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Podcasting finally creates another mega-hit show

“Creating knockoffs is the wrong approach, and there’s a ton of it happening now. It’s riding the momentum of the podcast boom without actually contributing much to it.”

What was the big breakout podcast hit of 2019? Don’t work those brain cells too hard, I’ll give you the answer: There wasn’t one.

Think about it. When was the last time a new podcast came out that was a mass, mainstream hit? Something that was such a hit that it changed things: brought in masses of new listeners, garnered tons of press, or really altered the perception of what podcasting can be?

Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of very good podcasts — but truly great, transformative ones? It was a thin year.

When we look back at 2019, we’ll see it as a very odd year: where podcasting as an industry grew at a jaw-dropping pace, but with no mega-hit leading the way. Depending on your perspective, you could interpret this two different ways.

The optimistic view: As podcasting grows, it’s starting to mean more and different things to more people. Podcasting as an industry is becoming a collective of niches — otherwise fragmented nooks of interest that all share a common podcasting platform but not much else. Podcasting can be thrive without ubiquitous hits because podcast listeners come to podcasting for different reasons, in search of different things.

Looking for a mega-hit podcast is like asking: “What was the breakout website of 2019?” The internet means so many things to so many people that it now lacks that single cohesive entity that has value to everyone. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s great. Podcasting is headed along a similar trajectory…and that, too, is great.

The less-than-optimistic view: When I look for things that scare me, it isn’t the lack of a recent hit. The things that concern me are many of the behaviors I see in those trying to create that next hit by chasing “the next Serial” or “the next The Daily” or “the next WTF” and so on. Creating knockoffs is the wrong approach, and there’s a ton of it happening now. It’s riding the momentum of the podcast boom without actually contributing much to it. And by the time we hit 2021, those organizations will be disappointed in the return on their investment and effort. Much of this kind of decision-making is being imported from bad habits formed in other media.

2019 will be remembered as the year that legacy media gave a big bear hug to podcasting…and some squeezed a bit too hard. 2019 was the year that the same mindset that decimated commercial radio now considers podcasting its “birthright.” It was also the year that the low-calorie, short-term-benefits worldview that hobbled cable, newspapers, and network television descended on podcasting, offering hyped visions of how to grow the industry using the same tactics that failed others. In truth, the cumulative effect is like the arrival of a swarm of locusts, consuming everything they encounter before moving on to the next fertile field.

So where do we land? The bottom line is that 2019 marked the year when podcasting, as an industry, filled needs for consumers at such a high clip that the content didn’t really match up with listeners’ appetite for the medium itself.

I started this prediction by declaring that 2020 will be the year of the next mega-hit — and I do believe that. I think that there are still plenty of organizations and people focused on creating something big and game-changing and amazing and mind-blowing…and their work this coming year will be contagious and ubiquitous. It will be the podcast you’ll repeatedly read about and talk about at happy hours. Your friends, coworkers, and neighbors will have their own theories and favorite characters. (It’ll inspire hundreds of knockoffs, too.)

But I also believe that 2020’s megahit will be among the last of its breed. Podcasting, like the internet and online video before it, won’t need huge hits to propel its future growth. Despite the other noise, that’s a healthy thing — and we should welcome it.

Eric Nuzum is cofounder of Magnificent Noise, a production and creative consulting company.

What was the big breakout podcast hit of 2019? Don’t work those brain cells too hard, I’ll give you the answer: There wasn’t one.

Think about it. When was the last time a new podcast came out that was a mass, mainstream hit? Something that was such a hit that it changed things: brought in masses of new listeners, garnered tons of press, or really altered the perception of what podcasting can be?

Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of very good podcasts — but truly great, transformative ones? It was a thin year.

When we look back at 2019, we’ll see it as a very odd year: where podcasting as an industry grew at a jaw-dropping pace, but with no mega-hit leading the way. Depending on your perspective, you could interpret this two different ways.

The optimistic view: As podcasting grows, it’s starting to mean more and different things to more people. Podcasting as an industry is becoming a collective of niches — otherwise fragmented nooks of interest that all share a common podcasting platform but not much else. Podcasting can be thrive without ubiquitous hits because podcast listeners come to podcasting for different reasons, in search of different things.

Looking for a mega-hit podcast is like asking: “What was the breakout website of 2019?” The internet means so many things to so many people that it now lacks that single cohesive entity that has value to everyone. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s great. Podcasting is headed along a similar trajectory…and that, too, is great.

The less-than-optimistic view: When I look for things that scare me, it isn’t the lack of a recent hit. The things that concern me are many of the behaviors I see in those trying to create that next hit by chasing “the next Serial” or “the next The Daily” or “the next WTF” and so on. Creating knockoffs is the wrong approach, and there’s a ton of it happening now. It’s riding the momentum of the podcast boom without actually contributing much to it. And by the time we hit 2021, those organizations will be disappointed in the return on their investment and effort. Much of this kind of decision-making is being imported from bad habits formed in other media.

2019 will be remembered as the year that legacy media gave a big bear hug to podcasting…and some squeezed a bit too hard. 2019 was the year that the same mindset that decimated commercial radio now considers podcasting its “birthright.” It was also the year that the low-calorie, short-term-benefits worldview that hobbled cable, newspapers, and network television descended on podcasting, offering hyped visions of how to grow the industry using the same tactics that failed others. In truth, the cumulative effect is like the arrival of a swarm of locusts, consuming everything they encounter before moving on to the next fertile field.

So where do we land? The bottom line is that 2019 marked the year when podcasting, as an industry, filled needs for consumers at such a high clip that the content didn’t really match up with listeners’ appetite for the medium itself.

I started this prediction by declaring that 2020 will be the year of the next mega-hit — and I do believe that. I think that there are still plenty of organizations and people focused on creating something big and game-changing and amazing and mind-blowing…and their work this coming year will be contagious and ubiquitous. It will be the podcast you’ll repeatedly read about and talk about at happy hours. Your friends, coworkers, and neighbors will have their own theories and favorite characters. (It’ll inspire hundreds of knockoffs, too.)

But I also believe that 2020’s megahit will be among the last of its breed. Podcasting, like the internet and online video before it, won’t need huge hits to propel its future growth. Despite the other noise, that’s a healthy thing — and we should welcome it.

Eric Nuzum is cofounder of Magnificent Noise, a production and creative consulting company.

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