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A Review of the Top Podcast Developments of 2020

I cannot believe we’re at that time of the year again where we reflect on some of the biggest developments that took place in the podcasting sphere during our latest trip around the sun. And what a year 2020 has been! As we all jotted down our best-laid plans at the end of 2019, we had no idea of the tumultuous year that lay ahead. It’s certainly been one crazy ride (and it’s not over yet!) and while 2020 has dealt some devastating blows, the podcasting industry really learned to roll with the punches, and some remarkable developments took place in the industry this year. So let’s take a trip down memory lane in our review of some of the greatest podcasting developments of 2020. 


The Podcast Academy is Established

At the Podcast Movement Evolutions back in March, the formation of The Podcast Academy was announced. The Podcast Academy is a membership-driven, not-for-profit organization, that has been set up to establish an inclusive space for the entire podcast industry. For their members, they offer monthly educational webinars, as well as online member socials, all with the underlying motive of upholding and pushing for excellence in the podcasting sphere. The Academy will also run an annual peer-based awards event which will celebrate this excellence in podcasting. Through all of their activities, the Academy seeks to elevate the awareness and status of podcasts, by showcasing podcasts as a unique and personal medium for entertainment, information, storytelling, and expression.

Podcasting Experiences New Growth

Thanks to the coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent quarantine and lockdown orders placed on around 3.9 billion people – around half of the world’s population – people were looking for ways to keep entertained in 2020. Some took to binge-watching Game of Thrones, others attempted keeping a sourdough starter alive (mine’s called Wondough Woman, and she’s doing very well, thank you very much!) but many others sat down behind the mic and realized their dream of starting a podcast. During the first few months of 2020, there was a sharp increase of new shows joining cyberspace. According to stats released by Apple, in March of 2020, 63,000 new podcasts were launched. Compare this to 25,000 new shows recorded in September of 2019 and it’s pretty clear that podcasting became a favorite quarantine pastime! And while we expected to see a steady growth in new shows based on the previous years’ statistics, there was a definite spike in the figures thanks to all that happened this year. 

Fun Fact: Even though there was a spike in the number of new shows joining the world of podcasting, there was actually a decrease in the number of podcast downloads. This could most likely be attributed to the fact that due to stay-at-home orders and country-wide lockdowns, we no longer had to commute to our places of work, and hence, no longer needed to download podcasts for the journey. 


Harry Potter At Home

Okay, so this one doesn’t quite qualify as an “Official Podcasting Development” but I’m including it in this list because a) It was available on Spotify for a time during the quarantine period, b) It’s an audio gem, and c) Because it really just celebrates the magic (pun intended) of the audio medium. Harry Potter at Home was launched back in April to help banish boredom when everyone was stuck indoors. And it’s such a lovely celebration of the power of audio-based story-telling. Each chapter is read by a famous voice – from Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, who reads Chapter One, to Eddie Redmayne, Dakota Fanning, and even David Beckham! If you haven’t yet enjoyed the magical tale, you have until December 31st, 2020, to do so (check it out here! You will need to sign up, but it is free!) because, after that, it will be locked away for-who-knows-how-long in one of Gringotts’ vaults. (I actually have no idea where it disappears to, so please don’t quote me on this!)  

Related read: Our Top 9 (And ¾!) Harry Potter-Themed Podcasts


Michelle Obama Gets a Podcast

The first episode of The Michelle Obama Podcast was released in July this year. This was one of the first few podcasts that was exclusively available on Spotify. The first episode featured a candid conversation with her husband, former President Barack Obama. It was met with rave reviews, as Michelle has a natural knack for making you feel comfortable and at home, as if you’re talking to your best friend. But, in a rather surprising move, in September, it was announced that the “Spotify exclusive” podcast was now going to be made available on other platforms, which was an odd plot twist in the arguments concerning podcast exclusivity…

Related read: Podcast Exclusivity-The Pros And Cons And Everything In Between

Podcast Accessibility and Inclusivity Improves

Back in July this year, Gimlet Media, a podcast division of Spotify, was in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. A class-action lawsuit was filed against Gimlet Media specifically for their lack of accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Plaintiff Kahlimah Jones brought the charges against the company on the basis that by failing to make their content accessible by not providing subtitles or closed captioning on various podcasts, Gimlet Media consequently violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). (You can read more on the subject here.) This brought the topic of accessibility in podcasting to the forefront more than ever before. It sparked many necessary conversations and I view this as a really important step in the right direction in order to make all the amazing content delivered via podcasts available to everyone. I am hopeful that many brands will come up with innovative ways towards improving podcast accessibility in 2021. 

Related read: Podcast Accessibility: Why And How To Make Your Podcast More Accessible


Podcast Advertising Hits All Time High

As an avid podcast listener, you would likely have noticed that there was a significant increase in ads scattered throughout your favorite shows in 2020. And this is because podcasting advertising has been firmly established as a highly effective place to market products or brands, and in 2020, we saw many companies are pouring more and more revenue into this marketing avenue. According to the fourth annual IAB Podcast Advertising Revenue Report prepared by PwC, in the  U.S. alone, podcast advertising revenues in 2020 came seriously close to hitting $1 billion! Yes, I said billion! And if this trend continues, it will easily surpass that figure in 2021. The report also states that more and more companies and brands are specifically focussing on podcasts as part of their marketing strategies. And if these statistics from MusicOomph are anything to go by, it’s easy to see why! According to their data. 69% of listeners reported that they were introduced to new goods and services through podcast advertising. That’s a pretty impressive success rate! And with new developments constantly taking place on this front – from intuitive ways to insert ads into podcast episodes, to brands and podcast hosts working together to align products with audiences, this will likely greatly increase in the coming year.  


International Podcast Day Hits New Record

September is a big month for the podcasting industry! On the 30th of September every year, podcasters and podcast enthusiasts from all over the world come together to celebrate International Podcast Day – a day dedicated to all things podcasting. The sixth celebration was held this year and through the power of the Internet, a massive live stream event was held which featured some incredible sessions by over 60 podcasters from 26 countries from all around the world. Another event that takes place on International Podcast Day is the auspicious Podcast Awards. This year was the 15th occasion of the event celebrating some incredible shows across a wide variety of genres. I found a number of my new favorite listens by perusing their list of nominees!


Podcast Movement Virtual Takes the Online Stage

2020 was the year of the Zoom Meeting and virtual events. And podcast events really embraced the virtual platform. One of the biggest virtual events that took place this year was Podcast Movement Virtual. Podcast Movement is usually one of the most anticipated events on the podcasting calendar, but for safety reasons, the in-person event had to be canceled. But the team behind the scenes shifted gears expertly to host the very successful Podcast Movement Virtual. This year, the event took place over two weeks in October. The core of the Conference took place over four days, and there were also four additional days of workshops. And while the in-person connections were certainly missed, going virtual made it possible for people from all over the world to “attend” one of podcasting’s most auspicious events. But if you weren’t able to attend, don’t despair. You can still get “buy a ticket” to gain access to over 100 of the session recordings!


Spotify Makes Moves

Last, but certainly not least, we turn our attention to Spotify. This is one of the podcasting developments that has been “developing” throughout the course of the year. Spotify has been anything but subtle in its bid to knock Apple out of the top spot when it comes to audio content distribution. Their modus operandi has been to sign lucrative, exclusive deals with names that carry some serious superstar power in order to intensify their pull on the listener’s ear towards their platform. To date, Spotify has already dished a cool couple hundred million dollars on securing these exclusive deals with some massive stars, from Michelle Obama (see above), to the infamous signing of Joe Rogan in May of this year. Spotify also spent $600 million in their purchase of Gimlet Media and the Ringer, Parcast, and Anchor. This rivalry only intensified as 2020 progressed, with many reports throughout the year stating that Spotify was standing head and shoulders above Apple worldwide. (Sidenote: There is no real proof of this claim. Check out this post by Podnews’ James Cridland for some interesting food for thought.) But there can be no denying that Spotify is in the podcasting game to win it! And in November of 2020, they took a giant leap towards that end by purchasing the podcast hosting company, Megaphone. It will be interesting to see the plays both Apple and Spotify make come 2021…

In Conclusion

And there you have it, our recap of some the biggest podcast developments of 2020! And the year is not over yet! But if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that massive changes can take place quicker than you ever thought possible! And so, we still have our eyes (and ears!) perusing the podcasting landscape to see just what the rest of the year may have in store. But no matter what lies ahead, the podcasting industry has proven just how resilient and innovative it really is by rolling with the punches, pivoting where necessary, and doing the hard work that is needed to adapt to an ever-changing and totally unpredictable world. And we couldn’t be prouder to be a part of such an incredible industry! Let’s see what 2021 has in store!

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