Talking Heads: The Rise of the Podcast

The podcast format has been surging in popularity recently and has not showed any signs of slowing down. Yet in 2004, the term podcast did not even exist. The word is a portmanteau, created by Guardian journalist Ben Hammersly who combined the words iPod and broadcast.

Apple added this new medium to iTunes in 2005. Podcasts quickly found listeners upon their inception, led by Ricky Gervais's podcast which featured Karl Pilkington and Stephen Merchant. The show achieved 300 million downloads and held a Guinness World Record until 2011.

The Comedy Factor

Comedy quickly became a popular genre for listeners, and remains so today. After seeing the success of Gervais's podcast, comedians like Joe Rogan, Adam Carolla and Marc Maron started their own podcasts which feature a different guest per episode.

These three comedians in particular have achieved an incredible amount of success. All of them have produced thousands of episodes, amounting to tens of thousands of hours of content which is largely available for free.

With their ever increasing popularity, they have been able to feature high profile guests. Maron has had former US president Barack Obama on his podcast, as well as Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Rogan, too, has had his fair share of notable guests, including Tesla and X owner, Elon Musk, former heavyweight boxing champion, Mike Tyson, and physicist, Brian Cox.

Playing The Cards Right

Podcasts can vary in topic, varying between comedy, history, true crime, politics and gaming. PokerStars hold a weekly podcast, hosted by James Hartigan and Joe Stapleton, which provides listeners with an insight into their favourite names within the game and offers previews into upcoming events.

Held once weekly, the Poker in the Ears podcast features different guests, including players such as Canadian professionals Mike Watson and Parker “Tonkaaaa” Talbot, and the EPT Paris Main Event champion, Barny Boatman.

It isn't just players who feature as guests. “Super fans” are able to apply to be on the podcast in a segment where they compete against Stapleton for merchandise and Power Pass tickets, which adds an additional level of involvement for the listeners.

Additionally, other podcasts are available on the subject of poker and casino games which provide news updates and advice on strategy.


Not Just a Laughing Matter

In the US, the other most popular genres of podcast include business, news, culture, crime and sports.

However, within these umbrella terms can be found content related to distinct niche genres. Even podcasts that fall under the genre of comedy aren't necessarily purely comedic all of the time and are relative to the featured guest and the conversation that is occurring.

Joe Rogan, for example, despite being under the comedy banner, has conducted conversations with scientists, psychologists and politicians.

These podcasts, whilst perhaps featuring moments of humour, are naturally focused on deeper societal issues due to the field of work that the guests are involved in.

The variation in guests, as well as the quality of the questions provided by the hosts and the conversations that take place, have been key to the sustained success that these podcasts have had with their listeners, new and old.

 Accessibility and the Effect on Media 

News is potentially the broadest popular term. This could be national news, international or local. It could even be news about other popular genres such as sports or business.

The increased popularity of podcasts, in combination with social media, has changed how people consume media and from what sources they get their news.

The New York Times publishes a twenty minute episode daily five days a week and offers extended analysis of the week's issues.

This adds a level of accessibility to this level of content, as the demand for traditional print media has declined. As a result the majority of people source their news online from newspapers' websites as well as from podcasts.

In Conclusion

Podcasting is well and truly here to stay. The sheer volume of content and variety that is on offer means there is something for everyone and it is more accessible than ever.

It is estimated that there are over three million active podcasts, meaning the listeners will never be short of intimate and informative discourse.