The COVID-19 lockdowns have changed much of the world and most of us are trying to cope, economically, emotionally and spiritually. But there have been a few positive side effects: One of them is that more people are listening to podcasts on a global scale than ever before and this is a good thing.
In 2019, The New York Times found podcast listening had jumped 10 percent by young people, a huge spike. Audio streaming platforms around the globe have turned to airing podcasts and these have increased in listenership since lockdown began.
Lockdown creates spike in podcasts
Joe Rogan, raconteur, impresario—and now, multi-millionaire, knows a thing or two about podcasts. He recently took his wildly popular podcast, the "Joe Rogan Experience," exclusively to Spotify Technology S.A. in a licensing deal worth over $100 million.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Rogan and his extraordinary success via an outlet that just keeps booming: "The deal comes after a year in which Spotify, the largest music-streaming service by subscriptions, has made heavy investments in podcasting as it recasts itself as more than just a music service. The company sees exclusive and original podcasts as a way to differentiate itself from other music services. It became the single biggest podcasting platform earlier this year, according to Midia Research."
Joe Rogan may be king of podcasts but there's an entire kingdom of podcasts that have exploded—with audiences listening in to match—due to the unique circumstances the COVID-19 lockdown created, although podcasts have been growing for years. US ad revenue from podcasts rose over 42 percent last year, to almost $700 million, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau. Podcasts aren't just booming in the US either.
In the UK, at the Mediatel Future of Audio digital conference, representatives from multiple media outlets said there were record listeners when it came to podcasts since the UK locked down. The variety of podcasts in the UK have exploded too.
A couple months ago Spotify introduced new podcast playlists, including Crime Scene and Brain Snacks, localized for each market, almost as a way to cater to an entire world population stuck in quarantine. Spotify, which started in Sweden in 2006, "put together a covid-19 hub or a collection of podcasts from platforms such as CNN, BBC World, ABC News" and others. In May, Spotify announced 12 new non-fiction podcasts.
Why people prefer podcasts
Why do so many listen to podcasts in the first place and why did lockdown create such a significant spike? Podcasts are public platforms for personal or professional topics and for people who like to have a more private experience. "Podcast listening creates a little bubble of privacy as it is a very personal experience," said Kavita Rajwade, co-founder, IVM Podcasts, a platform that has seen a 125 percent increase in consumption of its content. "The initial excitement of being able to consume large amounts of video has led to some medium fatigue considering we weren’t preparing for this long a time in isolation," she said.
Ramesh Menon, chief business officer of HT Media Ltd—its HT Smartcast platform offers podcasts and had 5 million listeners in April—said in an article, "Podcasts are non-intrusive in the sense that they give people good company while they do other things." Their most popular stories? Religious, mythological and entertainment stories.
Podcasts do have a way of simultaneously encapsulating the most narrow of interests while being available, for free, to literally anyone with a smartphone. Like a library full of books, there's a podcast for every interest: From foodies to true crime to mysteries to sports, podcasts provide levity, a deep learning experience, and gobs of information about basically any topic of one's choosing.
For example, one of the most popular podcasts last year was one about true-crime called "My Favorite Murder." The creators "signed a two-year deal worth at least $10 million with E.W. Scripps Co.'s Stitcher unit." The podcast's hosts close each episode with "stay sexy and don't get murdered" which is underrated and hilarious.
Many, many hosts develop such "inside jokes" with their fans and it's one of the endearing, appealing aspects of this medium. If you like true crime, try "Already Gone," a podcast about cold cases in Michigan you probably haven't heard about much less solved, and if you’ve always wondered how people clean up super nasty crime scenes, try "The Cleaning of John Doe," which follows the journey of professional crime scene cleaner Vanessa Phearson.
Some people listen to the same podcast, like the one above, for the riveting topic. Others, like many who love the Joe Rogan Experience, seem as drawn to the host as they do the many topics—neuroscience, politics, comedy, and health. With podcasts, you can get a mix of both. This does contribute to a podcasts' popularity.
What you should listen to
Podcasting exploded because availability, flexibility, and durability. So if you're new to podcasts or you want to expand your repertoire, what should you listen to? Here's a sampling culled from a number of "best of" lists circulating online, by subject and is not at all intended to be comprehensive.
"Eat Sleep Work Repeat" is a podcast that seems perfect for the near-end of COVID-19 when that’s all we all just got done doing. It's got tips and hacks to do it better though, just in case you wanna feel bad about squandering your quarantine.
"Business Wars" tries to go behind the scenes of some of your favorite brands—think the infamous competition between Pepsi and Coca Cola back in the day—and shows the different ways businesses compete for, well, business.
"How to Fail" reminds me of the chick flick How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days but for business. If you fail regularly at business and fail in the right ways, you might succeed. For would-be business owners, this podcast is the real life, make lemons into lemonade how-to guide. If you don’t learn something or you're not a business owner, at least you'll be inspired that your failures aren't (usually) wasted.
"What to Watch on Netflix" I like this podcast because this is something I literally google once I get through my queue and am looking for ideas. Because Netflix is constantly adding new stuff, this podcast does too. If you're lazy, like me, this does the work for you.
"Pop Culture Happy Hour" I am not a diehard NPR fan personally but I know a lot of folks just love their kinda freewheeling, almost folksy style. However, instead of news, this is movies, television, books, and music. It's bubbly and happy, just like quarantine wasn't.
"Keep It" If Entertainment Weekly, US, and People had a threesome and then an alien baby that could magically be a podcast instead of also another print magazine, this is what you'd get.
"Blank Check" This is a recommendation with my esteemed Federalist publisher in mind, Ben Domenech, who absolutely loves film. This podcast reviews a lot of Indie films and the hosts are hilarious.
"Freakanomics" I loved the 2005 book because it showed how economics are at play in every aspect of life. This podcast discusses the same kind of thing, but obviously, with a current—somewhat leftist—twist. Don't say I didn't warn you and if you do listen, remember, economics isn't lefty—people are.
"You Are Not so Smart" For the armchair psychologist in all of us. This podcast tackles pride, prejudice, bias, and more through interviews with various experts on subjects in the human experience. You think you know something? Think again.
"Thinking Like a Lawyer" This podcast features two folks from "Above the Law" and in each episode, they take a normal topic and view it through the eyes of legal beagles. If you're a wanna-be legal nerd like me, this is a good podcast for you.
"Legal Wars" This podcast profiles some of the world's most infamous court cases but this time, you get to hear the facts and be the jury. From Hulk Hogan's courtroom wrestling match with Gawker, the battle for free speech on the internet and the Rodney King trial, you'll look at law differently after you listen to this.
"Beyond the Grid" features the UK's take on sports, if you want to know what the pros are doing across the pond.
"Pardon My Take" The hilarious folks at "Barstool Sports" combine comedy and sports and somehow pull it off.
"Sports Wars" If you like the way Democrats and Republicans duke it out for power, you'll like this podcast about the wages of war in sports. From Wondery, this explores the "real story" behind epic fights between sports teams, fans, athletes and more.
"Pod Save America" This podcast features former Obama administration writers and staffers and features a decidedly progressive bend towards news and politics. It's popular for a reason. I didn't say it was a good one.
"Potstirrer" If you're reading this, you don’t mind a publication that stirs the pot. "Potstirrer" is a podcast that does just that with history, politics and religion, three of my favorite subjects to get worked up about. The witch's cauldron-as-logo adds to the controversial delight. *rubs hands*
"The Rubin Report" Dave Rubin, a classical liberal, perfected the podcast well before most conservatives did. He's a powerful pundit with a disdain for social justice warriors but at the same time comes across as the affable uncle to sit next to at Thanksgiving.
"The Splendid Table" This podcast is hosted by award-winning food writer Francis Lam and features commentary on culinary, culture and lifestyle issues.
"The Sporkful" The title alone made me laugh and think of KFC, hardly a foodie’s paradise but why not? Host Dan Pashman is as passionate about food facts as we are about liberty. "It's not for foodies, it's for eaters," they say. Who among us is not an eater?
"Proof" If you like "America’s Test Kitchen" you’ll like this show. Hosted by Bridget Lancaster, this podcast tries to figure out why we love the foods we love.
"Catastrophe!" If quarantine didn’t have you somber enough, or if you just like the quirky, dark side of nature, queue this podcast up. Volcanologist Jesse Phoenix explores stuff I've always found morbidly fascinating: Tsunamis that wipe out whole families, volcanoes that freeze entire towns in time. You know, the stuff that either really turns atheists into believers or makes people reject faith altogether. No big deal.
"The Constant" You know how George Washington died because doctors used to think bloodletting was a life saving procedure? This whole podcast is full of old, wacky, medicinal tricks that killed people, and other things history was wrong about.
"Genetics Unzipped" This is more than a basic science lesson about XY chromosomes or DNA. In it, podcast host and actual scientist Dr. Kat Arney looks at bioethics and controversial questions surrounding genetics.
If you're new to podcasts or trying to expand your repertoire, congrats, you're participating in a growing medium that will hopefully continue to inform humanity. Next time you're bored, on a walk, or a lengthy commute, try one of these if only to forget you just spent four months in an unnecessary quarantine.