The audio content boom - a great time to be creative

Published April 23, 2021, 12:12 p.m. by Johan Larsson

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Listening to podcasts in your shower, with speakers built into your showerhead? No problem! The audio content boom is here, thanks to new tech trends. And the possibilities to be creative are endless. Spoon’s content director Johan Larsson shares why you should pay extra attention to the audio content landscape in 2020.

Audio content is nothing new. Radio was the first real mass medium to take off in the 1930s, podcasts started in the early 2000s and audiobooks have been around for decades. So why should you care about the audio content landscape right now? Here are three good reasons.

1. User adoption points upwards – with lots of room to grow
The number of people who regularly consume audio content in the form of audiobooks and podcasts grew faster in 2019 than the years before suggesting we will see a steeper adoption curve going forward.

Mary Meeker’s often-cited annual state of the internet presentation showed that in the US, 51 percent of the population have listened to podcasts, compared to 44 percent the year before. The corresponding numbers for audiobooks were 50 percent, compared to 44 percent last year. It seems like the two audio formats reinforce each other: people who discover podcasts also try audiobooks – and vice versa. The numbers in Sweden are similar for podcast adoption, 55 percent listen but lower for audiobooks, 33 percent.

Ergo: A lot of people are consuming podcasts and audiobooks. But loads more will start in the coming years.

2. Big platforms are betting on audio content
Last year Spotify spent several hundred million dollars buying podcast companies. And the streaming giant is now hiring to ramp up their in-house podcast producing capabilities. At the same time, audiobook platforms like Audible and Storytel have begun to broaden their offering by putting more money into producing original content in the form of podcasts and audio documentaries. These companies have access to large amounts of user data, and if they are betting on even more audio storytelling, maybe you should too?

3. Formats are in flux
Podcasts were for a very long time almost synonymous with the long-form interview format. But in the last five years, we have seen an explosion of new formats. From daily news shows as The Daily to true-crime docu-series, like Serial, and everything in between. And while podcasts have become more scripted and serious about storytelling, audiobooks seem to have gone in the other direction and become more conversational and not so structurally rigid. The line between an audiobook and a well-produced podcast is starting to become very blurry. The key takeaway here is that this is an exceptional time to be creative in audio storytelling.

Audio content boom – hardware trends to keep an eye on
The audio content boom is driven in part by changing user behaviors and more and better content being produced. But another important factor is the evolution of consumer audio hardware specifically smart speakers and wireless headphones.

Smart speakers everywhere
Smart speakers have faced a bit of a backlash lately in some circles due to privacy concerns. And that will definitely be a thing manufacturers will have to address going forward. But the general trend seems to continue.

Smart speakers will most likely be ubiquitous in our surroundings in the future. In our homes, offices, cars and many contexts that right now might not be associated with audio. But they will not only be the standalone models we see today from Google, Apple and Amazon. They will be built into your surroundings, for example like this Alexa-speaker shower head.

True wireless smart headphones
Headphones are becoming truly wireless and smarter with better noise reduction that will let you hear your audio content loud and clear while at the same time let through any important sound cues from your surroundings. They are so comfortable you can wear them all the time, and even forget you have them in your ears.

Take away for marketers
So what can marketers take away from what’s going on in the audio hardware space? The simple answer is: audio will be everywhere. In the home, the office, the car, in the kitchen, on the bike and in the shower. This also highlights the main difference between audio content and video, images and text: it’s possible, and often preferable, to consume audio while doing other things. So if you are a content creator you need to really be mindful about the context where your content will be heard and make sure your product fits that context.

This can present a challenge, but it also opens up a lot of interesting opportunities. For example creating content tailored for really specific contexts and moments. A good example is the In The Shower podcast, a show where the format, tone, and topics are tailored for your morning shower.

Another interesting, and largely untapped, opportunity could be audio content to listen to while playing games, either in-game or on another platform.

The possibilities, of course, are endless. And in an ever-changing world, new contexts emerge all the time. And that means new possible ways of reaching specific audiences or target groups with relevant content.