SoundCartel’s Podcasting Predictions for 2021 – and Beyond

Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.

Niels Bohr, Danish physicist.


Podcasting in 2020 had its biggest year ever. By December 2020, more than 41.9 million podcast episodes were available; 1.68 million podcasts were published on Apple Podcasts, a three-fold increase from two years prior; and the number of monthly listeners jumped 32% from the year before.

Yep, as podcasts get more professional, and as celebrities jump on the bandwagon with their own podcasts, more people become aware of the medium and tell each other about what they’re listening to.

What are our predictions? What does the rest of 2021 look like for podcasting and spoken-word audio content and publishing? Well, we at SoundCartel are in the thick of it. We’ve got our own ears to the ground, so-to-speak, and have analysed what’s happening right now to determine the outlook for the next 12 months and beyond.

We list some of the biggest changes happening in the world of podcasting, and what you as a brand might need to think about to start planning your own audio strategy.

The best thing about predicting the future is that once we arrive, no one bothers to look back to see how much you’ve got it wrong!

Smart Speakers

The growth in the ownership of smart speakers has continued in the past 12 months, both in the United States and Australia. As of June 2020, 17% of Australians owns a smart speaker, up from 13% the year before.

However, podcasts are something which people don’t listen to very much on smart speakers. In fact, podcast listening on smart speakers accounts for less than 1%. One of the main reasons being, smart speakers are generally located in shared spaces like lounge rooms or similar areas. Podcasts, on the other hand, are normally listened to alone, with headphones or earphones.

But brands are not looking at smart speakers in a particularly smart way. Smart speakers are rising in popularity, which should provide brands an opportunity. We think it’s ideal for:

  • Much shorter content
  • Daily, to build a habit
  • Newsworthy

News organisations, in particular, are well placed to provide this sort of content, ideal for the smart speaker.

We predict smart-speaker-focused content in the next 12 months and beyond.

Car entertainment systems

These days, cars are equipped with the latest entertainment systems, making it far easier to listen to podcasts than ever before. Voice command with Apple’s Siri allows you to play the latest episode of your favourite podcast without taking your eyes off the road or hands off the wheel.

Podcasts that aim for a car-commuting audience may shine. Take That’s Incredible! as an example. It’s an Australian podcast produced by the Mamamia network for the Japanese carmaker, Subaru, aimed at keeping kids engaged in the backseat.

Although declining, AM/FM/DAB+ Radio in Australia is still the most listened to media in the car, at 66%. Even though in 2020 podcast awareness is at 87%, higher than the US, at 75%, other strong competitors to podcast listening remain CD players and digital music. So, there’s still an opportunity for brands to consider the in-car environment as the industry looks to close the radio gap.

We predict more tailored audio content for the car.

Niche markets for spoken-word audio

The car and the smart speaker are just two unique places consumers listen to podcasts.

By contrast, video, has vastly different distribution channels, including:

  • Television: Pay-Tv, free-to-air, and on-demand subscriptions, i.e., Netflix and Stan, each worth billions of dollar.
  • Movie theatres: drive-ins are making a come-back with the potential for IMAX and traditional movie theatres to regain their prominence in the future.
  • Mobile devices: videos created specifically for smartphones and tablets, a huge proportion appearing on social media, TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.

So, when we consider podcasting, more could be created for particular spaces, i.e. car, aeroplane, in the dentist’s chair,  art galleries, museums, or while you’re swimming or exercising. Additional niches could include, times of day, devices (audio tapes are making a comeback), or supplementary material for educational institutions.

We predict, as podcasting becomes increasingly popular and sophisticated, more opportunities will be carved out for spoken-word audio.

Paywalls and exclusive content

When newspapers first moved online 20+ years ago, almost all of them offered content for free. There was a general assumption that anything online should indeed be free. Well, these days, most traditional media have paywalls online, like The New York Times, The Australian, The Economist, and so on.

The same is starting to occur with podcasts. In the past couple of years, players like Stitcher and Wondery have come out with their paid service, Stitcher Premium and Wondery+, enabling listeners to hear add-free episodes, premium content and early releases.

The rumour mill has also been spinning out of control with reports that Apple is planning to pay for exclusive podcasts for its Apple Podcasts platform.

We predict that with a growing appetite for exclusive, engaging and relevant audio content, more consumers will be willing to pay platforms for the privilege.

Internal podcasts

Do you belong to a club, association or organisation? Podcasts are becoming an increasingly popular communication channel to inform and keep members and staff abreast of the latest updates and information.

As a result, there’s now technology providing secure podcast distribution, offered by a number of hosting platforms. The great part is that while the podcasts are restricted to allocated individuals, they can still be accessed the same way you’d access an open podcast, via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and so on.

For example, SoundCartel has produced a podcast for the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons since 2016. Each fortnight, RACS Post Op Podcast updates 7000+ Fellows and Trainees on the latest happenings in the world of surgery in Australia and New Zealand.

Or podcasts can also be exclusive to members. SoundCartel has produced podcasts which are only accessible to audiences via an intranet system. We have produced two series for Bristol-Myers Squibb and more recently for Royal Rehab.

We predict that secure internal and membership podcasts will continue to grow as the awareness and popularity of podcasting climbs. 

Traditional media podcasts

The New York Times has had hits with The Daily, The Book Review, Modern Love, and the controversial Caliphate. Closer to home, The Australian has had millions of downloads with their suite of podcasts, including Bowraville, the Walkley- Award-winning and retracted Teacher’s Pet, and the international success, Who the Hell is Hamish?, which reached No 1 in the UK podcast charts.

These days, scores of daily newspapers and popular magazines globally have produced podcasts with high numbers of downloads.

And why not? It makes sense. They have a large captive and committed audience, there’s no shortage of stories to tell and they employ journalists who can tell them. Podcasts as a medium also allow these publications to dive deep into topics without the restrictions of column inches, and podcasting is also another avenue for advertisers.

While in the early years it seemed there were fewer resources, resulting in the editing and audio quality not always at a broadcast level. But as awareness and popularity of podcasts increases, so does the investment in the medium and production quality.

We predict more podcasts by traditional media along with a demonstrated increase in quality.


To find out more or to discuss your venture into podcasting, get in touch with us.

For more podcasting news and information for brands, subscribe FREE to SoundCartel’s show, Podcasting Essentials, on your favourite podcast app.

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