“Podcasting and other forms of on-demand audio have the potential to foster a media landscape that lifts up the hidden stories and absent narratives of our diverse society, that reflects local communities, and that provides an open and accessible platform for innovation that can serve democracy’s future generations. But realizing that public-interest potential will take work, vision and compromise.”
So begins a report by the Knight Foundation about podcasting and on-demand radio “From Airwaves to Earbuds”. With Knight Foundation partners, both public broadcasters, supported by grants, and for-profit companies, which received investments from the Knight Enterprise Fund who provide insight into the fast growing area of podcasting.
What did they learn?
- Young adults (approximately 25 to 34 years old) represent a majority of on-demand listeners. This age cohort not only listens to podcasts, but also avidly creates them.
- Podcasting is allowing a younger and sometimes more diverse generation of public-interest creators to find their voices, testing innovative approaches to both journalism and storytelling in the process.
- For legacy public radio broadcasters, podcasting’s growth offers the opportunity, if not the imperative, to develop new on-demand programming. In fact, traditional public broadcasting stations and networks are serving a central role in podcasts’ popularity, producing several of the high-quality shows that top the iTunes charts.
- These shifts point to a future where narrative audio is reliably on demand, portable across platforms, and sized to fit different contexts and moods. This bodes well for consumer choice, but less well for the project of building a shared national news experience.
- For digital-first producers that are launching outside the confines of public broadcasting, it’s full speed ahead. These creative organizations can move quickly and nimbly to seek out and serve the on-demand audience. Without expensive broadcast infrastructure or the need to satisfy the expectations of an established audience, digital startups represent a dynamic opportunity to innovate within different organizational structures.
- Inside the public radio system, there are some decisions to make. As strong as they might be, individual programs can’t flourish and find audiences and sponsors within an infrastructure that’s still geared to broadcast distribution. Public broadcasters risk losing their leading position, due to lack of agility, diversity and collaboration across a balkanized national-to-local system.
- As new voices emerge and find a place in today’s information landscape, audio storytelling is shifting from the relative homogeneity of public radio broadcasting to include a much broader range of perspectives, identities and geographies.