NEW YORK • Podcasting is in a sweet spot, with music streaming giant Spotify recently investing US$1 million (S$1.37 million) in a podcast hosted by actress Amy Schumer.
In less than 15 years, on-demand podcasts have become a key part of the media landscape. According to Edison Research, 124 million Americans listen to audio podcasts, including 73 million on a monthly basis.
"Podcasts are now getting to the point where they sit alongside other forms of premium media like video, books, television and music," said Mr Matt Lieber, a co-founder of Gimlet Media, a major podcast producer.
"The Financial Times has a person on its staff who reviews podcasts. It's almost like if you're not listening to podcasts, you're out of the loop."
Podcasts are a natural fit for a generation used to on-demand services such as Netflix. Listeners are younger and better educated than the average radio listener, with more women in the mix, creating a crucial demographic for advertisers.
Mr Neal Carruth, general manager of podcasts for National Public Radio (NPR), said: "Large brand advertisers have become more interested in recent years. They're very attracted to the age of the podcast audience... to their intelligence, education and professional accomplishments."
NPR, one of the earliest entrants in podcasting more than a decade ago, has about 17 million listeners to its podcasts such as Planet Money, Fresh Air and Ted Radio Hour.
Most of the estimated 500,000 podcasts produce little or no revenue, but top ones can generate millions of dollars a year, said Mr Erik Diehn, chief executive of podcast advertising firm Midroll Media.
Some are rolling out a subscription model, like Midroll's Stitcher platform, which offers "premium" podcasts for US$4.99 a month.
Other models allow access to a number of podcasts for free, with paying customers getting more.
As podcasting becomes more popular, some are attracting big stars and offering tie-ins to film and television programmes.
Gimlet created the ABC TV show Alex Inc, starring Zach Braff, based on one of its podcasts.
New Amazon show Homecoming, starring Julia Roberts, is linked to a Gimlet podcast too.
Podcasting is particularly suited to the smartphone generation and is likely to grow with increased use of connected devices.
"Right now, we're spending a lot of time thinking about how our work should be presented on connected speakers, in connected cars and other technologies that are here with us, but maybe haven't evolved to their final state yet," said Mr Carruth.