“Serial”: Tip of the Iceberg for Growing Podcast Industry

Podcasts have been on a steady rise for the last few years
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ALEXANDRIA, Va. � Last fall, American listeners were gripped by the story of Maryland high school student Hae Min Lee, who was murdered in 1999, when the podcast �Serial� reinvestigated Lee�s murder. �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 represented podcasts� 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.

In 2008, the percentage of Americans 12 or older who had listened to a podcast in the last month was at 9 percent; at the end of 2014 that number had gone up to 15 percent. Just one month into 2015, though, that number shot up another 2 percent 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 percent of people said they were aware of podcasts, but in 2010 45 percent of the populace 12 or older knew about them. That number has reached 49 percent 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 (Feb.), Soundworks by PRI (May), and Infinite Guest by APM (Aug.).

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

This concludes our series on Pew Research Center�s 2015 State of the News Media. Check out part one (overall findings) here, part two (audio) here�and part three (public broadcasting) here.

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