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Podcasting in 2021: Best Developments, Top Stories, and Biggest News

It’s that time again where we take a look back at everything that transpired in the podcasting space this past year.

And 2021 was a pretty big year as far as the podcasting industry is concerned! And so to help us debrief, we’ve created a look-back list of some of the top developments, recaps, and general big podcast news. So, here, in no particular order, is our list of some of podcasts’ biggest moments of 2021.

1. Happy 20th Birthday to Podcasts

The first big podcast milestone of 2021 was the realization that January marked the 20th birthday of podcasts! Eric Nuzum wrote a fascinating piece for Podnews back in January this year which tells the origin story of the podcast.

Check out the article here: The Story of the First Podcast Feed

2. The Launch of Ask We Edit

We celebrated our own first this year. The launch of our new mini-podcast, the Ask We Edit Show! We wanted to put all the knowledge and experience we had gathered over the year back into the community, and so the Ask We Edit Show was born! Hosted by Andrew Delmar, there are 150 episodes which share technical advice, product reviews, monetization methods that actually work, podcasting how-to’s, tips and tricks, even some podcast myth-busting, and so much more!

3. Pod Wars EP II: Attack of the DDoS

In February, our friends over at Buzzsprout fell prey to some serious DDoS Attacks. The attacker attempted to extort the company in order to stop the attack. Thankfully, all podcasts, data, and personal information were not accessed or compromised, but it took 27 hours before the platform was back up and running without any more hitches.

But the saga didn’t stop there as SpreakerPodbean, and Captivate all reported they had also been under siege and downed by DDoS attacks.

4. Podcasts Break 2 Million Mark

March was another milestone month for podcasts. According to Daniel J. Lewis and his Podcast Industry Insights service, the month of March saw the number of podcasts on Apple Podcasts hitting a cool 2 million! 

Currently, the tally stands at 2,398,912 podcasts and counting!

5. Inaugural Ambies Awards

2021 also saw the crowning of the first-ever Awards for Excellence in Audio winners. A.K.A, The Ambies, is a podcast awards program hosted by The Podcast Academy. Some of the big winners from the first event were Dirty Diana (Best Scriptwriting, Fiction), Wind of Change (Best Podcast Host), and Dying for Sex (Podcast of the Year).

And if you want to check out all the winners, Evo Terra created a Podchaser List which you can check out here.

6. Spotify Continued to Sign Big Names

2021 also saw Spotify continue to sign on big names for new podcasts. Two of the bigger signings that caught our attention were the Russo Brothers (of Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War; and Avengers: End Game fame), and, of course, the announcement that Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen were teaming up to host a podcast.

7. More Exclusivity Deals

And speaking of Spotify, they find a space on this list again. This time with their signing of more exclusive deals with podcast hosts. The Armchair Expert himself, Dax Shepard, and his co-host Monica Padman can now be found exclusively on the platform. Another big podcast to stake their claim as ‘exclusive to Spotify’ was Alex Cooper’s Call Her Daddy…for a reported $60 million, just FYI…

But Spotify wasn’t the only platform offering exclusive deals! In June, news broke that Amazon Had Nabbed Exclusive Rights to the ‘SmartLess’ Podcast. The total value of the deal is reported to be between $60 to $80 million.

8. David vs. Goliath-esque Podcast Name Battle

Armchair Expert’s Monica Padman also finds herself in a second mention on this list. This time for her part in the David and Goliath-esque stand-off between two podcasts fighting for the same name, Shattered Glass. Hosts of the original Shattered Glass podcast sent a cease and desist letter, as their previous attempts at contacting Kristen Bell and Monica Padman had failed.

Suffice to say, David won this one. Read the open letter Marita, Monica, and Jessica of the established Shattered Glass podcast sent to Kirsten Bell and Monica Padman.

9. More Celebrity Podcasts

We continued to see a plethora of celebrities launch their own podcasts. Most notable, Meghan Trainor launched Workin’ On It, which she co-hosts with her brother, Ryan. Lindsay Lohan also hopped on the podcast train with her show, which promises intimate conversations with friends and guests, was set to launch late 2021 or early 2022. And Seth Rogan launched Storytime with Seth Rogan, but this one is far from the typical comedian-hosted chat show!

10. From Subscriber to Follower

Another interesting development on the podcasting front was the announcement by Apple that they will soon be axing the “Subscribe” button on Apple Podcasts and adopting “Follow” instead. Quite the massive departure considering “subscribe wherever you get your podcast” was a phrase so ingrained in the minds of avid podcast listeners.

James Cridland of Podnews first broke the story back in March 9th, and we found that Evo Terra’s piece on the matter raised some really interesting points.

11. Video Podcasting Stakes a Claim

Adam Carolla and LiveXLive Chairman and CEO Robert Ellion made an appearance on Fox Business earlier in the year where they stated that the future of podcasting lies in video. They even predicted the growth area of the medium could be 5-10 billion dollars in the next five to seven years! 

Podcasting Seems To Be Important to YouTube, so if you’re thinking about starting a video podcast in 2022, it could be a good move!

12. Acquisitions, Acquisitions, and More Acquisitions!

You know what there was an abudance of in 2021? Acquisitions! Seriously! We probably covered this topic the most in our weekly newsletters.(Sign up here!) And it was tough keeping up with all the massive acquisitions that took place in the audio space this year!

Below are just some of the big ones:

13. Apple TV+ Brings Podcasts to Life

A very cool thing happened this year! Apple TV+ brought the much-loved podcast The Shrink Next Door to life in an eight part series. Starring Will Ferrel and Paul Rudd it was a real treat to see this unbelievably true story brought visually to life.

However, a slight plot twist arose towards the end of the year as the story broke that Joe Nocera, ‘The Shrink Next Door,’ creator was suing Bloomberg over the Apple TV+ series.

14. Cool Podcasting Products

We got to be a part of a cool new podcasting product! A new, all-inclusive podcasting starter bundle is now available at select Staples US Retail Locations! Together with Staples, we’ve joined forces with RØDE and Spreaker to create a start-to-finish podcast package that will help podcast hosts take their podcasting ideas to the airwaves! It’s got everything podcast hosts need to record, edit, and share a professional-quality podcast with ease.

Follow this link to find out more! 

15. Facebook Joins the Podcasting Space

Facebook entered the podcasting space in 2021! In his announcement, CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated they that wanted to “treat audio as a first-class medium in the way that we treat photos and videos.”

If you want to find out more about getting your podcast on Facebook, this article from Buzzsprout will fill you in.

16. The Future of Podcast Advertising

This year we saw podcast advertising take center stage, with no signs of slowing down. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s U.S. Podcast Advertising Revenue Study, the spend on podcast advertising will experience as much growth in the next two years as it did in the past ten years! Which is all sorts of impressive! But it doesn’t end there!

The Study also makes some serious projections regarding podcast ad spend for the next two years. To the tune of $1 billion in ad revenue in 2021 and $2 billion in 2023. You can see more of the findings in this article by the Podcast Business Journal.

17. Interesting Podcasting Stats Abound

But the above were certainly not the only facts and figures we paid attention to this year. A report by Nielsen studies showed us that ‘light’ listeners make up nearly half of podcast audience. And this study by The Westwood One 2021 Audioscape found that podcast listeners are upscale and educated, and significantly younger than the audiences of other mediums, making them an audience advertisers want to reach.

Tom Webster from Edison Research reported that the Q3/21 data shows that 20% of users had listened to podcasts via Facebook Podcasts which was a jump from the 8% of Q2. The Infinite Dial compiled by Edison Research gave us a wealth of information on podcast audiences!

18. Spotify and Apple Rivalry Continued

The rivalry between Spotify and Apple intensified this year, as both platforms vied to take the top spot. Despite all the glow-up Apple Podcasts received this year,  Spotify has reportedly surpassed tech giant Apple to become the top podcast provider in the US.

19. New Podcast Recognition

A cool thing for up-and-coming podcast creators happened this year! The BBC World Service International Podcast Competition crowned its first winner this year! The competition was open to non-broadcast and podcast professionals from Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. The goal was to find a brilliant and original podcast idea. The winner, Namulanta Kombo from Kenya, beat out almost 1000 other entries. With the help of the BBC World Service, Namulanta Kombo launched her podcast, Dear Daughter.

The International Podcast Competition will return in early 2022. Details of eligible countries coming soon.

20. Apple Podcasts Subscriptions

A big announcement from Apple this year was the launch of Apple Podcasts Subscriptions, with the aim to give podcast hosts “new ways to grow their podcast business.”

A number of big names lined up to offer shows via Apple Podcast Subscriptions. CNN (with their new show The Handoff) and Wondery+, and later BBC Podcasts, were some of the biggest.

We found that  Nick Quah’s article and this one from Podnews got us up to speed with everything that was happening.

21. The Importance of Accessibility Emerges

We’re big advocates for accessibility within the podcasting space. And this year saw many podcasts and hosting platfoms make strides towards making podcasts all the more accessible. And the importance of this became all the more evident when the National Association for the Deaf has filed a lawsuit against SiriusXM for failing to provide captioning and transcripts for “the vast majority” of its podcasts.

22. The Rise of Social Audio

What was possibly the biggest development to come out of 2021 was the rise of social audio. In particular, the hype around Clubhouse had many wondering if the platform was going to kill podcasting? A clue: no. But it did push us into the era of audio content and live audience interaction.

And all platforms were keen to get in on the action. ​TwitterFacebookSpotifyLinkedInDiscordMark Cuban’s Fireside, and even Slack all launched or are said to be working on their own platforms for social audio. ​And Facebook is said to be testing Hotline, a Q&A product that’s a mashup of Clubhouse and Instagram Live. And even Reddit was secretly (or maybe, not so secretly, as it turns out…) exploring a Clubhouse-like voice chat feature

But that’s not all! ​Amazon is building a Clubhouse competitor that turns hosts into DJs and Medium is entering the audio space ? with their acquisition of Knowable, an audio-based learning platform featuring podcast-like courses.

But you want to know who really cracked the code for getting audio to go viral in 2021? Hinge!

Final Thoughts

There can be no denying that 2021 was a momentous year where the podcasting industry is concerned! From multi-million dollar acquisitions and massive ad spend preditions to exciting new developments and tech advancements, and, of course, the occasional lawsuit or two, we saw a lot happen in the audio space this year.

And what a ride it’s been!

All we can say is, “Bring on 2022!” And let’s see all the great things next year has in store for the podcast industry!

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