Podcasts Are Having Another Moment Thanks to ‘Serial’

"Serial" has become the most popular podcast in history.


A long time ago, like a few years, everybody was doing a podcast. It was like radio, but on the computer! And for every host doing the talking, there was a different topic being covered.

Then photos and video seemed to take over. Nowadays, there’s Instagram and Snapchat, countless images and clips posted daily on Facebook, YouTube, blogs, news sites and Twitter. Podcasts didn’t go away but they seemed to lose some steam.

But now podcasts are having another moment. And the wildly popular Serial podcast, brought to us from the folks behind “This American Life,” has something to do with that. The woman at the center of what The Guardian calls “the greatest podcast ever made” is Sarah Koenig, who, in case you haven’t yet become addicted, decided to dig into the details of the 1999 killing of a Maryland high school student, Hae Min Lee. A fellow classmate, Adnan Syed was convicted of the crime and has spent the past 15 years in jail. I binge-listened the week before last and was absolutely riveted.

The popularity of the podcast is having some far-reaching effects, and could open another digital door for PRs looking for an outreach opportunity.

Already, “Serial” has raised enough money from donations to guarantee a second season for itself. (Time says it’s the most popular podcast in history with 1.5 million listeners per episode.)

Moreover, it’s impacting the lives of the people it profiled. Today, the Maryland court of appeals agreed to take another look at the case.

Nowadays, The New York Times says 40 million people listen to podcasts, up 25 percent from last year. In that time period, I know I’ve picked up the habit again, listening to The Nerdist. (Swoon… Chris Hardwick.) And you know you’ve hit the big time when Vogue is suggesting which podcasts you should be listening to. I’m looking for suggestions, so please toss out a few in the comments section.

“Podcasts have moved beyond being a nerd curio because all of the friction has been removed from the process, which used to require setting up RSS feeds or cutting and pasting web addresses into a browser,” writes the Times’ David Carr. “Now with the advent of even smarter smartphones, it has become one-more push-button technology, allowing consumers to download an app and listen to audio programming at a time of their choosing.”

The Guardian says “Serial” is so great because it takes a “novelistic” approach to the topic. You have to listen to each episode in order. The host is engaging. The details are intriguing. And you feel like you’re learning a bit about how a real life investigation goes down. In other words, it’s great storytelling.

This is just the sort of thing that can also supplement a PR campaign that has content that people would be willing to listen to. This isn’t for something (or someone) who’s just going to drone on, talking jargon and boring us to tears. But a topic or issue that can be explained in a way that captures the interest and imagination of a target audience.

“Serial” returns this Thursday, December 4 after taking a week off for Thanksgiving. Note: This is what people will be talking about Friday morning.



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