The Evolution Of The Podcast

Podcasting can still be considered to be in its infancy, with the medium only really beginning to hit the mainstream around 2005. Just over a decade ago, Apple released iTunes 4.9 with the ability for users to listen to podcasts, and in a few short years, download requests have skyrocketed into the billions. 

It feels as though there is a podcast for nearly anything, with genres ranging from education and commentary to comedy and literature. Now podcasting is taking the form of news on demand, allowing users to stay updated throughout the day. 

To explore the evolution of the podcast, we're glimpsing into its humble beginnings to discover how it came to be such a force to be reckoned with. 

Innovation leading the way 

The concept of shutting away a host with a recording microphone in a room to express their thoughts existed prior to the podcast as a form of audio blogging, but it wasn't until a breakthrough in Real Simple Syndication (RSS) that podcasting became possible. 

As explained by the Tow Centre for Digital Journalism, developers first managed to adjust the feed to include audio files, rather than just text, an achievement that eventually allowed listeners to 'subscribe' to an audio blog and have the content download automatically. 

With the integration of RSS and iTunes, and ergo the iPod, the term 'podcasting' was coined by journalist Ben Hammersley in 2004. Writing for the Guardian, Hammersley remarked how internet radio was booming, and suggested podcasting as a possible name for the revolution. 

"Apple is taking Podcasting mainstream by building it right into iTunes," said Steve Jobs in a 2005 media release. The Apple CEO at the time, Mr Jobs heralded the medium as the "next generation of radio".

Podcasting gives listeners access to a whole world of information on demand. 

Podcasting on the mind

The hype continued to build, producing such content as This Week in Tech (TWiT) and the runaway hit, The Ricky Gervais Show, which went on to become the world's most downloaded podcast in the Guinness Book of Records. 

The show averaged over 261,000 downloads per episode, peaking at a staggering over 541,000 by the time the show ended in 2006, as reported by the BBC. 

Since 2006, the percentage of Americans who have listened to a podcast has tripled, increasing from 11 to 33 per cent, according to figures from Edison Research. The same source reported that 17 per cent of the U.S. population is thought to have listened to a podcast in the last month. 

The podcasting sensation of more recent times is undoubtedly 'Serial', which centres on a Baltimore murder that took place in 1999. According to the New York Times, since the first episode debuted in October 2014, the podcast has hit over 90 million downloads. Edison research reports that 10 per cent of the U.S. population is believed to know of the podcast. 

The rise of news on demand 

With the recent resurgence of podcasting's popularity, the next logical question is to ponder where the next big movement will come from within the medium. On-demand news podcasts are one area showing significant promise, with Harvard University's Nieman lab citing examples such as the NPR Hourly News Summary as a prevalent channel for timely, relevant updates. 

News on demand podcasts could see news broadcasting further evolve for the on-demand era, allowing listeners to receive automatic updates from their preferred podcasts.  

If you think you have a cause worth podcasting about, the good news is that we have a guide to setting up your own podcast so that you can find out more about set up, editing and publishing.