The podcast boom: hear what drives people

The podcast presenter Shalin Rogall in the podcast studio at Deutschlandfunk Photo: dpa / Carsten Koall

Jan Bohmermann has a podcast, Barbara Schoneberger and Tim Malzer too. Sometimes it’s about financial tips, sometimes about football, sometimes about nonsense. But why is this format so popular?

Stuttgart – The podcast presenter Shalin Rogall has a thesis about the special benefits of her and other programs. “I believe that podcasts were actually invented as a cleaning aid,” says the 29-year-old and also speaks from her own experience: There is nothing better than hanging up laundry while listening or tidying up your room. You can get some inspiration and information without overloading your head.

Podcasts are also becoming more and more popular on the way to work, in the evening in bed or in the gym. "It’s just this nice side medium that you can take with you anywhere," says the host of the podcast "Ab 21" from Deutschlandfunk Nova. Listeners could easily incorporate podcasts into everyday life and take a break every now and then.

Big variety

Podcasts are series of audio or video contributions. They can be easily downloaded or streamed and listened to or viewed on different devices. In Germany, many people probably think first of “Fest & Fluffy ”by Jan Bohmermann and Olli Schulz: two men who sit in front of a microphone and chat with each other about God and the world. Or to “Paardiologie” by Charlotte Roche and her husband Martin Keb-Roche, who also let their listeners participate in intimate details of their relationship.

There are hardly any limits to the variety in terms of presentation, content and length. There is the video podcast by Chancellor Angela Merkel, which is only a few minutes long, the elaborately researched roll-up of unsolved criminal cases with recorded original sounds and sound effects, and comedy podcasts in which fictional characters are improvised for two hours. "It’s incredibly broad," says media researcher Nele Heise.

Judge, not judge

This does not only apply thematically. Podcast expert Heise sees opportunities for underrepresented groups. “Be it people with disabilities, be it people from the LGBTQ communities, be it people with a migration history or a different skin color,” she says. "It has been noticed in the last two years that such groups, who are actually counted among social minorities, are much more appropriating the medium and thus also conveying their perspectives on the world."

The podcast “Ab 21” aims to create the atmosphere of a conversation at the table in a shared apartment. Up to 20,000 people per episode listen to that. “At eye level,” as the presenter Shalin Rogall emphasizes, topics that move young people are discussed. How to deal with fear – for example of the coronavirus? What does it do to the relationship when you move in together? Not only those affected, but also experts have their say. One wants to judge and classify, but not judge, says Rogall. "It’s like having a good conversation with someone who has already broken the first ice."

Podcasts are easy to use

Media researcher Nele Heise sees three main trends in Germany: podcasts from celebrities like Jan Bohmermann, Barbara Schoneberger or Tim Malzer, the wide range of public broadcasters and programs from media companies such as “Zeit”, “Spiegel” and “Stuttgarter” Newspaper ”which, for example, is regularly devoted to VfB Stuttgart. Coaching podcasts and news formats were also very popular. The podcast search engine “fyyd.de” now contains more than 7,000 German-language podcasts that have published at least one episode in the past six months. In 2019, alongside “Fest & Fluffy ”and“ Mixed Hack ”with comedian Felix Lobrecht and TV writer Tommi Schmitt in the top five of the world’s most popular podcasts.

But what makes podcasts so popular? For media researcher Heise, user-friendliness plays a major role. “You have your smartphone with you, download something. A few years ago that wasn’t possible in this form either, ”she says. In addition, the media had noticed that such a young audience could be reached – not least through great successes such as that of Bohmermann and Schulz. That inspired many to think: “I want to do something like that too. It’s entertaining. That is fun. Somehow it sounds like it was really easy, ”says Heise. "Which of course it isn’t," she clarifies.

For example, six to eight people work on an episode of “Ab 21”, says Shalin Rogall. Topic suggestions are first discussed intensively in the group, then concrete work begins a week before the recording. An episode appears every working day. Rogall takes turns with her colleague Dominik Schottner on a weekly basis. What appeals to her about the medium is that one can let an exciting and authentic conversation work without the stress of a live broadcast in the neck. "Every podcast episode is like a baby of its own," says Rogall.

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