Looking back, this past year was when podcasting went mainstream, with an estimated 1.5 million shows now out there
If 2020 was the year when we discovered the delights, the challenges and for some, the near-impossibility of working from home, it was also the year podcasting went mainstream. Call it the pandemic effect, or just the maturation of a form that is just as accessible to the amateur in the bedroom closet as to the media conglomerate, but podcasting was one medium that saw advertising growth in the past year. Even before the pandemic, Deloitte had predicted that revenues in the business would rise by 30% in 2020, and while the numbers are a bit short of that, there’s no doubt that audiences for streaming audio continue to grow.
Take a 20-something young professional who said, “My podcast listening time is directly proportional to the time I spend in the kitchen, and as restaurants closed, I ended up cooking all my meals, which…increased my podcast listening time.” Or another dedicated listener this year who found the time to listen to long-form shows and even binge on series. Yet others, like my academic friend, turned to podcasts as a more trusted source for coronavirus news and science, or for meaning-making in these strange times, to philosophy and history podcasts. Most stuck with their old favourites: fiction, current affairs and analysis, only occasionally sampling something different. One mythology enthusiast who had sworn he’d “never listen to another epic podcast” discovered Arti Dhand’s The Mahabharata Podcast — a delightfully irreverent yet faithful-to-the-text narration. The need to engage children bouncing off home walls pushed parents to look for audio to keep them away from screens. Some of these, like Story Seeds, launched in March, feature creative collaborations between children and established authors.
Like many others, I scoured the podverse for shows that would help me keep up with developments in laboratories, policy circles, on the field and in hospitals in relation to the pandemic. Apart from some of the shows I wrote about in March this year, the steady-handed reporting of data journalist S. Rukmini on her mini-cast, The Moving Curve, addressed both the social and the scientific aspects of the pandemic. A friend directed me to Medicine and the Machine, hosted by Medscape editor Eric Topol and writer-clinician Abraham Verghese and featuring in-depth explorations of the interface of technology and medicine — with several recent episodes related to COVID-19.
Literary podcasts certainly saw a boom these past twelve months, and in the early days of the pandemic, several retellings of Boccaccio’s Decameron surfaced — modern adaptations (such as the The Decameron Project by The New York Times) as well as readings from the original. And then there were the literary conversations, from Cheryl Strayed’s Sugar Calling to Linn Ullman’s How to Proceed and, closer to home, Books and Beyond from Tara Khandelwal and Michelle D’costa, which looks at the Indian literary scene through interviews with authors. Among the notable non-literary discussion shows that I encountered this year are The Swaddle’s Respectfully Disagree (where the hosts work through vexing and polarising issues) and the quirky You’re Wrong About (launched in 2018, about things that are miscast in the public imagination).
But these are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s hard to keep up with the slew of new shows coming out — hosted by celebrities and the rest of us. Last week, Spotify announced that Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, would be launching a podcast on their platform around Christmas. Just one more addition to the estimated 1.5 million podcasts out there, in multiple languages — clearly, a lot left to discover!
The Hyderabad-based writer and academic is a neatnik fighting a losing battle with the clutter in her head.