Everyone I talk to under 30 has a list of fresh podcast recommendations (followed by a list of things I say that make me sound old).
There was a moment last year when industry headlines over-shadowed actual sentiments from listeners. What if we never actually lost our cool factor?
Podcasts are now mainstream. Just a few years ago people working in podcasting used to have to explain their job in painstaking detail or lie about what they did to avoid being asked how they make a living. But today, dinner talk with friends now revolves podcasts you “need to listen to” (right up there with TikToks trends, creators and musicians on YouTube).
This shift was caused by the expanding profile of podcast listeners over the last five years. The cool kids are here. Popular creators like Emma Chamberlain, media brands like HBO, Netflix, CBS, and a myriad of YouTube creators have all invested in their podcast presence.
With YouTube’s increased focus on podcasts, regular YouTube consumers are gradually becoming podcast consumers as well. And this potential market is huge. To get a sense of the scale of attention on YouTube, revenue for the platform topped Snap, NYT, Pinterest, Paramount, Spotify, and X, combined.
There’s an expectation for every brand, show and creator to now have a podcast. Just like YouTubers are expected to have an Instagram presence and Instagrammers are expected to have a TikTok presence, creators are seeing it as table stakes for reaching audiences across multiple touchpoints. Creators have realized the power of the attention and intimacy of podcasts– and podcasts are now becoming the curator of cool.
The Evolution of The Audience
Over the past half-decade, the profile of podcast listeners has undergone a significant transformation. Initially dominated by public radio fans, tech-bros, and hobbyists, podcasts now enjoy a much broader and diverse listener base. Likely a variety of factors are at play here– lower barriers of entry to produce a podcast, huge investments from traditional media brands and celebrities, and a real push from YouTube have brought podcasts to the attention of new audiences. These economic and technical forces have led to a greater variety of content that caters to a wider range of demographics. From Gen Z to millennials (catch up boomers!), podcasts now reach the majority of Americans every week, breaking down the barriers of age, gender, and cultural backgrounds– podcasts are part of their daily rituals.
The Creator Culture
How cool is Emma Chamberlain?? She’s collaborated with Levi’s, Vogue and Snapchat, started her own coffee brand that’s now in Whole Foods, hosted the Met Gala (producing arguably the most viral moment with Jack Harlow), a constant trend setter, and one of Time’s 25 most influential people: “Chamberlain pioneered an approach to vlogging that shook up YouTube's unofficial style guide.” Chamberlain knew the intimate power of podcasts since the launch of her show in 2019, recognizing how many people get to know her through the podcast first.
Creators like her have played a crucial role in this transformation. With her podcast "Anything Goes," Chamberlain has brought a fresh, relatable perspective, attracting a new, younger audience into podcasting. Rather than focusing on one medium, Chamberlain was early in recognizing the importance of maintaining a consistent brand across multiple mediums. And not only is she influencing young people to wear teddy bear coats or drink her Chamberlain-branded coffee– she’s influencing them to listen to podcasts, too. Her audience, seeking a deeper connection with their favourite creator, follow her to “Anything Goes,” discovering the appeal of podcasts.
Chamberlain is certainly not the only creator recognizing the power of podcasts– Alix Earle, Jess Hilarious, Nick Viall, GirlWithNoJob are all creators with large audiences across other platforms who have invested majorly in furthering their reach through podcasts. This shift has been instrumental in expanding the appeal of podcasts beyond their traditional listener base. It’s also changing the general perception of what a “podcast” is, creating new expectations from listeners.
Delivering Content That Audiences Want
With new audiences entering the medium, now is the time for podcast producers to rise to the occasion and deliver the content these audiences want to encourage them to stay. While there will always be an audience for deep storytelling and rich narratives, Gen Z audiences are also seeking vulnerable conversations that feel less polished, less slick and more authentic. They’re seeking the grittiness they might get from TikTok, hosts that are in-touch and on top of trends, and quick-witted (not cringey) humor. Creators across other platforms are recognizing their power to speak to these audiences in an authentic way. Now the rest of us (and brands) need to get on board as well. Gen Z’s purchasing power is only growing. Brands need to follow the lead of content creators and add podcasts to their content stack to reach consumers in an authentic way.
The YouTube Effect
YouTube's emphasis and influence on podcasts has changed who we are and who cares about us. By integrating podcasts into its platform, YouTube has made this medium accessible to its vast, diverse user base. YouTube has long been “mainstream,” and the integration of podcasts in the platform has made podcasts “mainstream” too– broadening the audience and changing traditional podcast consumption habits.
As the podcast industry continues to grow and evolve, it's clear that it has moved beyond a niche medium to become a diverse and dynamic form of entertainment, engaging listeners in ways that few other mediums can. With this new audience, we as an industry will need to broaden the way we think about the content we produce. There is no single profile for a “podcast listener,” and we’ll need to experiment and develop new content that authentically appeals to new audiences– whoever that may be.
Where there’s attention, there’s opportunity, and for brands looking to weave themselves into the cultural fabric of their target customer there may be no other place than podcasts to do just that.