In 2014, Serial upended everything we thought we knew about podcasts, rocketing to the top of any chart it landed on and proving that audio storytelling can have mass appeal beyond a devoted base. With its second season, Serial is shifting the paradigm for podcasts yet again—by expanding the medium beyond just audio.
Starting on Dec. 10, you could listen to Sarah Koenig’s recounting of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl’s capture by the Taliban, sure, but that was only one piece of the story. For the first time, the Serial team offered up other content in addition to the podcast. Shareable clips, photos, GIFs, interactive maps, videos of Bergdahl; all of it went out onSerial’s website, as well as its Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook,Twitter, and Vine accounts.
The traditional limitations of the podcast form create much of its appeal: Listening to a story without visuals feels intimate. Restricting podcasts to audio encourages a small, loyal audience—but it also poses a hurdle for increasing their audiences. There’s no easy way to share snippets of audio files through social media, and no easy access to shows outside of the Apple Podcasts app; those steep barriers to entry have resulted in a vast untapped audience of not-yet-listeners. This is the year when the podcast medium will prove whether it can reach listeners beyond its largely white, wealthy, and educated core. Through experiments with multimedia and even new distribution models, we’re about to find out just how far podcasts can spread. Serial is just the start.
The End of Apple’s Podcast Dominance
For any other medium, multiplatform availability is the default. You can catch up on episodes of your favorite TV drama on Netflix or Hulu (or your illegal download channel of choice), whether you’ve got an iPhone or Chromebook or Microsoft Surface. But for podcasts, distribution has been all but dominated by iTunes and the Apple Podcasts app.
(In fact, while the first season of Serial broke records for a host of reasons—compelling form and content, strong cross-promotion on This American Life—it also owes much of its viral success to the fact that two weeks before it premiered, Apple’s iOS 8 update automatically installed the Podcasts app on all Apple devices. Suddenly, it only took four taps on an iPhone to tune in.)
Slowly, though, that virtual monopoly is changing. With season two of Serial, podcast episodes are seeing concurrent release on a non-Apple app—Pandora—for the first time. /…… /
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