What is a Podcast? (Everything You Need to Know)

July 1, 2022
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Simply put, a podcast is on-demand spoken-word audio content delivered over the internet.

Podcasting has exploded since the term was first coined in 2004. The number of people listening to podcasts has grown massively.

As of 2022, 41% of the US population listens to a podcast every month (Edison Research). That shows a lot of growth, but it also means that podcasting has a long way to go too.

To put that 41% number into perspective, YouTube is being watched by 81% of the US population every month. That means that roughly 130M more people watch Youtube every month but don’t listen to podcasts yet. Translation? I think that podcasting still has a lot of opportunities for growth in the US alone, not to mention the rest of the world.

I share those stats for three reasons:

  1. To show the podcast industry still has a lot of growing to do!
  2. To show why it’s NOT too late to ask “what is a podcast.”
  3. Charts and graphs look cool.

What is a Podcast?

Ok, now back to this definition. Like I said earlier, a podcast is on-demand spoken-word audio content delivered over the internet.

Let’s break it down further.

First, it’s on-demand. Radio is a mix of live and pre-recorded content that you can’t playback (unless you record it). Podcasts are pre-recorded content that you can listen to on-demand at any time and any place. You can listen anywhere because podcasts can be downloaded on nearly any device with internet access.

Second, it’s spoken audio content. The main use case for podcasts is people speaking to each other and speaking to their audience via a recorded audio file (typically an MP3 or AAC file). Can’t you have video podcasts? Yes. But as James Cridland points out, “they’re called ‘video podcasts’ not podcasts.” Can’t you have music and singing? Yes, but music and singing are typically used to brand the show, make transitions, or enhance the experience of the talking that is happening in the foreground.

Third, it’s delivered over the internet. There are several different ways to listen to a podcast. Historically podcasts were differentiated by the fact that they are downloadable. But now you can download (to listen offline) or stream podcasts (using data or WiFi). No matter whether you’re listening on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, on your Apple TV, Alexa, or Samsung Galaxy, a podcast is delivered over the internet.

A podcast is on-demand spoken-word audio content delivered over the internet.

Infographic of what is a podcast showing cover art of popular shows like Serial
Image Sources: iHeart Radio, Spotify, Wired, Audacy

One more note before we move on: This is not a technical definition. Most people in the podcast industry would agree that a podcast needs to meet more specific requirements than the items I listed in order to be considered a true “podcast.” But there is a difference between the technical definition and the general definition. When people say “what’s your favorite podcast” I don’t think they are pondering the complexities of DRM or the difference between an MP3 (AAC) on Apple and a MPEG-4 on YouTube. I recommend reading James Cridland’s definition of a podcast from Podnews if you want to learn more about the technicalities of what makes a podcast.

Podcast Types

There are three main types of podcasts.

  1. Podcast - Audio-only podcasts that are on-demand and delivered over the internet like The Daily.
  2. Video Podcast - A video version of a show that enhances the experience of the audio content like Not Investment Advice. Video podcasts are typically hosted on YouTube and more recently Spotify.
  3. Enhanced Podcast - Audio podcast in a special podcast listening app with enhanced visuals and written content. Entale is an excellent enhanced podcast app. Enhanced podcasts are not popular, and Blubrry notes that the ability to add chapters to a podcast has existed since 2005 with very little success.
Infographic showing the 3 main podcast types: audio-only, video, and enhanced
Image Sources: Culpable, The Ground Up Show, Entale

Podcast Formats

There are many different formats that a podcast can take. Below are some of the most common:

Infographic showing podcast formats like solo, interview, co-hosted, and more

How Do Podcasts Work?

The main technology that has been the backbone for podcasting is the RSS feed.

What’s an RSS feed? It's an XML file that stores the data about the podcast and links to the place where the actual audio files themselves are stored.

Here’s an overview of how publishing a podcast works:

  1. Create: Record, edit, mix, and export your podcast audio file
  2. Upload: Upload a file to a podcast hosting platform (ex: Libsyn) which will generate an RSS feed for your podcast
  3. Submit: Submit RSS feed URL to podcast directories (Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon, etc)
  4. Listen: Get approved and listen to your podcast anywhere that your RSS feed has been shared

You only have to submit your RSS feed to directories one time. After that the listening apps will automatically pull in your new episodes from time to time. All you have to do to post new episodes in the future is to upload them to your hosting platform.

Flow chart showing how to make a podcast in four steps: Create, upload, submit RSS feed, and listen

When Were Podcasts Invented?

The technology for podcasts goes back to the 80s and 90s, but the first audio was distributed via an RSS feed in 2003 and the word “podcasting” was first coined by Ben Hammersley in 2004 (Podnews).

What Are The Most Popular Podcasts of 2022?

Each year Edison Research provides a list of the top 50 podcasts based on the largest audience sizes. You can see the full report here.

The top ten podcasts of 2022 are:

  1. The Joe Rogan Experience (Spotify)
  2. The Daily (The New York Times)
  3. Crime Junkie (Audiochuck)
  4. This American Life (This American Life)
  5. Stuff You Should Know (iHeart Radio)
  6. My Favorite Murder with Karen Kilgariff & Georgia Hardstark (Exactly Right)
  7. Office Ladies (Earwolf)
  8. Call Her Daddy (Spotify)
  9. Serial (The New York Times)
  10. Pod Save America (Crooked)

How to Listen to Podcasts

There are three steps you need to take to listen to a podcast.

  1. Pick an app (aka podcast directory)
  2. Pick a device (smartphone, laptop)
  3. Find a new podcast you’ll like

1. Pick an App (aka Podcast Directory)

There are many different podcast listening apps. We listed the main ones above but if you want a comprehensive list then read Buzzsprout’s guide here.

2. Pick a Device

The devices you can use will depend on what app you prefer to listen to. Fortunately, most of the major apps are available across all major devices.

  • Smartphones — The majority of podcasters listen via smartphones (in the car, on a walk, folding laundry, etc). Most of the apps are available on both iOS and Android, although the Apple Podcasts app is available exclusively on iOS.
  • Laptops and Desktops — All of the major podcast apps are available for laptops and desktops, but Apple Podcasts is only available for devices with macOS.
  • Smart Speakers (Alexa, Google Nest) — Alexa can play podcasts from Amazon Music and Google Nest from Google Podcasts, Apple Home from Apple Podcasts, and
  • Smart TVs (Roku, Apple TV, Samsung) — Smart TVs can access podcasts on apps like iHeart Radio and Spotify
  • Smart Watches — Download podcasts from Apple Podcasts on an Apple Watches, listen to Google Podcasts on a Galaxy Watch, listen with Spotify on a [Garmin watch](https://resonaterecordings.com/podcasting-tips/how-to-listen-to-podcasts/#:~:text=If you have a Garmin,supported on the Garmin smartwatch.), and via Deezer Music or Pandora on a Fitbit watch.

3. Find a New Podcast You’ll Like

Finding a new podcast isn’t always so easy, and discoverability has been a problem in the podcast industry for years. But fortunately, there are a few solid methods you can use to find your new favorite podcast.

  • Word of Mouth - The best podcast recommendations often come from somebody else. Ask your coworkers, friends, and family what their favorite podcasts are and you might find some hidden gems!
  • Podchaser — Podchaser is the IMDB for podcasters. The cool thing is that anyone can create a list of their favorite shows to recommend to the world, for free. Check out Podchaser 25, their monthly list of top shows, to get started. Or search for your favorite podcaster's name or a topic you like.
  • Newsletters — Email newsletters like Earbuds Podcast Collective, Podcast Delivery, and Podnews offer new recommendations frequently across a wide range of genres and formats.
  • “Best Of” Blogs — Search Google for “best (category you like) podcasts” and you’ll find a dozen blogs pop up with curated lists of recommendations.
  • Podcast Charts — Open your favorite podcast app and you can see what’s trending in the podcast charts. Apple Podcasts and Spotify both offer top podcast charts and let you search by categories like True Crime, Stories, Comedy, Religion & Spirituality, and more.

6 Reasons You Should Start a Podcast

Have you ever considered starting a podcast? If you're considering building a brand or sharing a message with the world then I think you should. Here are six reasons why.

  1. Podcasts create a deeper connection to listeners - The combination of spoken audio and long-form content makes listeners feel like they are in the room with you and builds a longer-lasting connection than short stories or reels on social media. Build deeper connections with your audience by sharing longer stories and experiences in an audio-first format.
  2. Podcasting reaches a global audience - Podcasts are available in nearly every country, for free, across dozens of different apps, and can be consumed at any time or place (if downloaded). Additionally, the number of listeners has been growing steadily for nearly a decade.
  3. Podcasting is affordable - You can start a podcast for free, or spend around $60-150 to buy the right starter kit to create a professional sound. You just need a phone or laptop, an internet connection, and an idea you want to share.
  4. Podcasting still has tons of room to grow - Podcasts have been around publicly since the early 2000s, but they still have tons of growing left to do when compared to other channels like blogging (600M blogs, YouTube (51M channels, and social media (billions of daily active users). It’s not too late to start a podcast and find your own audience.
  5. Podcasting doesn’t require being on camera - If you’re a bit more introverted like me this is good news. You don’t have to start a video podcast and be on camera. You can record looking like a hot mess without worrying about your audience.
  6. Podcasting can make you extra money - I don’t recommend starting a show to try to get rich, because it is going to take hard work and dedication to build a loyal audience before you can monetize. But there are multiple legit ways to make good money podcasting, like starting a premium subscription podcast, selling ads, sharing affiliate links to products you love, selling merch or courses, and more.

The list could go on, but those are some core reasons to start. It’s not too late, so think about it, and when you’re ready read some of our guides to get started below.

Recommended Reading:

FAQ’s

Are Podcasts Free?

Yes. Most podcasts are free. However, many podcasts also offer premium versions of their show without ads or with extended content or private content (like Tenderfoot TV+).

Are Podcasts Audio or Video?

Podcasts are typically audio-only, but video podcasts are increasingly popular. Put another way, a podcast is not less than an audio file, but it is more than that.

What Is the Purpose of a Podcast?

Each person has a unique reason that they are motivated to start a podcast, but the main purpose of a podcast is to distribute one piece of content widely to a large audience so they can listen to it on-demand, whenever and wherever they want. Podcasts are started to spread important messages, build brand awareness, engage with fans, tell stories, uncover new evidence in cold cases, make a social impact, and so much more.

Podcasts vs Radio - What is the Difference Between Podcasts and Radio?

The main difference between podcasts and radio is that podcasts are available on-demand all the time while the radio is in real-time. Additionally, radio is distributed over radio frequencies (AM/FM) or over the internet on a streaming site like iHeart Radio while podcasts are distributed over the internet typically via an RSS feed. Lastly, anyone can start a podcast very cheaply and easily, but starting a radio station or being featured on the radio is more complex and less democratized.

What’s the Difference Between a Podcast and an Audio File?

A podcast is no less than an audio file, but it is more than just an audio file. A podcast is an audio file that is available on-demand over the internet for public consumption. Podcasts are typically distributed via RSS feed with an enclosure tag, without digital rights management (unlike music). You can read a more technical breakdown of the definition of a podcast from Podnews here.

What is the Difference Between a Podcast and a Show?

The technical definition of what a podcast actually is has been blurred and distorted with the entrance of Spotify and YouTube into the space. But at the end of the day, a podcast isn’t just the technology of RSS feeds and audio files, it’s a show.

All podcasts are shows, but not all shows are podcasts. I have to give credit to Tom Webster for introducing me to this idea, and I hope he feels like I’m representing him well when I say that you ought to think of your podcast as more like a show that can be flexibly shared across a network of different platforms (RSS feed, Spotify, YouTube, website). The goal of a show is to engage a target audience with content that they love to consume. And both podcasts and shows share that same goal.

What is the Difference Between a Podcast and a Podcast Episode

The word “podcast” typically refers to a show, which is a collection of many episodes. The term “podcast episode” refers to a specific episode within a podcast. However, many people will call an individual episode a “podcast” even though that is not technically accurate. This is similar to the music industry where the word “record” can refer to a collection of songs (album) or an individual song (single) and is often used interchangeably.

What is An Example of a Podcast?

Serial by Sarah Koenig is one of the most popular podcasts of all time. It’s a True Crime podcast that investigates a cold case from Baltimore.

What is a Video Podcast?

Sometimes called a “vodcast,” a video podcast is simply a show that has been recorded as both video and audio. Typically video podcasts are uploaded to YouTube as a video and distributed via RSS to other podcast apps like Apple and Google Podcasts as audio-only.

How Many Podcasts Are There?

The specific number varies depending on which source you ask (Spotify, Apple, etc). According to

The Podcast Index, there are 4,127,650 podcasts as of May 2022.

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