The 2014 hit podcast by Sarah Koenig, “The Serial,” is vividly considered the first breakthrough original content that made podcasts a popular format across the internet.
Over the years, as a medium, podcasts have evolved immensely and have been adopted by industry leaders. Spotify credited podcasts for a record high ad revenues of $375 million in its latest earnings call, a 75% year-over-year jump from Q3 2020.
Why are podcast formats important?
Podcast formats help you maintain consistency across your podcast series, which helps with audience retention and maintaining expectations. When you maintain a uniform format across your podcast, your audience knows what they are getting into. It also makes it easier for your audience to recommend it to others who they know might enjoy similar podcasts.
Maintaining a format also helps you align your production and content creation as a creator. If your podcast format keeps changing, it becomes challenging to ensure the quality of content. Listed below are various types of podcast formats you can explore before starting out:
1. The Interview Format
This format usually involves you (a host) and a new guest every day/week. The essence of this format is to focus on the guest, who typically will appear only once on the show. Hence, you must dive into your guest’s experience as much as possible and let them drive the conversation. If your podcast has a specific area/field theme, your guests will also be from the same industry. For example, if you run a sports podcast, your guests will typically be associated with sports (Eg: players, coaches, agents, fans, etc.).
Pro: You can rely on the guest’s popularity to drive in the audience for your podcast.
Con: Such a podcast format relies heavily on finding the right guest. Also, it is difficult to maintain consistency in quality if 50% of the panel keeps changing every podcast.
2. The Solo Show
This is a fairly simple podcast format where the host is the sole person who carries the podcast through. The host maintains a direct relationship with the listeners and maybe an expert in a field or a generalist. An occasional guest/celebrity appearance might break the monotony, but a single person drives the overall format.
Pro: The host enjoys absolute freedom to make creative decisions and is entirely responsible for the show’s success.
Con: The audience might find it monotonous to listen to just one speaker throughout the format. Hence, the host has to put in a lot of effort to break this monotony.
3. Original Fiction
This podcast format includes a common storyline running across different episodes, involving different characters, plots, subplots, etc. It’s more like an audio version of a TV show. The original story could be from any genre, depending on your preference as a creator. For content freshness, you may have a different storyline for each episode.
Pro: Audiences easily get hooked onto such a format as it’s entertaining and can be consumed passively. If the content is good, they will return to follow the storyline.
Con: If the audience doesn’t find the storyline intriguing, they may never return.
4. The Panel Format
The panel podcast format is somewhat similar to the interview format, but in this scenario, there is more than one guest involved. The show could feature a set list of panelists, or each episode could feature a new set with one or two common hosts. This format feels more like a free-flowing conversation between a group of people.
Pro: Multiple panelists add quality content to the discussion. You can easily diversify your panel for a more dynamic perspective.
Con: The audience might find it confusing to follow all the guests if the host does not give every one of them enough time. Assembling a panel each time may get cumbersome.
5. Non-Fiction Storytelling
In this podcast format, the host picks up a real-world event and narrates it in an engaging, storytelling format. It could be a true-crime drama, a political event, or an event of significant importance. The host often brings an editorial mindset while researching and presenting the event. This format could be episodic or with multiple seasons covering different events.
Pro: If the event you are covering is significant, you might attract attention organically. People find this format very addictive as they are hooked till the mystery is solved.
Con: A lot of time needs to be spent on research for this type of podcast format since a very strict editorial integrity needs to be maintained to win the audience’s trust
If you have something that you want to teach your audiences, an educational podcast format might be best for you. Here, you can pick one main topic and break it into subtopics for different episodes or seasons. The objective of this format is that by the end of an episode or a season, your audience should have gained some insight into the topic discussed. The tonality of this format can be serious, or humorous, and fun.
Pro: By making the content entertaining and light, it’s easy to get the audience hooked onto your podcast to learn something new.
Con: By making an educational podcast on one topic, you risk alienating people disinterested in that topic. You need to research the topic and its potential audience well.
7. Co-hosted shows
Very much like an interview format/solo format, here the podcast is hosted by two people instead of just one. Such a format feels more like listening to two friends talking to each other. In most scenarios, the co-hosts remain the same across episodes with occasional appearances by different people.
Pro: The burden of carrying the show is not just on a single person. With shared responsibilities, a better output can be expected.
Con: After a point, the audience might find the hosts repetitive or not engaging enough. A lot depends on the camaraderie of the co-hosts.
People find listicles very engaging and binge-worthy. In a listicle podcast format, you can make a list of “Top 10….anything” that you think your audience might like. You may curate this list on your own or through discussions with people from different fields.
Pro: It is highly engaging as people enjoy getting quick information on things or topics they are interested in, such as top 10 books, films, healthy food, etc.
Con: Curating a list of different topics might be time-consuming and research-heavy.
We hope that this list helped shed some light on the different podcast formats you can explore to begin your podcasting journey. While formats are important, it is also necessary to experiment and keep trying new things until you hit a sweet spot with your audience. If you’re new to podcasting, we have a great resource for you to understand the State of Podcasting in India.