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:
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.
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.
There are three main types of podcasts.
There are many different formats that a podcast can take. Below are some of the most common:
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:
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.
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).
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:
There are three steps you need to take to listen to a podcast.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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+).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.