Let 550,000 flowers bloom. The stunning variety of podcasting is also its charm.

I was kind of giddy last weekend after that SNL podcast skit. The one that made fun of our emerging industry. In the send up, a bearded and bespectacled Liev Shreiber (who played Michael Barbaro) said that podcasts “are like delicious little whispered documentaries.”

Wow, SNL is making fun of us! We’re on the map. One more step further away from being a narrow niche medium that people have heard about, but don’t listen to.

Great!

“Our time has come,” I happily tweeted out, without much more critical thought than @realDonaldTrump gives to his early morning Twitter blasts.

But then came Tuesday, and my friend and wise counsel, Steve Goldstein, firmly brought me down to earth.

Thud.

“While it was fun to watch, it was also disconcerting and may help explain the slow growth of podcasting,” wrote Steve in his blog about the SNL skit. “With all of the buzz and noise, it feels as though podcasting should be exploding more like Smart Speakers and yet the growth is relatively slow.”

And then the “ouch” line…

“In many ways, the SNL bit reinforces what lots of people already think about podcasts — an elite niche with self-important story tellers telling oddly obscure stories.”

Is this why three-quarters of Americans are not regular podcast listeners?

Are we over-populated with earnest public radio types?

Perhaps we are. But it’s worth noting that during many years of commercial radio stagnation, loyal, well-educated, and often affluent public radio audiences have steadily grown — just like the committed audience for podcasts. And today, NPR and Radiotopia are champions for our business, repeatedly sponsoring panels and showing up at marketing, advertising and podcast conferences.

Instead of merely speaking to their own narrow commercial interests, Kerri Hoffman, Jarl Mohn and other public radio executives spread the message about the general joys and benefits of podcast listening. We appreciate their support.

And it’s worth remembering that podcasts are about much more than “buzz and noise”. 50 million people are listening in the U.S., or double the estimated number five years ago. 50 billion downloads have been made on Apple Podcasts.

In 2018 alone, we’ve seen the launch of Google Podcasts, and after years of resisting podcasting, online audio rivals Spotify and Pandora are jumping on board.

Lost in the media coverage of podcasts are many independents, who are quietly connecting with a vast range of niche audiences. From “The Lonely Palette”, the delightful show that “returns art history to the masses, one painting at a time”, and Hagerty Sidedrafts, a show about classic cars and the people who made and collect them, to New Books Network, a consortium of more than 80 serious author-interview podcast channels, podcasters are finding passionate, switched-on listeners.

At last estimate there were 550,000 podcasts in production. Hooray for that. The flowering of podcasts is a joy to behold. In the language of gardening, we are hardy perennials, here to stay.

Our ground cover continues to deepen and grow.

Richard Davies is a journalist, podcast consultant, media coach and co-host of the weekly news solutions podcast, “How Do We Fix It?”

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Marketers are listening. At last, podcasting is a thing at Advertising Week.

Finally it’s happening. Advertisers and marketers are waking up to the great potential of podcasting.

At this week’s Advertising Week conference in New York, there’s interest, even excitement, about audio– both music and speech. Unlike previous years, when our industry was virtually ignored at this annual event, an entire morning of panel sessions has been devoted to podcasts and audio.

“We view voice as the natural next step in technology’s future,” said Julia Chen Davidson, Head of Google’s Partner Marketing this week, at the well-attended Future of Audio Summit. “It’s still very early in the adoption curve.”

“Voice is the new touch,” enthused Pandora’s VP of Ad Innovation Strategy, Claire Fanning.

Podcasting is along for ride, with Anna Bager of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) forecasting 110% growth in annual U.S. podcast advertising revenue until 2020. Many podcast listeners like the advertising they hear “and see it as a service,” she told the audience of marketing, brand and ad professionals.

“These strong numbers speak to advertisers’ increasing recognition that podcasts provide a powerful platform for reaching and engaging audiences,” said Bager in a news release. They are “tapping into the medium’s highly engaged audience.”

Interest in podcasting is enhanced by three recent broader consumer/tech trends:

– Excitement about new research and development of Artificial Intelligence and voice-activated search.

– The explosive growth in sales and adoption of smart speakers.

– Innovation and expansion of voice-assisted technology (VAT) in cars and trucks.

Dramatic changes in automotive center stacks and consoles “is going to radically change media consumption,” Tom Webster, Senior Vice President of Edison Research told a breakout session at Advertising Week. “VAT will cause an incredible spike in podcast listening.”

And yet there are obstacles, despite steady gains in overall Podcast listening.

At Podcast Movement last July, Webster, Amplifi Media’s Steve Goldstein and others righty voiced concern about problems with discovery. While most Americans are aware of podcasting, many find it difficult to find shows, or even understand how to download or subscribe to podcasts.

One promising initiative discussed at Advertising Week is Pandora’s soon-to-be-launched Podcast Genome Project, designed our help listeners find shows based on what’s being discussed. Panelist Lizzie Widhelm of Pandora told a session that its Genome will be able to recommend other podcasts based on the content of an episode.

“There will soon be a time when our podcasts will find us, instead of the other way around,” says the online music and speech radio company’s Chief Product Officer, Chris Phillips. “If we know you care about a particular topic, we can find the podcast (the needle in a haystack), and put it in front of you.”

This project along with growth in voice search and AI could prove to be next big audience accelerator for podcasters.

Richard Davies is a podcast host, producer, consultant, and media coach. He runs DaviesContent.