Is podcasting the future of radio? Or blogging? (Or both?)

DOWNLOAD ON PODCASTS logo 03 with podcastone 300wThe Download on Podcasts is a weekly feature sponsored by PodcastOne.

2015 is widely proclaimed to be the Year of the Podcast. A lot of media uptake hinges on Serial, last year’s breakout hit program. But momentum has been building in deeper layers of the audio industry. In today’s RAIN News Daily Digest (which you can subscribe to here) three podcast-related stories are featured, plus one other that is partially about podcast monetization. Business deals and executive movements are accelerating.

Podcasting and radio

The connection of podcasting to radio is undeniable. Serial is an NPR-owned program, promoted over the air. Likewise a new one, Invisibilia, whose audience metrics surpass Serial‘s. PodcastOne, sponsor of The Download on Podcasts, was founded by Norm Pattiz, founder and ex-CEO of radio group and syndication company WestwoodOne — so a leading podcast production and distribution network is directly derived from a radio sensibility and business model. Recently a radio giant, CBS, stepped directly into the game with, a podcast listening portal featuring CBS and non-CBS content.

Radio talent is migrating, too. Popular talk-show host Tom Leykis sat out a non-compete when his station format changed, then launched an online-only show. In a recent interview with USA Today Leykis notes that his venture grossed a half-million dollars in 2014, and drew down a small profit — Leykis bragged that he was more profitable than the two largest U.S. radio groups.

With all this, there are reasons for The Verge’s prediction that podcasting is the new home of radio stars. (“The future of radio is here, and it’s awesome.”)

Podcasting and blogging

At the same time, podcasting has foundational roots in blogging, and the do-it-yourself aspect of podcasting, which has attracted amateurs for 10 years, is stronger than ever. Apps like AudioBoom and Spreaker enable quick, short, informal audio posts from anywhere. Sound familiar? Blogging started as quick, short, personalized publishing.

As a technology platform, podcasting is historically entrenched with blogging, having grown out of it. Dave Winer, who created RSS syndication feeds for blogs, also developed the “enclosure” format which defined podcasting in its early day of 2004. Podcasting was invented as an audio enhancement of blogging.

Blogging developed a very long tail of amateur publishing, and podcasting is doing the same. At the same time, in both categories, there has been, and continues to be, a professionalization of what started as grass-roots self-expression. Blogs broke through to professionalism with networks like Weblogs, Inc. (sold to AOL in late 2005) with its flagship Engadget, and Gawker Media (which remained independent). Today, blog-style publishing differentiates new-media ventures like Vox Media from traditional institutions like The New York Times. Another example — The Huffington Post, started as a personal blog, now employs a newsroom of hundreds, and surpassed the NYTimes’ online audience metrics in 2012.

DIY’ers have built businesses from podcasting for years, migrating from amateur to pro, and will continue to. The Dawn and Drew Show, one of the first breakout chat programs, made the husband and wife team podcast celebrities, and the show is still in production after over 1,000 episodes. It is essentially an audio version of hyper-personalized, journal-style blogging.

New definitions of radio

The term radio, once simply defined, has been stretched into new shapes over 15 years. Internet radio. Pandora Radio. (Many industry professionals don’t like that one.) Spreaker Radio. Rivet Radio. (Both of those are podcast platforms.) When broadcast radio shows are placed online for on-demand listening (programs like that comprise several slots in the iTunes top-ten podcast list), are they still radio when time-shifted, downloaded, and streamed?

When we polled readers about whether Pandora was “radio,” a slim majority (52%) said Yes, and a hefty 30% minority said No. An ambivalent 18% chose Yes and No. Definitions are important to some, but exist in the shadow of realities. Podcasting is gaining “share of ear” quickly, even when nearly half of a U.S. population sample didn’t know what “podcasting” was in last year’s Infinite Dial survey by Edison Research.

The answer to podcasting’s future role in the media ecosystem is “all of the above.” It is a now-and-future path for commercial radio (not meaning to suggest that it will replace radio), a business opportunity for audio content entrepreneurs, and a compelling platform for personal webcasting.

Brad Hill