The Podcast Pioneers 2021 Podcast Industry Predictions
Updated: Mar 11
This time last year, I sat down to write a ‘quick’ blog post on my podcast predictions for 2020. A few thousand words later, I decided I’d better stop writing or it would be 2021 before I finished. How many of them came true? 9 out of 10 I reckon. That prediction around the growth of ‘live’ events really didn’t hold up for some reason. Maybe next year!
Even if you do feel like a smartypants for your keen future predictions, the universe never seems to roll things out the way you expect, and with that caveat I thought I’d share another few ideas in a (thankfully) shorter post, this year.
As a new media business (can we use the phrase new media these days?!) you are usually looking out for the next curveball or opportunity, but the global Coronavirus pandemic was something else. I hope this year has been kind to you, and that you and your loved ones have managed to stay safe and take care of one another. Podcast Pioneers began our year looking forward to a few major projects, with plans to spread our wings into more scripted fiction and drama alongside our ambitions to make thought-provoking, change-making programmes. We ended up throwing all hands to the pump from March, as diverse and exciting clients leaned more heavily upon podcasting to connect with people wherever they happened to be, in the uniquely personal way that podcasting can allow.
Into our new rhythm, I’ve somehow found time to finish the book I’ve been re-writing for the last two years. “Podcasts for Business” is a tool to help businesses dip a toe into the audio world and think strategically about how podcasts can help them market, communicate and more. I’m very excited to share it very soon, but that’s enough about us for now!
Before I share my 15 predictions for podcasting in 2021, let’s take a moment to look at some of the developments in podcasting in 2020.
In spite of slashed advertising budgets, podcast spending continued to grow. The IAB’s July report suggested that the agility of the medium was attractive in fast-changing news environments, as well as the continued growth in adoption. Whether cash was directed to audio and podcasting as a means of reaching people when communication was most vital, or perhaps in cases where budgets intended for activities that could no longer go ahead were redistributed, podcasting continued to grow in 2020. Although growth prediction figures were revised down by the IAB after the Covid-19 pandemic had broken, it looks set to become a billion dollar industry in the US alone next year.
Greater creativity emerged in terms of the way programmes were made and what kind were commissioned. The Audio Content Fund created an additional funding round for audio programmes serving the public in lockdown including programmes highlighting diverse experiences of isolation, stories on domestic abuse, key workers voices and national heroes sharing their experience of this bizarre and worrying time. We all had to find ways of making programmes with new parameters to keep our contributors and staff safe too. In response to the flashpoint killing of George Floyd, every sector reappraised how honestly representative and diverse their communications are ethos were and many began to take fresh action. Previously marginalised voices and perspectives were welcomed to the fore and took their space, adding to the breadth and depth of experiences that this format is destined for.
Innovative tech continued to throw us new options almost daily, and crucially, more and more non-techy people embraced technology as a necessary means of connecting with one another and managing their mental space. From the sudden boom in Zoom, to wider adoption or invention in high quality video and audio recording options such as Cleanfeed and the newly launched Camflare. Old services adapted and new services developed to enable remote comms to take place and be recorded in high quality. Personally I found myself going for the easiest option for non-techy guests, and although many a USB microphone was couriered this year, I bet you many more non-audio people have become used to using mobile phone voice recorders and understanding room dynamics as a consequence!
Long may these three growth areas continue to boom for us. Advertising, creative innovation and technology are the bedrock of our growing industry.
Now for those predictions, and I do promise to keep it brief this time! In 2021 I anticipate:
Corporate and advertising:
Further increased spend in digital audio. We’re still on track for podcasting to become a billion dollar ad business in 2021. As long as more listeners continue to adopt the podcasting medium and see its benefits to their lives, there will be more opportunities for advertisers to speak to them.
Increased self-publishing and in-house digital team adoption by businesses: Tools such as Anchor mean it is easier than ever for non-audio professionals to sneeze and publish a show. As a consequence, plenty of organisations will look for production companies who can add a little something more to their podcast plan. That leads me onto my next prediction!
Production companies will begin to focus more upon strategy and integration on branded projects. Brands will still need podcast companies to support the co-creation of integrated marketing solutions with smart design to match. Taking an agency approach to developing marketing strategy and collaborating with businesses on their vision, the most supportive production companies will be able to provide a full-service solution — from audio production to video and animation for social assets and marketing materials. But then, Podcast Pioneers might be biased here :-)
Smarter thinking within businesses. Whether organisations are becoming content publishers as a means to generating leads into their business, or whether they want to build a podcast into their engagement ecosystem in a different way, more companies understand that podcasting is part of a lead-generating or engagement funnel with very specific audiences and as a consequence will start to borrow and integrate strategies from other self-publishing mediums.
We’ve seen some super partnerships between media houses, agencies and production houses in 2020. Global teamed up with dentsu’s The Story lab to announce it’s plans to commission six podcast titles with the goal of creating brand partnerships, programmatic advertising opportunities and further AV content. I predict 2021 will see further commercial partnerships between agencies and media houses to create original content that can go beyond audio. Podcasts generating television, social or other visual content? More of that I reckon. Fun!
In 2020 we feasted on the battle between some of the biggest content creators and their hosting platforms as exclusivity deals were revealed and went awry. In 2021, it looks like further privitisation of podcasting might evolve, whether it’s in creating exclusive bonus content via patron-only RSS feeds to add value for existing customers, or in further examples of big shows becoming platform exclusive. (PLEASE DON’T MAKE ME INSTALL ANY MORE APPS ON MY PHONE!!)
7. Spotify has had a real success story as it appears to take a bigger chunk out of Apple’s podcast share in 2020. As much as podcast ads can create a warmth and recall that’s unrivalled by other mediums, ad-free listening looks set to be an attractive option across more and more platforms offering premium subscriptions.
8. As is predictable for this fast-moving and volatile sector, I bet you we’ll see more super-hubs of content creation formed as big media houses buy up agile, growing companies for a beast of an operation. Examples of partnerships and acquisitions this year included iHeartMedia’s acquisition of VoxNest, Sirius XM’s purchase of Stichr, Spotify’s acquisition of Megaphone (and Gimlet last year). Now who do we think’s going to buy Wondery? The rumours exist! And these big fish don’t just purchase the tech platforms or production houses — it’s the talent contracts that bring the numbers too.
9. In 2021, everyone is a publisher! For brands big and small there’s a benefit to curating your own voice and community. From talent agencies sitting on a goldmine of untapped performer potential, to brands who might previously have been skeptical of passing fads, now acknowledging that podcasting is not going away and it’s actually becoming a more diverse and interesting space.
10. Community podcasting thrives? This year Acast launched its Local Heroes campaign, with Melburnian presenters voicing ads to promote their favourite local businesses after Coronavirus restrictions were eased. Also stepping into the empty shoes of community radio stations, perhaps we’ll see a boom in community podcasts. It’s easier than wrangling with licences at any rate. 2020 saw us piling onto Facebook groups to stay in touch with neighbours, deliver food drops to local vulnerable people and remembering the importance of community in difficult times — could podcasting become a new way to communicate and stay up to date on a hyper-local space?
Breaking the format
I love breaking things and putting them back together. Especially podcast formats. I anticipate increased diversification of what podcasting can be and mean in 2021 as content creators, brands and consumers experiment with the boundaries of audio and opportunities in technology and sound.
11. 2020 has been the year of the lifestyle overhaul. The rulebook went out the window and people re-structured the way they live and work with remarkable adaptivity and resilience. That leaves the gate open for new lifestyles and as a lifestyle medium podcasting is right there waiting to be as useful as it can be. Whether it’s in finding smarter ways to repackage existing content for smart speakers, lunchtime dog walks or different windows of personal time, creators will adapt to new lifestyle needs to make sure their content is as digestible, useful and lifestyle-friendly as possible. Commute-listening? So 2019.
12. Scripted fiction and escapist productions will become increasingly more popular. This was one of my growth predictions for 2020 and the year didn’t disappoint! From the unsettling or hair-raising use of binaural and brilliant writing and immersive performances in programmes like QCode’s Ghost Tape or Wondery’s Blood Ties, excellent writing, superlative production and world-class performances are here to save us all from reality…. and don’t we all need it.
13. We’ll see further innovation in audio techniques and wider accessibility to sophsticated tools! Rode have recently released their idiot-proof vlogger kit, DearVR Micro lets you simulate near binaural sound in post-production for free and Izotope’s RX Elements special offers have saved butt after butt this year in dodgy recording scenarios. I think it’s wonderful that the opportunity to make sophisticated audio is in so many more hands! By the way, you can check out our experiments with binaural post-production simulation in our forthcoming sitcom Babytalk — join the Podcast Pioneers mailing list on our website for updates.
14. As brands and listeners accept the flexibility of ‘what’ a podcast can be, we’ll see increased diversification of formats, from celeb bare-alls, to clever programmes for thinking people, mass-market hits to niche community conversation, we’ll continue to find ways of changing lives with high-quality content and tech.
15. I’m pretty certain that an alien invasion will bring everyone’s plans to a standstill in August. Those of us who elect to go undergroundand live at the centre of the hollow earth rather than submit to our new intergalactic overlords will nevertheless adapt very well, mostly because of the cans of baked beans that paranoid people stockpiled during the first national lockdown of 2020. Brexit will also happen too.
Hopefully there won’t be anything so stupid as a global pandemic on the way, but if there is, we’ll be here, making shows anyway. That’s it for my predictions… although I reckon there’s a few more I could add, I’ve got to keep the word count down this year, at least for the sake of the brilliant social media fairies at Penguin in the Room. Thanks guys!
What’s coming up for Podcast Pioneers?
Why how very nice of you to ask! We’ve got some awesome plans in the pipeline: My forthcoming book, Podcasts for Business is aimed at businesses looking to understand and explore podcasting strategy to support their wider marketing goals. It’s aimed at people outside of the ‘podcasting’ business who need a kick-start guide. If you’re intrigued you can sign up to the mailing list at podcastpioneers.com for updates on our release.
Our sitcom Babytalk uses to binaural post-production to tell the story of a social climber and her politically-opposed mother in modern London. Listen on headphones — It’s out at Christmas!
Early next year we’re trialling a non-profit initiative to work with young people in South London on writing and making their own audio drama. If you’d like to help fund us, get in touch! Otherwise, join the mailing list for updates. It’s going to be awesome. Have an absolutely beautiful 2021, you deserve it.