Did you know that some of the world’s greatest innovations came into existence before they were even named? Podcasting, for example, was created before the term had even been coined. 

The brief history of podcasting and how it came to be such a prevalent medium for the modern day listener is rather interesting.  Let’s take a look at the evolution of the podcasting industry as well as its position within the African context.  

In the beginning… 

Back in 2000, software developer, Dave Winer, and media personality, Adam Curry, sat down to have a meeting about automated media distribution. 

In an Interview with entrepreneur, Jason Calacanis, Winer mentions that, “this was a great idea at the time because the networks were so slow.”. During their meeting, Winer and Curry devised a plan to create a better and faster content delivery subscription system that would improve the slow, low quality, manual downloads people were used to performing on the web at the time. 

To create this system, Curry realised that the “click and wait” problem needed to be solved so that media downloads could be automated more efficiently.

For the next four years, Winer and Curry struggled to solve these issues until Curry created the first ever podcatcher, which was able to capture and download audio from websites and add it to iTunes where it could then be synced to an iPod. 

Isn’t it crazy to see how far we’ve come since then? Subscribing to and automatically downloading audio and video files was simplified for the masses because of this simple program. And so the door to the world of podcasting slowly began to open. 

The three faces of podcasting – From the pioneers to the big podcasting era 

Today, twenty one years later, we‘ve entered the new era of “big podcasting”.  But how exactly did we get here, you may ask? According to Vulture Magazine, the history of podcasting can be split into 3 main eras, starting with “the pioneers”. 

From around 2004 to 2013, podcasting was seen as a new format of blogging where individuals could speak and create freely. Yes, the first episodes were slightly rough around the edges, but that would all change as the idea began to gain more traction. 

Apple played a bit of a motherly role during this time for podcasting with iTunes and later its standalone podcast app. These two apps allowed users to access podcasts easily and free of charge, which really helped to nurture and grow podcasting as an industry.  

In 2014 podcasting entered its “boom years” with the popularisation of a number of podcasts like Serial, The Joe Rogan Experience, and WTF With Marc Maron. Shortly after this, podcasts ,closer to home, began to pop up on the scene such as  Knowledge Bandits, Not your African Cliché and Afracanah.

The market had become saturated with vast amounts of content, listenership began to increase drastically and the industry was beginning to receive lots  of investment because of its potential for advertisement. 

Edison Research shows that the number of monthly podcast listeners in America pretty much doubled for five years after 2014. While these stats are incredible, the industry only reached its peak during its third era. 

The “big podcasting” era supposedly began in 2019 when Spotify bought Anchor,a podcast publisher,and Gimlet Media,a podcasting studio,for 340 million US dollars. According to Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify, “With the addition of Gimlet and Anchor, Spotify will now become the leading global podcast publisher with more shows than any other company.” 

Looks like Apple might need to move aside because there’s a new mother in town and she’s looking to raise the once young and uncertain brainchild of Dave Winer and Adam Curry into a strong and independent adult.

Podcasting in Africa

Podcasting has grown into a worldwide phenomenon reaching multiple continents, including our very own, which, earlier this year, celebrated Africa Podcast Day on 12th February, 2021. 

These days, many individuals rely on their phones to access different forms of media including podcasts. Africa has definitely embraced the smartphone revolution, however, According to Nic Newman, Senior Research Associate at Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, “there are a few constraints around bandwidth that are affecting growth”.

Because of this bandwidth issue, Africa’s podcast listenership is not as high as it should be. Reuters Digital News Report however still found that about 40 percent of the online community in Kenya and South Africa are monthly podcast users and an article on the website ‘What’s New In Publishing’ states that the podcasts are the fastest growing media consumption sector in South Africa. 

An article by The Media Online states that Africa’s audience is not yet geared for receiving advertising revenue from podcasts due to the appeal of radio. Some of South Africa’s most successful podcasts are, in fact, chatcasts which are essentially recorded radio conversations. 

There are, however, Individuals like Paul McNally, co-founder of the Joburg based podcast production company, Volume, who are trying to move away from the chatcast format by promoting the traditional podcast model which should allow for more advertising revenue opportunities in the African podcast space.

Volume and a number of other African creators are looking to propel the podcasting space forward in terms of advertising, production and distribution. 

With all this creativity and support, the future for podcasting looks incredibly bright. People are beginning to realise just how intellectually stimulating podcasts can be, which is sparking huge amounts of corporate interest in the industry. The Interactive Advertising Bureau estimates that podcasting’s advertising revenue will reach 1 billion US dollars this year, and who knows, we might even exceed that figure. 

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash