When the time came in March of 2020 for everyone to stay home, podcasts started to have a moment. Now that people are beginning to emerge from being homebound, will podcasts continue to their relevance in the entertainment zeitgeist?
The popularity of podcasts grew out of overwhelming demand for customized entertainment and information. People grew to like the ever-expanding wealth of topics that various podcasts explored. Listeners also liked the fact that they could tune into their favorite podcasts at their convenience.
I began my podcast, The Ginni Show, in 2016. At that time, roughly 21% of Americans over the age of 12 had listened to a podcast, according to Infinite Dial. It was a burgeoning media just starting to hit its stride. In 2020, that percentage had grown to 55% of Americans 12 and over. That percentage only continued to swell as the stay-at-home orders occurred. Now, podcast listening has doubled during the pandemic.
Podcasts are the perfect medium for staying at home. Statistics show 60% of podcasts were listened to at home pre-pandemic, so it was already something people enjoyed on their own time in the comfort of their own spaces. With the onset of the stay-at-home orders, the typical entertainment outlets we loved were suddenly unavailable. Movie theaters, Broadway, and concerts were all shuttered. Podcasts were one of the last available outlets for people to learn, be entertained, or find an outlet for motivation and support.
As the stay-at-home orders wore on, people started to experience pandemic fatigue. They commonly reported insomnia and anxiety. Podcasts that focused on mindfulness, sleep, and happiness amid tragedy became not only popular but necessary to some. Many began to rely on their favorite podcasts to bring them much-needed hope in the seemingly never-ending numb slog of pandemic and political upheaval.
Podcasts that focused on mental and physical health also grew in popularity like The Hilarious World of Depression and The Daily kept people informed. Celebrity podcasts like Kumail Nanjiani and his wife’s Staying In entertained and brought us all a little closer to famous people.
Much like how the Golden Age of Radio in the 1940s functioned as a way to inform, entertain, and soothe anxieties during the Second World War, podcasts serve an essential purpose during a historic moment. They are like radio on-demand, giving people a connection to the rest of the world, in their own time and in the comfort and convenience of an environment they choose.
With the vaccine introduction in Spring 2021 and stay-at-home orders lifting, the podcast world held their collective breath, wondering if their time at the top of the entertainment and information heap may be coming to a close. You could see people’s tolerance for “Zoom-based shows” starting to wane if the reviews for shows like SNL At Home were any indication. Would podcasts suffer the same fate once people started to return to work, school, and daily life activities in our “new normal”?
From where I sit, as the production company behind several podcasts, the reign of podcasts doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon. More employers are open to allowing their employees to work remotely, giving people flexible schedules to continue enjoying their favorite shows in between work and home obligations. Collectively, we have become more accustomed to consuming media, considering that’s all we’ve done for 18 months.
Popular podcasters are stepping up and adapting to the continued demand for content. It seems like every niche topic under the sun now has its own dedicated show. As the travel industry rebounds, so do the call for travel podcasts to satiate the wanderlust of people who have been stuck at home for months on end. Shows continue to address the raw emotions of people grappling with pandemic anxiety. Celebrities who perhaps had projects put on hold found the time to start podcasts.
The podcast boom shows no sign of slowing down as we return to life outside of our homes. The need to slow down and shut down in the last year seems to have inspired podcasters to new levels of creativity and prolific content creation. As Wired’s Miranda Katz said “It’s not a bubble, it’s a boom, and the boom is only getting louder.”
Ginni Saraswati is the owner and founder of Ginni Media, a New York based podcasting production company. Ginni Media has worked with clients including Allure, Architectural Digest, and Siemens. You can follow The Ginni Show on Twitter.