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The Serial podcast being played through the Pocket Casts app on an iPhone Serial Podcast.jpg
The Serial podcast being played through the Pocket Casts app on an iPhone

A podcast is an episodic series of spoken word digital audio files that a user can download to a personal device for easy listening. Streaming applications and podcasting services provide a convenient and integrated way to manage a personal consumption queue across many podcast sources and playback devices.


A podcast series usually features one or more recurring hosts engaged in a discussion about a particular topic or current event. Discussion and content within a podcast can range from carefully scripted to completely improvised. Podcasts combine elaborate and artistic sound production with thematic concerns ranging from scientific research to slice-of-life journalism. Many podcast series provide an associated website with links and show notes, guest biographies, transcripts, additional resources, commentary, and even a community forum dedicated to discussing the show's content.

The cost to the consumer is low. While many podcasts are free to download, some are underwritten by corporations or sponsored, with the inclusion of commercial advertisements. In other cases, a podcast could also be a business venture supported by some combination of a paid subscription model, advertising or product delivered after sale.

People are motivated to create a podcast for a number of reasons. The podcast producer, who is often the podcast host as well, may wish to express a personal passion, increase professional visibility, enter into a social network of influencers or influential ideas, cultivate a community of like-minded viewership, or put forward pedagogical or ideological ideas (possibly under philanthropic support).

Because podcast content is often free or, at the very least, affordable for the average podcast consumer, podcasting is often classified as a disruptive medium, which is adverse to the maintenance of traditional revenue models. Long-running podcasts with a substantial back catalogue are amenable to binge consumption.


Podcasting studio in What Cheer Writers Club in Providence, Rhode Island Podcasting-wcwc.jpg
Podcasting studio in What Cheer Writers Club in Providence, Rhode Island

A podcast generator maintains a central list of the files on a server as a web feed that one can access through the Internet. The listener or viewer uses special client application software on a computer or media player, known as a podcatcher, which accesses this web feed, checks it for updates, and downloads any new files in the series. This process can be automated to download new files automatically, so it may seem to listeners as though podcasters broadcast or "push" new episodes to them. Files are stored locally on the user's device, ready for offline use. [1]

There are several different mobile applications that allow people to follow and listen to podcasts. Many of these applications allow users to download podcasts or stream them on demand. Most podcast players or applications allow listeners to skip around the podcast and to control the playback speed.

Podcasting has been considered a converged medium [2] (a medium that brings together audio, the web and portable media players), as well as a disruptive technology that has caused some individuals in radio broadcasting to reconsider established practices and preconceptions about audiences, consumption, production and distribution. [3]

Podcasts can be produced at little to no cost and are usually disseminated free-of-charge, which sets this medium apart from the traditional 20th-Century model of "gate-kept" media and their production tools. Podcasters can, however, still monetize their podcasts by allowing companies to purchase ad time. They can also garner support from listeners through crowdfunding websites like Patreon, which provides special extras and content to listeners for a fee. Podcasting is very much a horizontal media [4] form—producers are consumers, consumers may become producers, and both can engage in conversations with each other. [3]


"Podcast" is a portmanteau, a combination of "iPod" and "broadcast". [5] The term "podcasting" was first suggested by The Guardian columnist and BBC journalist Ben Hammersley, [6] who invented it in early February 2004 while writing an article for The Guardian newspaper. [7] The term was first used in the audioblogging community in September 2004, when Danny Gregoire introduced it in a message to the iPodder-dev mailing list, [8] [9] from where it was adopted by Adam Curry. [10] Despite the etymology, the content can be accessed using any computer or similar device that can play media files. Use of the term "podcast" predated Apple's addition of formal support for podcasting to the iPod, or its iTunes software. [11]

Other names for podcasting include "net cast", intended as a vendor-neutral term without the loose reference to the Apple iPod. This name is used by shows from the TWiT.tv network. [12] Some sources have also suggested the backronym "portable on demand" or "POD", for similar reasons. [13]

The verb "subscribe" has often been used to denote the process of receiving podcasts. By 2021, as the term could be insinuated as to suggest that receiving a podcast required a paid subscription, Apple, Amazon, Audible, Spotify, and Stitcher had shifted to using the verb "follow" to align themselves with terminology commonly used on social networking services. [14]


In October 2000, the concept of attaching sound and video files in RSS feeds was proposed in a draft by Tristan Louis. [15] The idea was implemented by Dave Winer, a software developer and an author of the RSS format. [16]

Podcasting, once an obscure method of spreading audio information, has become a recognized medium for distributing audio content, whether for corporate or personal use. Podcasts are similar to radio programs in form, but they exist as audio files that can be played at a listener's convenience, anytime or anywhere. [17]

The first application to make this process feasible was iPodderX, developed by August Trometer and Ray Slakinski. [18] By 2007, audio podcasts were doing what was historically accomplished via radio broadcasts, which had been the source of radio talk shows and news programs since the 1930s. [19] This shift occurred as a result of the evolution of internet capabilities along with increased consumer access to cheaper hardware and software for audio recording and editing.

In October 2003, Matt Schichter launched his weekly chat show The BackStage Pass. B.B. King, Third Eye Blind, Gavin DeGraw, The Beach Boys, and Jason Mraz were notable guests the first season. The hour long radio show was recorded live, transcoded to 16kbit/s audio for dial-up online streaming. Despite a lack of a commonly accepted identifying name for the medium at the time of its creation, The Backstage Pass which became known as Matt Schichter Interviews [20] is commonly believed to be the first podcast to be published online.

In August 2004, Adam Curry launched his show Daily Source Code . It was a show focused on chronicling his everyday life, delivering news, and discussions about the development of podcasting, as well as promoting new and emerging podcasts. Curry published it in an attempt to gain traction in the development of what would come to be known as podcasting and as a means of testing the software outside of a lab setting. The name Daily Source Code was chosen in the hope that it would attract an audience with an interest in technology. [21] [22]

Daily Source Code started at a grassroots level of production and was initially directed at podcast developers. As its audience became interested in the format, these developers were inspired to create and produce their own projects and, as a result, they improved the code used to create podcasts. As more people learned how easy it was to produce podcasts, a community of pioneer podcasters quickly appeared. [23]

In June 2005, Apple released iTunes 4.9 which added formal support for podcasts, thus negating the need to use a separate program in order to download and transfer them to a mobile device. Although this made access to podcasts more convenient and widespread, it also effectively ended advancement of podcatchers by independent developers. Additionally, Apple issued cease and desist orders to many podcast application developers and service providers for using the term "iPod" or "Pod" in their products' names. [24]

The logo used by Apple to represent podcasting in its iTunes software. Podcasts (iOS).svg
The logo used by Apple to represent podcasting in its iTunes software.

Within a year, many podcasts from public radio networks like the BBC, CBC Radio One, NPR, and Public Radio International placed many of their radio shows on the iTunes platform. In addition, major local radio stations like WNYC in New York City, WHYY-FM radio in Philadelphia, and KCRW in Los Angeles placed their programs on their websites and later on the iTunes platform.

Concurrently, CNET, This Week in Tech , and later Bloomberg Radio, the Financial Times , and other for-profit companies provided podcast content, some using podcasting as their only distribution system.

As of early 2019, the podcasting industry still generated little overall revenue, [25] although the number of persons who listen to podcasts continues to grow steadily. Edison Research, which issues the Podcast Consumer quarterly tracking report, estimates that in 2019, 90 million persons in the U.S. have listened to a podcast in the last month. [26] In 2020, 58% of the population of South Korea and 40% of the Spanish population had listened to a podcast in the last month. 12.5% of the UK population had listened to a podcast in the last week. [27] A small, yet efficient number of listeners are also podcast creators. The form is also acclaimed for its low overhead for a creator to start and maintain their show, merely requiring a good-quality microphone, a computer or mobile device and associated software to edit and upload the final product, and some form of acoustic quieting. Podcast creators tend to have a good listener base because of their relationships with the listeners. [28]

IP issues in trademark and patent law

Trademark applications

Between February 10 and 25 March 2005, Shae Spencer Management, LLC of Fairport, New York filed a trademark application to register the term "podcast" for an "online prerecorded radio program over the internet". On September 9, 2005, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) rejected the application, citing Wikipedia's podcast entry as describing the history of the term. The company amended their application in March 2006, but the USPTO rejected the amended application as not sufficiently differentiated from the original. In November 2006, the application was marked as abandoned. [29]

As of September 20, 2005, known trademarks that attempted to capitalize on podcast included: ePodcast, GodCast, GuidePod, MyPod, Pod-Casting, Podango, PodCabin, Podcast, Podcast Realty, Podcaster, PodcastPeople, Podgram PodKitchen, PodShop, and Podvertiser. [19]

By February 2007, there had been 24 attempts to register trademarks containing the word "PODCAST" in the United States, but only "PODCAST READY" from Podcast Ready, Inc. was approved. [30]

Apple trademark protections

On September 26, 2004, it was reported that Apple Inc. had started to crack down on businesses using the string "POD", in product and company names. Apple sent a cease and desist letter that week to Podcast Ready, Inc., which markets an application known as "myPodder". [31] Lawyers for Apple contended that the term "pod" has been used by the public to refer to Apple's music player so extensively that it falls under Apple's trademark cover. [32] Such activity was speculated to be part of a bigger campaign for Apple to expand the scope of its existing iPod trademark, which included trademarking "IPOD", "IPODCAST", and "POD". [33] On November 16, 2006, the Apple Trademark Department stated that "Apple does not object to third-party usage of the generic term 'podcast' to accurately refer to podcasting services" and that "Apple does not license the term". However, no statement was made as to whether or not Apple believed they held rights to it. [34]

Personal Audio lawsuits

Personal Audio, a company referred to as a "patent troll" by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, [35] filed a patent on podcasting in 2009 for a claimed invention in 1996. [36] In February 2013, Personal Audio started suing high-profile podcasters for royalties, [35] including The Adam Carolla Show and the HowStuffWorks podcast. [37]

In October 2013, the EFF filed a petition with the US Trademark Office to invalidate the Personal Audio patent. [38]

On August 18, 2014, the Electronic Frontier Foundation announced that Adam Carolla had settled with Personal Audio. [39]

On April 10, 2015, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office invalidated five provisions of Personal Audio's podcasting patent. [40]

Types of podcasts

Enhanced podcasts

An enhanced podcast or slidecast includes links to images which are synchronized with the podcast, turning it into a narrated slide show. [41]

Scripted podcast

A scripted podcast (also referred to as a "fiction podcast" or "narrative podcast") is similar to a radio drama, but in podcast form. They deliver a fictional story, usually told over multiple episodes and seasons, using multiple voice actors, dialogue, sound effects, and music to enrich the story. [42] Scripted podcasts have attracted a number of well-known actors as voice talents, including Demi Moore, Matthew McConaughey, Kristen Wiig, and Rami Malek, [43] as well as from content producers like Netflix, Spotify, Marvel, and DC Comics. [44] [45] [46] While science-fiction and horror are quite popular, scripted podcasts cover a full range of literary genres from romance, comedy, and drama to fantasy, sci-fi, and detective fiction. Examples of scripted podcasts include The Bright Sessions , Homecoming , and Wolverine: The Long Night .

Podcast novels

A podcast novel (also known as a "serialized audiobook" or "podcast audiobook") is a literary form that combines the concepts of a podcast and an audiobook. Like a traditional novel, a podcast novel is a work of literary fiction; however it is recorded into episodes that are delivered online over a period of time. The episodes may be delivered automatically via RSS or through a website, blog, or other syndication method. Episodes can be released on a regular schedule, e.g., once a week, or irregularly as each episode is completed. In the same manner as audiobooks, some podcast novels are elaborately narrated with sound effects and separate voice actors for each character, similar to a radio play or scripted podcast, but many have a single narrator and few or no sound effects. [47]

Some podcast novelists give away a free podcast version of their book as a form of promotion. [48] On occasion such novelists have secured publishing contracts to have their novels printed. [49] Podcast novelists have commented that podcasting their novels lets them build audiences even if they cannot get a publisher to buy their books. These audiences then make it easier to secure a printing deal with a publisher at a later date. These podcast novelists also claim the exposure that releasing a free podcast gains them makes up for the fact that they are giving away their work for free. [50]

Video podcasts

A video podcast on the Crab Nebula created by NASA

A video podcast or vodcast is a podcast that contains video content. Web television series are often distributed as video podcasts. Dead End Days, a serialized dark comedy about zombies released from 31 October 2003 through 2004, is commonly believed to be the first video podcast. [51]

Live podcasts

A number of podcasts are recorded either in total or for specific episodes in front of a live audience. Ticket sales allow the podcasters an additional way of monetising. Some podcasts create specific live shows to tour which are not necessarily included on the podcast feed. Events including the London Podcast Festival, [52] SF Sketchfest [53] and others regularly give a platform for podcasters to perform live to audiences.

Uses of podcasting

See also

Related Research Articles

iPod Line of portable media players by Apple

The iPod is a line of portable media players and multi-purpose pocket computers designed and marketed by Apple Inc. The first version was released on October 23, 2001, about ​8 12 months after the Macintosh version of iTunes was released. As of May 28, 2019, only the iPod Touch remains in production.

iTunes Apples media library and media player software

iTunes is a media player, media library, Internet radio broadcaster, mobile device management utility, and the client app for the iTunes Store, developed by Apple Inc. It is used to purchase, play, download, and organize digital multimedia, on personal computers running the macOS and Windows operating systems, and can be used to rip songs from CDs, as well as play content with the use of dynamic, smart playlists. Options for sound optimizations exist, as well as ways to wirelessly share the iTunes library.

Adam Curry

Adam Clark Curry is a podcaster, announcer, Internet entrepreneur and media personality, known for his stint as VJ on MTV and being one of the first celebrities personally to create and administer Web sites. Also known for co-hosting the No Agenda show, in the 2000s, he first became involved in podcasting, and has been called the 'Podfather' because of his efforts.

High-Efficiency Advanced Audio Coding

High-Efficiency Advanced Audio Coding (AAC-HE) is an audio coding format for lossy data compression of digital audio defined as an MPEG-4 Audio profile in ISO/IEC 14496-3. It is an extension of Low Complexity AAC (AAC-LC) optimized for low-bitrate applications such as streaming audio. The usage profile AAC-HE v1 uses spectral band replication (SBR) to enhance the modified discrete cosine transform (MDCT) compression efficiency in the frequency domain. The usage profile AAC-HE v2 couples SBR with Parametric Stereo (PS) to further enhance the compression efficiency of stereo signals.

The multinational technology corporation Apple Inc. has been a participant in various legal proceedings and claims since it began operation and, like its competitors and peers, engages in litigation in its normal course of business for a variety of reasons. In particular, Apple is known for and promotes itself as actively and aggressively enforcing its intellectual property interests. From the 1980s to the present, Apple has been plaintiff or defendant in civil actions in the United States and other countries. Some of these actions have determined significant case law for the information technology industry and many have captured the attention of the public and media. Apple's litigation generally involves intellectual property disputes, but the company has also been a party in lawsuits that include antitrust claims, consumer actions, commercial unfair trade practice suits, defamation claims, and corporate espionage, among other matters.

Podcasting, previously known as "audioblogging", has its roots dating back to the 1980s. With the advent of broadband Internet access and portable digital audio playback devices such as the iPod, podcasting began to catch hold in late 2004. Today there are more than 115,000 English-language podcasts available on the Internet, and dozens of websites available for distribution at little or no cost to the producer or listener. According to one survey in 2017, 42 million Americans above the age of 12 listen to podcasts on at least a weekly basis.

Podcasting refers to the creation and regular distribution of podcasts through the Internet. Podcasts, which can include audio, video, PDF, and ePub files, are subscribed to and downloaded through web syndication or streamed online to a computer or mobile device. Subscribers are then able to view, listen to, and transfer the episodes to a variety of media players, or podcatchers. Though similar to radio, there is no larger regulatory group or oversight with podcasts. Instead, podcasts simply consist of the creators and their listeners.

Apple TV Home media receiver device made by Apple

Apple TV is a digital media player and microconsole developed and sold by Apple Inc. It is a small network appliance and entertainment device that can receive digital data for visual and audio content such as music, video, video games, or the screen display of certain other devices, and play it on a connected television set or other video display.

Podcasting in India began around 2005 when Apple updated iTunes to support podcasts, and Abhishek Kumar and Aditya Mhatre started Indicast. In 2006, there were approximately 3000 Indian podcasters, offering programmes in English, Hinglish, and Tamil. Many of the current Indian podcasts cater to the Non-Resident Indian (NRI) community as podcasting inside India is still on the rise. Though China and the USA are currently the most advanced podcast markets, industry experts predict that podcasting growth will be exponential in the next few years in India, making it an economically viable standalone industry.


Mevio Inc., formerly known as PodShow, was an American internet entertainment network, founded in San Francisco, California in October 2004 by Adam Curry and Ron Bloom.

Apple Books E-book application by Apple

Apple Books is an e-book reading and store application by Apple Inc. for its iOS and macOS operating systems and devices. It was announced, under the name iBooks, in conjunction with the iPad on January 27, 2010, and was released for the iPhone and iPod Touch in mid-2010, as part of the iOS 4 update. Initially, iBooks was not pre-loaded onto iOS devices, but users could install it free of charge from the iTunes App Store. With the release of iOS 8, it became an integrated app. On June 10, 2013, at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, Craig Federighi announced that iBooks would also be provided with OS X Mavericks in fall 2013.

iHeartRadio is an American free broadcast, podcast and streaming radio platform owned by iHeartMedia, Inc. It was founded in April 2008. As of 2019, iHeartRadio functions as the national umbrella brand for iHeartMedia's radio network, the largest radio broadcaster in the United States. Its main competitors are Radio.com and TuneIn.

Personal Audio LLC is a Beaumont, Texas-based company that enforces and earns licensing revenue from five patents. The company has often been accused of being a patent troll, making money solely through royalties on frivolous and sweeping patents.

Apple Music 1 Radio station operated by Apple Inc.

Apple Music 1, previously branded as Beats 1, is a 24/7 music radio station owned and operated by Apple Inc. It is accessible through the Apple Music app on a computer, smartphone or tablet, smart speaker and through the Apple Music web browser app.

Manoush Zomorodi is a journalist, podcast host and author. She was the host of the WNYC podcast Note to Self, which explores humans' relationship with technology through conversations with listeners and experts. In 2018, Zomorodi quit WNYC to start a media company, Stable Genius Productions, with her colleague Jen Poyant. The process of starting their company is documented in the podcast ZigZag, which is also their first production. As of March 2020, she is the host of NPR's TED Radio Hour.

<i>Casefile True Crime Podcast</i>

Casefile True Crime Podcast, or simply Casefile, is a weekly Australian crime podcast that first aired in January 2016 and hosted by an Australian man who remains anonymous. The series deals with solved or cold criminal cases, often related to well-known murders and serial crimes. Many early episodes relate to Australian cases, although notable crimes from the UK and the USA are increasingly featured, and well-known cases from other countries have also been included. Unlike a number of similar podcasts, the series is scripted and narrative, relying primarily on original police or mass-media documents, eyewitness accounts, and interview or public announcement recordings. Larger and more-complex cases have received multiple-week serialised broadcasts, and case updates to previously aired cases are also provided from time to time. The series has been well received, and has won a number of awards since its debut.

BBC Sounds Streaming media and audio download service from the BBC

BBC Sounds is a streaming media and audio download service from the BBC that includes live radio broadcasts, audio on demand, and podcasts. The service is available on a wide range of devices, including mobile phones and tablets, personal computers, cars, and smart televisions. Media delivered to UK-based listeners does not feature commercial advertising.

Pre-installed iOS apps

Pre-installed iOS apps, referred to in the App Store as 'Built-In Apps', are a suite of mobile applications developed by Apple Inc. which are bundled with iOS and installed by default or through a system update. Many of the default apps found on iOS have counterparts on Apple's other operating systems macOS, iPadOS, watchOS, and tvOS, which are often modified versions of or similar to the iOS application. As each app is integrated into the operating system itself, they often feature greater support for system features than third-party alternatives and are quick to adapt new features of iOS.

Fantasy podcast

A Fantasy podcast is a podcast related to or discussing the fantasy genre, which usually focuses on the magical, supernatural, mythical, or folkloric. Fantasy stories are set in fictional universes or fantasy worlds that are often reminiscent of the middle Ages and the early modern period. Despite having a fictional setting, fantasy stories can contain or reference locations, events, or people from the real world. Characters in these stories often encounter fictional creatures such as dwarves, elves, dragons, and fairies. Common types of fantasy podcasts are audio dramas, narrated short stories, role-playing games, or discussions and reviews of fantasy topics such as fantasy films, books, games, and other media. The intended audience of a fantasy podcast can vary from young children to adults. Fantasy podcasts emerged from storytelling and the creation of the radio. Fantasy podcasts have often been adapted into television programs, graphic novels, and comics. Fantasy podcasts are a subgenre of fiction podcasts and are distinguished from science fiction podcasts and horror podcasts by the absence of scientific or macabre themes, respectively, though these subgenres regularly overlap.

Kaitlin Statz is an American science fiction and horror writer and podcaster, publishing works as K. A. Statz. She is best known for her work on the podcasts The White Vault, VAST Horizon, Liberty, and Dark Dice. She has contributed tie-in works to several other popular shows and has also had her works performed live in front of audiences in New York City, Boston, and London.


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