On the 1st August 1981, MTV debuted, the first music video shown that day was Video Killed the Radio Star, by The Buggles, the very sentiment of the song sardonically promoted the new platform, and predicted the demise of radio.
There was just one minor detail; video never killed the radio star.
In fact, OFCOM figures from 2010, indicated that ninety percent of the UK population regularly listen to radio. Radio remains an accessible format, whether we are working, driving, exercising or relaxing, even in a modern multi-platform world. Despite this, 2014 has been dubbed the most successful year for the relatively young format of podcasting. With ever increasing numbers of smart phone users making downloads there is a case to be made for podcasting to become the future rival of radio.
The BBC began making its radio content available in podcast form in 2004, by August 2014 there had been 1.1 billion UK downloads of BBC podcasts. It is a staggering figure which feeds the belief that podcasting could legitimately rival radio. Podcasting is an on-demand technology, and the reality is that audiences are impatient. We have been spoilt for so long now with live streaming and on-demand content that we can access entertainment whenever and wherever we like via our mobile devices. Podcasting offers an alternative to radio where creativity and quality are the focus and it is produced without the interference of corporate structures or the time constraints of live radio.
The potential of podcasting is present in its ever-growing number of success stories. The most successful and downloaded podcast in history is Serial, in which host Sarah Koenig investigated the murder of high school student; Hae Min Lee in 1999. The podcast examined the original investigation and trial of Adnan Syed (the ex-boyfriend of Hae Min Lee convicted of her murder). Such was the success of the podcast that Syed’s legal team are appealing for a new trial to overturn his conviction.
Other success stories include; Irish comedian, Jarleth Regan’s podcast, An Irishman Abroad which interviews high profile Irish people living abroad, including the likes of actors Aiden Gillen and Chris O’Dowd, jockey Tony McCoy and comedian Dara Ó Briain. The podcast has won many admirers for its quality, integrity and insight. Initially, it was developed through audience donations but it has since secured a sponsor; Currency Fair which prevents the need or interruption for advertising. It currently enjoys 1 million downloads a week.
Brian Ward, director of Blu-ray/DVDs for Shout! Factory is the co-host of The Arkham Sessions, a show where he is joined by psychologist Dr. Andrea Letamendi to psychoanalyse each episode of the Batman: The Animated Series from the 1990s. The podcast provides significant insights and professional knowledge on the subject of mental health through the lens of an award winning animated series. Ward says, “You’d never find a radio station broadcasting a show that focuses on the psychology of a cartoon, and yet, every episode we put online has thousands of listeners. There’s an audience that wants more than what they’re being given.”
Podcasting is revolutionising the media, business and journalism and it is evident following the announcement that BuzzFeed will venture into podcasting. In addition the Slate Group, famous for its self-titled online current affairs magazine, has launched Panoply a podcast platform that will have multiple partners including the New York Times Magazine and The Huffington Post Inc.
The underlying weakness of podcasting is that it lacks a coherency. It occupies a niche market, there are any number of quality podcasts with a loyal and attentive audience but these operate independently from each other. Listeners of the Serial podcast were downhearted when its first season ended, and where faced with the task of searching for something else to fill that void. Radio has endured because audience figures are not built on one quality show, but on a number of quality shows that can be regularly found in the one location.
Some may argue that podcasting should remain independent in order to retain its identity, but if podcasting is the future of radio, it will depend on how it evolves in the next ten years and if the proposed platforms can create effective groupings of podcasters and bring the coherency that is required to propel it into the mainstream.