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A Breakdown of the Most Popular Podcast Formats

Are you thinking of starting a podcast? If so, it’s important to choose the right format. The right format will help you best communicate your intended message and topic.

And while picking your podcast format may seem straightforward, it can be a little more complicated than you might think. There are way more different types of podcast formats than the interview podcast or the solo podcast.

And to further complicate matters, within the different format types, there are subcategories and hybrid styles.

But does your podcast format even matter? You betcha it does! Your format is actually a key ingredient in that secret sauce to podcasting success.

The right format will make your content shine the brightest, ensuring that your show consistently delivers valuable content. And it can even help better form those all-important connections with your audience. So, picking the right format for your show certainly matters!

And so to help make that choice a little easier, in this post, we’re going to break down some of the different types of podcast formats for you.

Let’s get started!

The Most Popular Podcast Formats

1. The Solo Format

First up, the solo podcast. This is arguably the most common style of podcast, and it’s not very hard to see why. The Solo Format just involves one person delivering the content. This means that you will find it much easier to create a high-quality episode when compared to other formats we’ll cover later, because you have a lot more control, as it’s just you involved.

The podcast format is also commonly used as it can be less time-consuming to edit when there is only one person’s raw recordings.

But because it’s so popular, you will need to put in consistent time and effort in order to make your podcast shine and reach the success you’re after.

Related read: What Makes a Podcast Host Great? 15 Key Characteristics

Find the balance between prepared and natural, and you’ll find great success as a solo host!

2. The Interview Format

Often when people dream of starting a podcast, it’s the interview format they’re envisioning. And this is because it looks so fun to get to interview celebrities or big names in whatever niche you’re looking to join.

If you have a topic that requires expert knowledge, thrives on variety of opinions, or one that many people can contribute to, the interview format is an excellent choice.

While this category is flooded with celebrities and famous hosts, this format is certainly not only for the famous. You can host an interview podcast on almost any topic or within any niche, provided there experts or niche leaders that you can interview.

To find success using this format you will need to hone your interview skills, as well as spruce up your research skills so you can ask those valuable questions that can only be found on your show. And key to being a great interviewer is being a great listener. So hone in on those skills too!

Related read: Everything You Need to Know About…Podcast Interviews

3. The Co-Hosted Format

Another popular format is the co-hosted podcast. This type of show usually has an origin story of friends, family, or even colleagues sharing a deep interest in the same topic. In today’s world, the “Hey, why don’t we start a podcast together?” conversation is bound to happen sooner or later!

The winning combination for finding success with this format is hosts who are knowledgeable on their topic, who are committed to sharing the workload, and who have great natural chemistry.

Get this mix right, and the co-hosted format could be part of your podcasting success.

Related read: Does Your Podcast Need a Co-Host?

4. The Panel Format

The panel show format could be a very viable format choice as it can be used for nearly every topic or niche imaginable. But it is often not the most popular choice as it requires a few key ingredients to really find success using this format.

Firstly, you need your panel. And this can be tricky, as you need to find the right balance of ‘characters’ to keep your audience entertained and engaged. You’re usually aiming to bring balanced views on a topic. So all participants need to be passionate about the topic, whether for or against. But all participants also need to be willing to ‘share the mic’ without one or two people dominating the conversation.

And so this topic requires commitment and preparation to really make it work. But if all the hosts pull their weight and are determined to work together to make the show a success, it very likely will be!

5. The Non-Fiction Narrative Format

Most true crime podcasts would be classified as the non-fiction narrative format. Although this category is so popular it’s almost a format on its own!

The non-fiction narrative podcast format tells a true-life tale over a number of episodes. As mentioned above, this category is incredibly popular. And so to do well with this format, you will need exceptional research skills, and the ability to tell a story clearly and coherently in order to hold your own.

But if you have a fascinating story to tell, you could find great success using this format.

Related read: The Ultimate List of Binge-worthy True-Crime Podcasts

6. The Fiction Narrative Format

This podcast format has seen a massive surge in popularity recently. And some big names in television and film are jumping in on the action, too! And as the format grows, so does the caliber of what it offers, with many now referring to shows in this category as audio drama, due to the high production value of many of these podcasts.

The Marvel franchise has helped propel the ‘audio drama’ format forward with their offering of some great fiction podcasts. And there is also plenty for the next generation to enjoy. Story Pirates (Their format is a really fun take on the format!) and The Radio Adventures of Eleanor Amplified are two very popular examples.

If you dream of bringing your stories to life, but a book deal feels too far out of reach currently, then writing and producing a high-quality fiction podcast is an incredible way to get your work out there!

Related read: 21 of the Best Podcasts for Kids in 2021

7. The Repurposed Content Format

There is also the Repurposed Content Format. If you have or are currently sharing content via another medium, repurposing your content for a podcast might be the perfect way to get into the industry, as well as further your brand.

A popular example of a repurposed content format is The Moth. This podcast gathers stories told on all sorts of stages from all over the world and shares them via podcast episodes. The Rachel Maddow Show is another good example. This show turns a well-known world news television show into an informative podcast.

Because you would have already done most of the content creation side of things, depending on the kind of other content you’ve been offering, this format is great for those short on time. Brands or entrepreneurs looking to start a podcast will likely find that this format may be the best option.

8. The Improv Format

Branching off from the narrative story-telling fiction format is the improv format. If improv is your passion, and you’ve honed this skill to a good extent already, then this podcast style could really work well for you.

The improv format can take the form of a solo hosted show, or it can be a co-hosted or full-cast/panel endeavor, but the underlying premise is that the content is all improvised or adlibbed on the spot.

There may be a general script that covers a general outline, or there may be a broad theme to discuss, but other than that, the content in this type of format is free to go wherever it wishes.

Because the improv podcasting format is so versatile, it can fit a number of different niches or styles. But in order to find success using this type of format, you have to be highly skilled in your area of improv, whether that’s story-telling, comedy, poetry, or something more educationally-focused. Improv only really works when you can’t tell someone is improvising!

So if you know this is something you can do, then the improv style just might be the right fit for you and your podcast.

9. The Table Top Format

In at Number 9 is the tabletop format. This type of format can also be called “actual play podcasts” which does help explain this format a little better.

This podcast format features players of a table-top game (often of the role-playing variety, such as Dungeons and Dragons) who record themselves playing in real-time. They then release the sessions of their campaigns or rounds as podcast episodes.

The table-top style podcast is therefore very niche. And it’s only a particular type of table-top game that will really work in a podcast format. (I don’t think anyone is going to be tuning in for a round of Go Fish, no matter how exciting the game gets in real life!)

But as with any of these formats, if done well, you could really find great success! So if you and your friends are keen D&D players for example, this format could be the one to pick for your podcast. 

Great examples of this format are The Adventure Zone and Aventure They Wrote. But you could also explore Podchaser to find more great shows successfully using this format.

10. The Hybrid Format

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So, what happens if, up until now, you haven’t found a format that ticks all your boxes? You like elements of a few of the formats we’ve mentioned, but you can’t quite envision your show gelling seamlessly with any of the above.

Then you might be looking for the hybrid format. If your niche topic doesn’t exactly match “traditional” podcast formats, the hybrid format is ideal. The hybrid format is also a great option if you’re looking for more flexibility with want you want to offer via your podcast.

A hybrid format for a podcast could be any combination of the formats listed below. This provides you with the opportunity to get creative and develop your own show format that is unique to you and your listeners, and one that will best showcase your topic or niche subject.

For example, you could have a hybrid show that is mainly solo segments, but branches off into interviews when you’re able to land those amazing guests who will offer your audience so much value. You could use the non-fiction narrative story-telling format which also features panel discussions. Or an improv style that also does scripted audio drama-type content. When you seriously consider it, the possibilities are really endless

A word to the wise…

But we will offer a small disclaimer when it comes to picking the hybrid format. You need to be sure that this format really is what will work best for your show. The danger with having the hybrid option on the table is that may mean that you don’t do enough research and work to really lockdown your niche.

You may give up that exercise too early and simply ‘settle’ for the hybrid format. But this may not be what’s best for your topic or your audience.

A hybrid podcast can only be successful if the combination of styles or formats adds to the overall podcast experience for your listener. If you’re only picking this format because you’re not really sure what you want to do, your listener will also be very confused. And if this is the case, they won’t be sticking around.

So make sure you really hone in on your niche and your target audience before you pick “hybrid” as your podcast format.

11. The Video Format

The final format is the video format. While not your “typical” podcast format, it being video and all, video podcasts are growing in popularity.

So popular, in fact, that YouTube is fast becoming a top platform for podcast listening.

And so the video format for your podcast is definitely one for consideration. You can start a podcast solely on YouTube, or you can branch out into video podcasting from your standard podcast.

But while video podcasting is certainly growing, there are certain niches, topics, or podcast types that will better yield themselves to the video format.

Podcasts that use the above-mentioned table-top format would be a great contender for video. This format already has the visual element (i.e the game that is being played) so it would simply be a case of filming your play.

If you interview fairly well-known guests, the video format would work well for you, too. Your listeners would likely be very interested in actually watching your interviews. Create a great aesthetic for your interviews, and the video format could help you reach an even bigger audience.

The video format would also work for podcast topics that have the potential to add visual interest. If there is a practical, tutorial, or demonstration angle to your niche and topic, you might be able to serve your audience best via the video format.

Related read: How to Start a Successful Podcast on YouTube

To Conclude

And that brings us to the end of our podcast format breakdown. There really is a lot to consider when it comes to choosing the right format for your podcast. But don’t worry, with this guide, you’ve got this!

Take some time to mull over which format will work best for you, your topic, and your audience, and your podcast format will work with you, and not against you, on your road to podcast success!

Need some help picking the format that’s right for you? Pop your question in the comments! We’d love to hear from you!

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