It is no question that the COVID-19 quarantine has profoundly altered the landscape of entertainment in the United States and around the world. With film and television unable to shoot content, and theatres unable to show it, many traditional avenues of mass media have taken big hits as a result of the coronavirus. However, through the hard times, one previously niche form of entertainment has had its moment in the spotlight: podcasts.
Podcasts are recorded audio radio programs on a variety of topics that can be played back at any time through platforms like Spotify and iTunes. Because they are capable of being recorded and produced from home, pretty much all of the big podcasts not only weathered the storm of the lockdown, but thrived with an expanded audience.
According to the website Podcast Insights, quarantine saw the percentage of Americans who have listened to a podcast jump from 51% to 55%. That’s more than 13 million new listeners in a little less than a year. Evidence also suggests those aware of podcasts became more interested in the medium over 2020, with the number of weekly listeners cresting 100 million for the first time.
Also characteristic of podcasting’s boom in 2020 was an increase in celebrity-produced programs. While the medium has always had its fair share of celebrity hosts, the vast majority of the more than 1,750,000 shows have been produced by normal people or companies. However, over the course of a few short months, celebrities trapped at home flooded the podcast market with their own new, high-profile shows. From Michelle Obama to Gwyneth Paltrow to Logan Paul, celebrities’ podcasts began to top the iTunes charts.
Although some celebrity podcasts take on an interview format, many podcasts are simply celebrities, well, being celebrities and talking about their life and “problems.” This sometimes works super well. But a lot of the time, in my opinion, it doesn’t. One of the silver linings of the pandemic and the ensuing quarantine was the decline in the relevance of celebrity culture. In my opinion, our society often places the wrong people on a pedestal to set the wrong examples. My main fear is that the influx of mediocre-to-bad celebrity podcasts will lower the reputation of the whole platform, and lead to the decline of what I believe to be some of the internet’s best content.
Because of the accessibility of entering the podcast industry, not only have celebrities jumped on the train, but amateurs have developed podcasts as well. Junior Giovanni Mazzeo threw his hat in the ring over quarantine, writing and producing a few episodes for a podcast of his own.
“I started off listening to NPR podcast my parents would play in the car […] eventually I started to listen to more in-depth stuff like Hardcore History,” said Gio, explaining how he was first exposed to podcasts.“I’ve been listening consistently for the past couple years,” Gio said.
Despite eventually giving up on his own history podcast, Gio still holds a deep appreciation for the medium, mentioning how “because there’s no visual element, producers and listeners can focus more on the ideas.”
On the issue of celebrity podcasts, Gio is fairly indifferent. “I don’t seek them out, but I suppose people are going to listen to what they are going to listen to.” Unlike myself, Gio doesn’t fear an oversaturation of the podcast market. “I don’t see the rise of those types of [celebrity] podcasts disrupting the whole medium, they’ll probably end up bringing audiences of their own,” said Gio.
Whether Gio or I are right on the issue of celebrity podcasts, it is no question that quarantine’s expansion of the podcast audience will be good for the still very new industry in the long run. “I think that at least the concept is here to stay,” said Gio. “If you think about it, we’ve had radio since the early 1900s, and podcasts are just a development on that idea. So yes, podcasts are definitely here to stay,” Gio said.