The biggest podcast hit today is Serial, a wholly original spinoff of This American Life. The true-crime show which investigates a real-world murder case, delivers 1.5-million downloads per episode, and iTunes (the most important distribution point for podcasting in general), noted today that Serial was the fastest podcast to reach five-million downloads and streams.
It has been a long road for podcasting. For over 10 years, online audio programs have been available for downloading — first in RSS feeds of blogs, and then as streamed listening. As the consumer market moves to streaming audio for music podcasting moves with it, but generally with less publicity.
All the same, mostly-talk platforms like Stitcher, Swell (now owned by Apple), Rivet, Podcast One and Midroll Media have thrived on a growing consumer appetite for podcasts. Recently, Deezer acquired Stitcher to integrate its 35,000 podcasts into the Deezer library.
Tom Webster of Edison Research calls podcast audiences “super listeners” who, according to Edison’s Share of Ear study, spend as much time listening to podcasts as to AM/FM radio, and overall spend more time listening to audio than the average American.
In this podcast revival, many of the hit programs are archived radio shows such as perennial top-10’er This American Life. Many original, online-only shows have gained strong reputations and audience loyalty, e.g. The Adam Carolla Show.
Serial seems to be getting a different level of viral attention. The anecdotal observation is the Serial is creating a level of social buzz not seen before in a podcast, reminiscent of House of Cards buzz. (House of Cards is the binge-watchable original not-TV series produced by Netflix.)
Part of the show’s success derives from its multiple dimensions. In questioning an established murder conviction of Adnad Syed, the family of a convicted criminal is brought into the story both within the program and outside of it in media interviews. The Innocence Project has reportedly taken up the case of Syed, currently imprisoned.
All podcasters should welcome the genre’s rising tide that Serial has caused. At the same time it’s worth noting that the program launched with significant leverage. This American Life funded the first season and promoted the show. Serial is on a quest now to become independent, and is soliciting donations on its website.