What is a Podcast?

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Podcasts have become increasingly popular in recent years, and it’s likely that you’ve heard the term before, or seen the Apple Podcast app on your iPhone. But exactly what is a podcast? And why is everyone raving about them all of a sudden?

Let’s break it down:

A podcast is an audio programme that is available over the internet for listeners to download and/or stream. The audio is made available via an RSS feed (a web feed that allows people to know when you add new content to a certain source such as a podcast or blog, for example).

My favourite way to think of a podcast is like having your own radio show, with two key differences:

  1. It’s unregulated; you can literally talk about anything you want on your show without a governing radio body telling you what you can and can’t do (obviously, this excludes things like breaking the law and infringing copyright, etc!);
  2. You don’t have a set day and time to listen to the podcast. Unlike a radio show where you need to tune in at a set day and time to listen, a podcast is available anytime and anywhere once a new episode has been published.

Podcasts cover a huge range of topics from business, knitting, cycling, gardening…basically, if you can create a conversation about it, there will likely be a podcast about it.

Podcast episodes can be released weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, as a series; there really aren’t many rules when it comes to episode release.

Traditionally, podcasts were only available as audio, however, in recent years there has been a growing movement for podcasters to also release the video of their podcast episodes also (however, as this currently stands, less than 20% of podcasters also produce video to go with their podcast).

When did Podcasting Start?

This is a huge question that deserves an article all by itself, but for the purpose of ease, podcasting as we currently know it started in the early 2000s when the tech was created so that audio files could be shared via an RSS feed.

Although this might seem like a simple task now, back in the year 2000, we were still wrestling with dial-up internet, with broken connections every time someone in your household picked up the phone receiver to make a telephone call. As the 2000s wore on, we were all about setting our computers to file-share music over Napster and (the slightly dodgy) Limewire. You could wait HOURS for a 3-minute song to download, only for the internet to cut out and you’d lose all of your progress. Or, you’d find you’d downloaded some dodgy recording, complete with a virus (thanks Limewire!).

Sharing audio via an RSS feed negated these issues and meant that the sharing of audio broadcasts (soon to be coined ‘podcasts’), could be far easier.

Podcasting came to the masses and became more mainstream in 2005 when iTunes added a ‘broadcast’ section to the platform.

In 2012, Apple Podcasts was released as a standalone app, and as of 2023, Apple Podcasts remains the biggest directory for audiences to listen to their favourite podcasts.

Why is it Called a Podcast?

‘Podcast’ is the combination of ‘iPod’ and ‘broadcast.’ The word derived from when people were mainly using Apple iPods to listen to podcasts, and so, the word was born.

Some people have tried to change the name of podcasting, mainly because the ‘pod’ part of the word implies something to do with Apple, when a lot of shows are available on many other directories other than Apple Podcasts, and listened on many other devices other than just those created by Apple.

The term ‘netcast’ is sometimes seen in place of ‘podcast.’ However, it’s safe to say that the word ‘podcasting’ is safely here to stay, regardless of anyone who thinks it needs changing.

How Many Podcasts Are There?

Depending on the source you read, the statistics vary. Roughly speaking, though, there are estimated to be between 3 million and 5 million podcasts globally.

However, these numbers include podcasts that are no longer active, and it is estimated that only up to a quarter of all podcasts are currently active.

How Do You Listen to a Podcast?

To listen to a podcast, all you need is an internet-connected device and a podcast directory or website. These apps, directories, or websites allow you to search for and subscribe to your favourite podcasts, download episodes for offline listening, or stream them directly from the internet.

There are numerous podcast directories, but the most popular ones are:

  • Apple Podcasts
  • Spotify
  • Stitcher
  • Google Podcasts
  • Amazon Music
  • iHeart Radio
  • Pandora
  • Castbox
  • Overcast
  • Pocket Casts

Once downloaded, you can usually listen to podcast episodes without an internet connection.

What is the Global #1 Podcast?

The number 1 podcast globally is The Joe Rogan Experience, hosted by Joe Rogan. Since its release in 2009, the podcast has clocked up nearly 2,000 episodes (as of March 2023) and celebrates an average of 200 million downloads per month.

Who Creates Podcasts?

Essentially, anyone can create a podcast. I started The Confident CEO Podcast sitting at my dressing table in my bedroom. And whilst there are tonnes of podcasts that are produced in expensive studios and with incredible setups, there are also tonnes of grass root ones that do amazingly well without those setups.

Once recorded, some podcast hosts do all of their own editing, management, and ongoing promotion; some hosts outsource some tasks such as editing only; and some outsource all aspects of management to give them more time to do what they do best and record awesome content.

Whilst there are professional tv and radio presenters who host their own podcasts, the majority are produced by independent creators. This means that the host can offer a unique perspective and voice that may not be found in mainstream media. This has led to the rise of a vibrant podcasting community, with creators and listeners alike connecting and engaging with each other through social media and other platforms.

Podcast Quick Facts

  • The top categories of podcasts are comedy, news, society & culture, and true crime.
  • There are 383.7 million podcast listeners globally.
  • Each week, more Americans listen to podcasts than have Netflix accounts.
  • The United States accounts for 47.9% of podcast listeners, followed by the United Kingdom with 6.3%, and Canada with 5.0%.
  • Apple Podcasts is the most popular podcast directory with nearly 40% of all podcast listeners.
  • Over 50% of podcasts are between 20 and 60 minutes. Less than 10% of episodes are shorter than ten minutes, and around 17% are longer than 60 minutes.

Want to Know More?

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Verity Sangan

Verity Sangan

Hey there! I'm Verity, Registered Nurse turned Podcast Host, Launch Strategist, and Coach. I love all things podcasting and am passionate about getting more women find their voice through podcasts. Host: The Lazy Girl's Guide to Podcasting & The Confident CEO Podcast

About Me

Verity Sangan

Hi! I’m Verity; host of The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Podcasting. I’m a mum of 2, a Harry Potter nerd, Star Wars geek, and spend my days lecturing in health and social care, or talking about podcasting. Read more >>

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