What is a podcast?

How do you define a podcast? A podcast could be described as a blog that is published at regular (or irregular) intervals in audio form. Unlike with radio, a podcast episode can be retrieved at any time and listened to on your smartphone or computer. A precise time of broadcast is completely irrelevant. Free subscription services, such as RSS feeds, help to keep you informed about the latest episodes of a particular podcast. At the same time, numerous databases and apps help you to organize your favorite podcasts and make sure you don't miss any new shows.

The term ‘podcast’ is a combination of the words 'broadcast' and 'iPod'. When podcasts first emerged on the scene, it was common practice to store and listen to the audio files on your iPod (or other MP3 player). Since then the name for this format has well and truly established itself, even though the format can, in principle, be used with almost any kind of device - not only with the iPod. Today podcasts can be heard on both computers and smartphones - either by streaming or downloading.

Although radio and television broadcasters are increasingly making their content available online as podcasts, the format is still mainly used by private individuals to share a wide variety of content. Regardless of what interests you have, you should have no problem at all finding a podcast to match. 

In the past, podcasts were seen as being audio 'diaries' but nowadays video podcasts (also known as 'vodcasts' or 'vidcasts') also fall under this umbrella term. The principle is the same as with audio podcasts, except that the audio content is also supplemented with visual elements. However, in contrast to audio podcasts, the video podcasts require the full attention of the audience member. One downside of this is that it makes podcasting on the go quite a bit more difficult.

How do you find and subscribe to podcasts?

Podcast tools (also called 'podcatchers') can help you find, subscribe, and listen to podcasts. Nowadays, the best-known media players and music streaming services offer their own podcast functions - both for desktop versions and mobile. This is very handy as it now means you can access and organize your music and podcasts within the one app.

  • Apple iTunes (free for Windows Mac) and is the most popular podcatcher. Apple has its own podcast store allowing you to find, listen, and subscribe to countless interesting podcasts. iTunes has an intuitive, easy-to-use interface, as well as a very extensive range of podcasts.
     
  • Spotify streams podcasts directly onto your device. On top of this, the mobile app allows you to download entire series and listen to them offline
     
  • Deezer offers audiobooks and live radio, alongside its range of podcasts. Podcasts are divided into channels, which work similarly to categories. Deezer also allows you to download podcasts - but only the most recent episode

Online podcast players are great for discovering new podcasts.

  • podbay.fm is an online podcast streaming service that aims to be your go-to source for all podcasts. Founded in 2012, its aim was to cut out the need to visit multiple websites in order to access all the podcasts you want to listen to. Some of the features offered by Podbay include a comprehensive ranking system, an easy listening experience, clip sharing, as well as an app for on the go listening
  • stitcher.com sees itself as not just a source of podcasts but also a place for talk internet radio and news. The name comes from the word ‘stitch’ and the way that the site offers to bring together content that is personalized and unique for each user. Stitcher is available as an app for iPhone and Android, and as a desktop app. On the go, listening is made easier by the fact that it is possible to download podcasts for offline listening. The Stitcher homepage (see link above) offers an overview of the newest podcasts and also allows you to search for content via trending hashtags, e.g. #sport, #technology, etc

Once you find a podcast that you like, you should go ahead and subscribe to it. This means that you will be able to listen to it on a regular basis. A podcast subscription is always free of charge and can be made via the subscription section of the respective apps. Many podcast operators tend to use RSS feeds [What is an RSS feed? – IONOS] (https://www.ionos.de/digitalguide/websites/webseiten-erstellen/was-ist-ein-rss-feed/), to inform users about new episodes. This is very easily done through your own browser. For example, Firefox has an integrated RSS reader (they also refer to the feeds as dynamic bookmarks), while Chrome has some RSS extensions. In both cases, podcast subscriptions can be viewed via a convenient drop-down button.

Podcast apps for your smartphone

Given that a podcast episode is always an audio file (usually in MP3 format), you can use any media player to listen to it. However, downloading, saving and organizing files is unnecessarily tedious, especially if you want to listen on your smartphone while out and about. While streaming services like Spotify and Deezer simultaneously cover music listening, they sometimes tend to lack the functionality that some podcast specific apps can provide. Here are some examples of such apps:

Android

  • Pocket Casts ($3.99): intuitive, colorful, easy to use, and with regular updates. Pocket Casts is one of the best podcast apps for Android out there
     
  • DoggCatcher Podcast Player ($3.99): DoggCatcher allows you to not only follow podcasts, you can follow newsfeeds as well. Aside from this, the app also makes personalized recommendations
     
  • AntennaPod (free): the free of charge AntennaPod app is a good choice for potential podcast enthusiasts who wish to get to know the format first. More frequent listeners to podcasts will often upgrade to the fee-based apps as they offer a superior and wider range of functions
     
  • Podcast & Radio Addict (free): another example of a free app is Podcast & Radio Addict, which brings podcasts together with online radio, livestreams, RSS newsfeeds, as well as both YouTube and Twitch channels. This makes it a very comprehensive option and especially interesting if you are someone who uses a lot of different media formats

iOS

  • Overcast ($9.99 – the free version has very limited functions): fast and simple to use with a comprehensive range of functions. Features like Darktheme, mean that Overcast is easily one of the best podcast apps for Apple devices. Overcast also supports the Apple Watch and also synchronizes the app with the web player. This means you can listen to a particular episode on the go and then finish the episode on your desktop or laptop.
     
  • Pocket Casts ($3.99): the iOS version of Pocket Casts is in no way inferior to the Android version, offering the same colorful and intuitive interface.
     
  • Podcasts (free): Apple's own podcast app is easy to use and, in particular, offers a simple introduction for new listeners. The simplicity of the app also extends to include its overall functionality as well.

What are the most popular podcasts? Five examples

Nowadays there are so many podcasts available for you to listen to, some of which are of a higher quality than others and, therefore, more popular.  Below are some examples of productions that are ideal for those who are just starting to get a taste of the podcast world.

News: ‘Up First’ from NPR

News is available around the clock - across a multitude of channels and media sources. News podcasts are a good way of getting the latest news at any time of day. However, it is important to remember that you need to update your podcast regularly in order to keep it as current and as relevant as possible.

Available Monday to Friday from 6 a.m. ET, the ‘Up First’ podcast from NPR brings you all the news you need to start your day. Covering everything from politics to popular culture and condensed into an easily digestible 10-minute episode, this is a great way of bringing you up to date with everything happening in the word, first thing in the morning.

Science: ‘Stuff To Blow Your Mind‘

One of many podcast series from HowStuffWorks, ‘Stuff To Blow Your Mind’ explores the deeper, more curious aspects of the world around us. The two hosts, Robert Lamb and Joe McCormick, explore the likes of neurological quandaries, cosmic mysteries, evolutionary marvels, and future-based speculation. This podcast is an excellent choice for anyone seeking an entertaining way to engage their brain in questions about the universe.

Culture: The Guardian Culture Podcast

Podcasts also have the potential to expose you to an extensive range of cultural topics. You can find everything including the likes of reviews, analyses, interviews, artist portraits, and discussion rounds. In general, the podcast format is ideal for the exchange of cultural ideas and opinions. This is just one of many podcasts from one of Britain’s most famous newspapers. The Guardian Culture Podcast explores many different topics including literature, TV, film, food, etc. They even produce some of their own original drama in podcast format.

Comedy: Bill Burr’s Monday Morning Podcast

The open format of the podcast provides a platform for numerous satirists and comedians to entertain their audience. The monologue and dialogue type podcast is particularly popular for this. Every week, comedian/actor/writer Bill Bur brings out an episode of his Monday Morning Podcast in which he speaks about a wide range of themes and issues, including current events, sports, his personal life, and life as a famous comedian. He also answers questions sent in by listeners of the podcast. The last few years have seen Bill release a second podcast during the week, known as the Thursday Afternoon Just-Before-Friday Monday Morning Podcast that acts as a supplement to the main Monday episode.

Sports: The Bill Simmons Podcast

The most downloaded sports podcast of all time comes from another Bill; this time it’s Bill Simmons, an American sports columnist. The Bill Simmons Podcast covers major sports and including guest appearances from famous athletes and analysts.

However, it is not just the general sports fan that podcasts cater for, there are also fan podcasts for individual teams and franchises, e.g. the Numb Bills Fan Podcast for fans of the Buffalo Bills or Clipcast for supporters of the Los Angeles Clippers in the NBA.

Podcasts as a marketing tool

The podcast has managed to establish itself as an important marketing format, with which you can reach a wide variety of target groups. This is partly due to the fact that it’s incredibly easy to define podcasts as a means of easily communicating content. However, they are also subject to all the advantages and disadvantages of the audio format. Here’s an overview.

Pros Cons
Very accessible and easily consumable – both on the move and while doing other things Niche themes – demands targeted selection of topics
Subscriptions help foster a strong connection with customers Mainly distributed in audio format - the lack of visual elements restricts a variety of topics and market reach
Strong customer loyalty given that the potential customer actively searches for and subscribes to the podcast Video has been more popular than audio over recent decades (this may be changing...)
Uncomplicated and organic integration of advertising Until recently, connecting and sharing within social media has been difficult
Personal nature of the communication strengthens the level of trust between provider and customer  
Access at any time: user chooses when they wish to consume content  
Viral potential given that it can be shared through social media  
Relatively low production costs (compared to other media forms)