What is a Podcast?

An Introduction to the Rapidly Growing World of Podcasts 

What is a Podcast?

October 1, 2020 | Megan Heibert  

With more time stuck at home these days, internet traffic has been booming. Questions such as “will there be an NFL season?” and  “does caffeine improve your workflow?” and “what is a podcast?” are frequent searches. While we don’t have an answer about the NFL, we can tell you about podcasting. 

Table of Contents:  

What is a Podcast? 

Man listening to a podcast on a Smartphone

A podcast is an audio file which users can download or stream on their smartphone, tablet, or computer. They are a medium that nearly everyone has free access to, which automatically sets them apart, considering how many other media platforms slap hidden fees onto much of their content. Similar to TV shows, podcasts are often released by seasons comprised of episodes, which vary in length from thirty minutes to an hour, depending on the topic. 

This form of audio communication provides a platform that makes it easy to produce a wide scope of content. People love to talk, and others love to listen to those people talk — especially when it is a topic catered to their specific likes and interests. This itself makes podcasting a goldmine. Whether you are interested in news, comedy, business, sports, lifestyle, or the like, there are endless listening options. These are often categorized by topics, creating easy access for you to select a show that best suits your desire or need.

Just like we don’t expect all motion pictures to have the same set-up (since there are documentaries, fictional movies, reality TV… the list goes on), podcasts are not one in the same either. There are many formats people use to share their content. From hosting interviews with special guests to creating an audio theatre to providing helpful how-to’s and educational or news resources, podcasts provide an array of information and entertainment in a variety of ways.

What is an RSS Feed? 

Screenshot of an RSS feed from the Culpable Podcast
Example of an RSS feed from Resonate Hosting:

An RSS Feed, or Really Simple Syndication (aka Rich Site Summary), is the home for your podcast that is used to distribute a podcast to Apple, Google, Spotify, etc. where the listener can access it. All of the DNA for a podcast – everything which makes it a unique show – is contained in the RSS Feed and handed over to listening platforms (as listed previously) so that users can discover, listen, and subscribe. 

Once an RSS feed is submitted to a podcast directory like Apple Podcasts, they are able to refresh the feeds regularly to pull in the most recent episodes from a podcast. This includes the cover art, links to the audio content (arranged by the seasons and episodes), release dates, title, and description. RSS feeds are like the home for your podcast. 

Why Are Podcasts So Popular? 

Podcasts are more popular than ever. Here are a few stats to show you just how popular podcasts are. 

  • There are over 1,000,000 podcasts (Podcast Insights
  • “There are over 30 million podcast episodes” (Podcast Insights
  • “The U.S. Podcast Audience Could Double by 2023” (Nielsen)
  • 55% of Americans have listened to a podcast in 2020 (Statista)

Podcasts are a very young medium. In fact, many people say that podcasting today is where YouTube was 10-12 years ago. Translation? Podcasting is just getting started and has a lot of growing to do still. 

Alright, so the word is out: podcasts are the new fad. But why? What makes this medium so popular and desirable? 

For starters, it gives such a wide variety of content that is so accessible and convenient. Considering it is in audio format, podcasts allow you to do other things while you listen. You can simply pop in your earbuds during a workout or while cooking dinner at home. Or think about just flipping on the speaker during a long road trip or a calm afternoon at the office. 

Podcasts vs. Radio 

“Podcasting allows you not only to create your own content, but also to get it in front of the people who want to listen to it – wherever and whenever.”

But wait… I can hear you thinking: isn’t this what the radio is for? How is podcasting any different than that? We’re so glad you asked! In fact, here’s a helpful video that differentiates between these two seemingly similar mediums and explains how podcasts have an upper hand over traditional radio. 

Not that radio is extinct, but podcasts are simply where the people are tuning in these days, largely due to the fact they do not depend on listeners tuning in at an exact time. They have dramatically grown in popularity. Since 2013, when there were just 19 million American listeners, numbers have now increased to 62 million Americans listening weekly. And that doesn’t even account for the global population which tunes into podcasts — some countries at an even higher listening rate than the U.S. 

Additionally, podcasts allow for a variety of streaming options. Though the podcast itself is the audio content hosted on the RSS feed, some podcasters choose to include a video recording of their episode, which they release on YouTube. This allows the audience to feel more engaged and connected, as they can see the face(s) behind the voice(s). People are often more likely to stay tuned in if they can watch content, rather than just listen to it. This is yet another way that his medium is rapidly gaining dominance and should indeed be capitalized on.

How to Listen to Podcasts 

Screenshots of podcast apps Apple, Spotify, and Google
Examples of 3 Top Podcast Apps

So you’re kind of liking the idea of this whole podcast thing… How do you listen to podcasts? Most smartphones and other digital devices come with a built-in podcast app for you to quickly begin enjoying. Common examples include Apple Podcasts for iPhone and Google Podcasts for Androids. However, there are a multitude of other apps you can download. Read our list of the best podcast apps here. 

From there, the choice is yours! Imagine an online library where you can browse to your heart’s content and stumble upon a true crime series, or maybe a lighthearted pop culture trend. Or perhaps you’ve heard people in the office talking about a new season of interviews with top entrepreneurs. Take your pick and have at it! After listening to a certain podcast, if you like it and want more of it, you can subscribe to it. By subscribing, just like signing up to get the Sunday paper every week, new episodes of the podcast will be readily available to you as soon as they are released.

How to Start Your Own Podcast

Maybe as we’ve journeyed to this point, your curiosity has shifted from “what is a podcast?” to “should I podcast?” We’re here to encourage you towards that end, because remember? We love podcasts and know that anyone can pick up the skills needed to be an effective podcaster! Whether as a hobby, or for your business, this platform provides a unique opportunity to efficiently and cheaply engage an audience. You can learn more about how to start a podcast here.

Start Listening Today 

Next time you find yourself scrolling social media or chatting with your coworkers, you’ll have the information you need to join the conversation about podcasts. We hope you’ll find yourself excited to dive into the countless listening options out there. If you’re still not quite sure where to start, we’ve got you covered. Head on over and explore these recommendations on just about any podcast category you can imagine. Soon enough, you’ll be a podcast pro yourself! 

We would love to answer any additional questions you might have. Feel free to schedule a call with our team!

Megan

Megan Heibert

Megan is a senior at the University of Louisville, where her passion for people, writing, and digital media have led her to studying Communications. She enjoys finding new coffee or donut shops, traveling, listening to a variety of music, and watching thriller movies.