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“Serial” Success

Podcast was tip of the iceberg for growing podcast industry

Last fall many Americans were gripped by the story of Maryland high school student Hae Min Lee, who was murdered in 1999. The podcast “Serial” reinvestigated Lee’s murder and quickly became a sensation. “Serial” became the fastest podcast to reach 5 million streams or downloads in iTunes history and reached a height of popularity and relevance in American culture that few, if any, podcasts had previously.

Though “Serial” certainly was podcasting’s marquee moment up to this point, its success didn’t come out of the blue. Podcasts have been on a steady rise for the last few years. With the growing use of smartphones and other mobile devices making in-car listening easier, that growth has a strong chance of continuing.

Here are some findings from the recent Pew Research Center “2015 State of the News Media” survey.

In 2008, the percentage of Americans 12 or older who had listened to a podcast in the last month was at 9%; at the end of 2014 that number had gone up to 15%. Just one month into 2015, though, that number shot up another 2% to 17%. In general, Edison Research says that a third of Americans have listened to a podcast at least once.

That number is a little bit closer to the overall awareness of podcasts among Americans. In 2006, only 22% of people said they were aware of podcasts, but in 2010 45% of the populace 12 or older knew about them. That number has reached 49% in 2015.

The amount of podcasts has helped those numbers. 91,794 podcasts had been produced as of 2013, 22,000 podcasts were actively hosted in 2014. There is also a growth in the number of avenues for podcasts to be produced, as three new podcast networks were launched by public radio in 2014: Radiotopia by PRX (February), Soundworks by PRI (May) and Infinite Guest by APM (August).

In total, 2.6 billion podcasts were downloaded in 2014, a 27% increase from 2013’s 1.9 billion downloads. Of those 2.6 billion, 63% were requested from a mobile device, up from 43% in 2012, confirming the influence of mobile listening has had on podcasts’ growth.

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