached the important landmark of having 1 million podcasts available to download on its platform. However, Apple lost some market share to other players in 2020 (20 percent of adult podcast listeners used Apple in 2020, down from 21 percent in 2019 and less than the 25 percent who used Spotify).
Amazon enters the fray
We could never forget about Amazon, nor could Amazon ignore something as lucrative as podcasting. In September, Amazon Music announced it would now feature podcast content, launching with a mix of existing and originally programming. In December, it was revealed that the mammoth ecommerce company was in talks to buy Wondery, the largest independent podcaster on the market, for $300 million. Besides boosting Amazon’s presence in the podcast space, moves such as these further drive up the profile of podcast companies like Wondery looking to make the most from selling to companies like Amazon, Apple and Spotify.
Google creates podcast self-publishing tools, signs audio deals
Google also wanted to get in on the podcasting game in 2020 by inking deals with Spotify, Pandora and iHeartMedia to help advertisers buy ads on those platforms through Google. It also created a tool called Audio Mixer to allow publishers to create audio ads for multiple platforms. This would allow streaming services to manage their ad inventory with programmatic and guaranteed deals.
Netflix further embraces audio
Netflix made some slightly under-the-radar moves that could set it up to be a major competitor in the podcast industry, given their dominance in video streaming. After debuting podcasts late last year, Netflix unveiled an audio-only option that essentially turns popular shows such as “Stranger Things” into podcasts. Right now, it’s only on the streaming service’s Android app, but don’t be too surprised if Netflix continues to make it easier for fans to binge or re-experience their favorite shows while working or on-the-go.
SiriusXM buys Stitcher
Stitcher’s one-stop platform for creating, distributing and monetizing podcasts was a strategic acquisition for SiriusXM. Beyond the mobile listening app, this deal brings thousands of podcasts to SiriusXM, including “Freakonomics Radio,” “SuperSoul Sunday” from The Oprah Winfrey Network, “Office Ladies,” “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend,” “LeVar Burton Reads” and “WTF with Marc Maron.” This acquisition adds another notch in the pole to SiriusXM’s audio expansion following its 2018 acquisition of Pandora and more recent acquisition of podcast management and analytics platform Simplecast.
Podcast revenue is projected to top $1 billion
No longer a niche medium, global podcast revenue was projected to top $1 billion for the first time in 2020, despite the global pandemic’s negative impact on advertising in general.
More podcasts are being created
Speaking of the pandemic, it may have contributed to more people venturing into podcasts as they were stuck at home in 2020. The number of total podcasts continued to grow at a steady rate, feeding listeners new content in the absence of the same amount of sports, TV and film as in prior years.
Children’s content gains popularity
Previously, when you thought of podcasts, you might have thought of primarily adults listening to esoteric subject matter such as deep dives into science or true crime stories. But parents tired of watching “Baby Shark” for the millionth time on YouTube turned to family podcasts as families quarantined together and parents looked for suitable content to entertain and educate their children.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle launch a podcast company
Yes, the Obamas getting into podcasting was a big deal. But the ex-royals made an even bigger splash by signing a deal with Spotify to produce shows that “spotlight powerful and diverse voices and perspectives.” This was really the moment when podcasts went as mainstream as it gets.