What do Russell Brand, Fearne Cotton, Snoop Dogg, Freddie Flintoff and Oprah Winfrey have in common? It’s not a bad joke – they are all hosts or regular guests on podcasts.

In recent years, the stock of the humble podcast has been on the rise. More than ever before, famous faces are taking advantage of their audience reach and engagement. But are brands fully utilising this channel?

Many cite the blockbuster podcast ‘Serial’ by This American Life as one of the key catalysts for the format in 2014 and data suggests that popularity has grown sharply in the last five years. Ofcom research shows that close to 6 million UK adults are now tuning in each week – almost doubling from 3.2m (7% of adults aged 15+) in 2013 to 5.9m (11%) in 2018.

The increase is across all age groups, but the steepest growth is now among young adults aged 15-24 – with around one in five (18.7%) listening every week – a huge opportunity to engage that highly sought after, hard-to-reach Gen Z audience.

Unsurprisingly, last year Spotify earmarked $500m to invest into podcasts after acquiring providers Gimlet and Anchor. The intriguing question is ‘why has it taken so long?’ Perhaps in an era of video streaming and snackable visual content, on-demand audio-only was not expected to remain as popular as it has.

So, where are podcasts succeeding where other channels are unable to?


The big barrier that exists between ‘talent’ and ‘audience’ on most media channels is authenticity. We’ve become pretty savvy consumers, with a cynical understanding that social posts from our favourite celebs are most likely curated and scheduled by their personal agents or extended social media teams. Equally in traditional media, interviews and the process which generates news and articles is well-edited and interpreted through several filters before it gets to us.


The listening behavior associated with podcasts also lends itself to an almost private presenter – listener relationship. Consumption through headphones with the removal of other sensory distractions is a rare opportunity amongst commuters and the urban audience.

A lack of video forces the listener to imagine the accompanying visuals to what is being described.


On. Demand. The two words that have taken over our lives and dominate consumption habits.

My own personal story?

Thanks for asking – I began listening to podcasts travelling in Japan with ‘Fred, Sav and the Ping Pong Guy‘ a particular favourite and my gateway drug of choice.

Listening to those guys helped connect me to the English culture and sport I’d been missing, getting their personal take on the news agenda at my convenience. Soon I was listening to Guardian Football Weekly to keep up with all the Premier League stories and analysis that I was starved of. Next was Desert Island Discs when I broadened out from sport and into music.

Whilst those are all primarily content from existing broadcasters, perhaps it’s time that brands caught on to a greater degree in the same way as they have taken to owned social platforms. Even before considering how to leverage the benefits Authenticity, Intimacy and Convenience; it would match the transition of their audience to this new platform.

Thinking by Rob Baney.