Conditions can change quickly in the modern media world — even in segments that seemed to be thriving.
In 2021, 56% of Americans ages 12–34 said they listened to podcasts every month, up 14 percentage points from 2019. But in 2022, the percentage slid to 50%.
There are some ominous clouds on the horizon as well. Content creation has slowed; the number of podcast debuts dropped 80% between 2020 and 2022, according to data from tech and entertainment newsletter Chartr. And Spotify, an industry giant, announced in June it is laying off 5% of its podcasting staff.
The reason, in short, is Gen Z. For older generations, podcasting is seen primarily as a news medium — a source for breaking coverage or in-depth political or financial news. For Gen Z, though, podcasting is viewed primarily as a source of entertainment, humor, or leisure. That means creators need to bring the fun — constantly — or risk losing listeners.
As the podcasting landscape continues to evolve, Gen Z is likely to drive the action in three ways: video, “chatcasts,” and monetization.
A mix shift to video
Podcasting has long been an audio-focused medium, with consumers engaging with content primarily via audio feeds. Long-form podcast video content used to live primarily on YouTube. Today, however, the medium has evolved alongside the rise of short-form video throughout social media, making video a much more significant part of the podcasting ecosystem.
Nowadays it is common to see short clips extracted from podcast videos floating all over social media. Most chart-topping podcasts — and even podcasts with smaller audiences — have a video component and post their most interesting clips to TikTok or Instagram Reels, along with the full video footage to YouTube. Popular podcasts like Huberman Lab or Bad Friends will often post several video clips for each episode. In this sense, short-form video has become the third medium of podcast consumption.
Podcasters are recognizing that this mix-shift to video can serve as a powerful marketing tool to reach new audiences, and are increasingly using their social media presence to cultivate listenership. For example, video snippets posted by The Giggly Squad, a podcast started by two women in 2020, frequently reach millions of views on TikTok — a level of virality difficult to achieve with audio alone.
Informal “chatcast” content is resonating
In recent years, there has been a rise in so-called chatcasts, which are informal, unstructured, and typically themeless — much like listening in on a casual conversation between friends. Chatcasts fit well with the content palette of Gen Z audiences, who primarily view podcasts as sources of entertainment or humor: 38% of Gen Zers listen to podcasts for entertainment and humor and 26% listen to fill time (versus 23% and 12% of Gen Xers, respectively). The podcast charts reflect the popularity of these conversational formats: half of the top 20 podcasts on Spotify are chatcasts involving celebrities or entertainers.
The growth in chatcasts can be attributed to both supply and demand factors. For creators, chatcasts require minimal upfront investment and operating costs, as well as lower levels of planning and production, since there is little need to research or provide in-depth knowledge on a particular topic.
For audiences, the content most in demand is informal, authentic conversation. Some typical chatcast topics include body image, internet bullying, and “adulting.” According to the Spotify CultureNext report, 55% of US Gen Zers turn to podcasts to get answers on difficult or personal issues before talking to their families about them. Recognizing the power and potential of these media personality-driven chatcasts, Spotify has introduced several into its Originals & Exclusives portfolio, including Rickey Thompson’s We Said What We Said and Emma Chamberlain’s Anything Goes.
New opportunities for podcast monetization
With the rise of video podcasting and celebrity chatcasts, the podcasting pie keeps growing — and monetization capabilities are developing alongside it. In recent years, moves from key players like Spotify and Apple have created increasingly robust and accessible monetization opportunities. For example, Spotify’s 2019 acquisition of Anchor, a podcast hosting platform, allowed it to create an end-to-end capability in which creators can host, analyze, and distribute their content, including the development and management of subscriptions for premium content. Apple followed with its Apple for Podcasters offering. Platforms such as Patreon, which allows podcast creators to charge listeners, provide other ways to monetize exclusive content.
The increased convenience of monetization should incentivize more creators to turn their podcasting passion projects into tangible revenue streams in the years ahead. Gen Zers already have a propensity for side hustles: 50% of them earn money from some form of side gig, versus 24% of non-Gen Zers.
All trends point to a Gen Z-friendly landscape
It’s still unclear exactly where podcasting might be in five or 10 years — but Gen Z will be a driving force in the evolution. Companies looking to engage shifting audiences and establish a foothold should continue prioritizing video-focused strategies, producing informal content aimed at younger generations, and developing innovative new monetization capabilities. Getting in front of these trends now is crucial for creators hoping to be at the center of the ecosystem’s evolution.
Leona Chao and Gregory Block contributed to this article