By Mark Richards.

We are listening to more and more podcasts as they boom in popularity – and they are an advertiser’s dream. Is the trend set to continue? Will we see more brands launching their own podcasts? And could you make your fortune from a podcast?

If you believe in Chinese signs of the zodiac, 2018 is the Year of the Dog. In reality, it is the Year of the Podcast.

Most people will know what a podcast is: but just in case the 21st Century has not reached you yet, a podcast is a series of digital files which a user can download to listen to. Sometimes podcasts are available through subscription, sometimes they are free (with the creator relying on advertising revenue to make money) and sometimes they are used to promote a business or service. Whatever the model, podcasts are downloaded to someone’s computer or – much more likely – mobile phone – and listened to at a time that best suits the listener.

Like ‘blog’ was a word created by a shortening of ‘web’ and ‘log,’ so ‘podcast’ comes from ‘iPod’ and ‘broadcast.’

Why have podcasts suddenly boomed in popularity?

Audio recordings have clearly been around for a long time but their biggest problem – and the initial problem with podcasts – was distribution. We now have faster mobile and an explosion in connectivity, meaning that people can listen to a podcast on the bus or in their car – and if they are only half way through it they can walk into the house and say, “OK, Google, play me the rest of…” whatever their favourite podcast happens to be.

Throw in better distribution via services like iTunes and Deezer, and you have the recipe for an industry that looks set to continue growing.

Podcasts deliver a targeted audience – and in big numbers. People make a conscious decision to listen to a podcast – as opposed, say, to ‘accidentally’ watching a TV programme – with Audioboom reporting that the podcast No Such Thing as a Fish gets 700,000 listeners per episode, which is apparently more people than listen to Virgin Radio.

Some stats…

These stats on podcast usage and their penetration are taken from both the UK and the USA – as you might expect, market penetration by podcasts is currently higher in the US, but the UK is certainly following in its footsteps.

In the US, 64% of those people surveyed earlier this year had heard of podcasts – that’s more than the number of people who know that Mike Pence is the Vice-President.

44% of Americans have listened to a podcast at one time or another, with 26% listening in the last month, compared to 23% of people in the UK who have listened in the same period.

Podcast listeners tend to be younger – in the UK, two-thirds of listeners are aged 16-34. In the US the age demographic is slightly broader, with a third of people aged 25-54 listening to a podcast in the past month.

Podcast listeners listen to an average of 3.6 hours in a typical week, with 70% of listeners having heard podcast advertising. Of those that have heard the advertising, 75% of people have taken action as a result.

So podcasts are very attractive to advertisers. Advertise in the middle of a TV programme and to some extent you are throwing darts at a very big target and hoping a few of them hit the bullseye. Advertise on a podcast and you know exactly the market you are reaching – and that three-quarters of the people who hear your ad will take action.

So podcasts are big business

Last week it was announced that Stockholm-based company Acast had raised $33m (£26m) in funding, bringing its total funding to $67m (£52m), which has largely come from Scandinavian investors.

The company works with 3,300 shows around the world, including My Dad Wrote a Porno (I have no idea what that could be about) and the Adam Buxton podcast, in which the British comedian ‘talks with interesting people.’

Acast was founded in 2014, so its growth clearly reflects the growth of the podcast industry since that time. It has seen a growth of 137% in the UK in the last 12 months, with podcasts of BBC shows being downloaded 26.5m times.

Is the Podcast Trend set to Continue?

Could brands start their own podcasts?

‘Inevitably’ is the short answer. The problem for brands is that podcast listeners want content that is relevant to them. It is not what the brand wants to say, but what the audience wants to listen to. But in the same way that brands sought to engage audiences through blogs, it seems certain that more and more of them will go down the podcast route. What they will need to do, though, is provide useful information in an entertaining way – something that Audioboom suggests that eBay’s Open for Business succeeds in doing.

Is podcasting a viable business?

Yes, it certainly can be. According to AdvertiseCast, rates for a 30-second ad on a podcast hover around $20-$30 (£16-£24) per thousand listeners. Rates for a 60-second ad is around 1.5 times the 30-second rate. That would suggest a 30-second ad on No Such Thing as a Fish would cost around 700 times say, £20. That works out to £14,000. At which point you may very well be saying…

How do I create a podcast?

First of all, you need a viable idea. ‘Me and my mates talking ‘cos we’re pretty funny down the pub’ is not a viable idea. But clearly, a podcast allows you to offer a very niche product. Like a website, however, specialised your niche there will be enough people worldwide who are sufficiently interested to make it a viable business if you do it well. That will mean investing in some equipment – a good microphone will be essential – and you will also need to spend some money on branding. You might, for example, need to hire a copywriter to write you a sales pitch. But there are plenty of articles saying that you can launch a successful podcast for under $100. What are you waiting for…