09/03/2012 02:33 EDT | Updated 11/02/2012 05:12 EDT

Is Podcasting Poised For a Comeback?

Does anyone listen to podcasts anymore? Does anyone even care?

This past week, I published episode #321 of my weekly audio podcast (Six Pixels of Separation -- The Twist Image Podcast). Each week I have a conversation with someone interesting in the media, marketing, advertising, business book or personal development space. I've been at it since 2006, and I have no idea if anyone listens or cares about it. iTunes will tell me that it's popular (it ranks high on their Management and Marketing chart), but I don't look at my analytics.

I consider the podcast my guilty pleasure. It's a chance to corner someone I like, respect and/or am interested in and ask them anything and everything that I am curious about. Beyond that, it's a bit of a lab for me as well -- a place to experiment with audio content and create the kind of audio you can't typically hear on the radio. The social media by-product is that I freely publish the conversation (unedited) for all to hear, share, comment and connect with.

Podcasting was supposed to be "the next big thing."

Podcasting (both audio and video) came hot on the heels of blogging. It seemed like podcasting could do to radio what blogging was doing to print (namely, creating an entirely new genre with an even more impressive roster of new thinkers). It hasn't happened. Some will blame the fact that it's called "podcasting," while others will claim that it's still not intuitive or easy to find and download the content. Everyone will agree that it hasn't exploded in popularity like blogging has, and that it's even harder to figure out where the money is when it comes to podcasting.

That could all change.

I have no data to back up this thought. There are no statistics to quantify my thinking, but it feels like podcasting is about to turn a corner. There are a handful of podcasts that are acting as a key leading indicator that consumers have an appetite for longer, in-depth and content rich audio programming. In short, everything that you thought the Internet wasn't about in a world of 140 character tweets, Facebook status updates and YouTube viral video sensations. These deep and rich treasure troves of content are also gaining mainstream attention, and it all seems to be drawing more and more energy towards podcasting: a medium that many have already written off.

Five podcasts that could resurrect the medium (in alphabetical order): 

  • Foundation with Kevin Rose. He co-founded Digg, Pownce, Revision3 and sold his latest start-up, Milk, to Google where he is currently working on their venture fund. This video podcast features Rose in conversation with other start-up founders and soon-to-be icons of Silicon Valley. The conversations are all personal and profoundly powerful as the show provides a live commentary on how business - as we have known it - is changing. This podcast is documenting the fast rate of change.
  • Here's The Thing with Alec Baldwin. Did you know that award-winning actor, Alec Baldwin, had a podcast? I didn't. Music pundit, Bob Lefsetz, turned me on to this audio podcast. A new episode comes out every two weeks, and if his episodes with Billy Joel and David Letterman are any indicator of success, this podcast is going to become massively popular. Turns out that Mr. Baldwin doesn't have to just stick to his day job. He's a great podcast host.
  • Nerdist Podcast with Chris Hardwick. With over 1.6 million followers on Twitter, Chris Hardwick is riding the wave of Geek Culture. Along with being an actor and stand-up comic, Hardwick's eclectic podcast brings interviews and conversations with everyone from Ozzy Osbourne to Tina Fey. It's a great show that also features some of his friends, improv madness and more. It's a beacon for creative ways to use audio. And yes, this is the kind of stuff you will never hear on radio.
  • Pursuit of Spark with Julie Burstein. I became a major fan of Julie Burstein after reading her book, Spark - How Creativity Works (which she co-wrote with Kurt Anderson and was based on her award-winning radio show, Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen for Public Radio International). You can imagine how amazing it is for someone with that kind of depth in radio to make the move over to podcasting, and Burstein does not disappoint. With this podcast, the discussion is with people from all walks of life who are pursuing their ideas with creativity, and are willing to discuss the challenges and passion of living a life fulfilled.
  • WTF with Marc Maron. Where did Marc Maron come from? How is it that almost every name in comedy is ready to line-up and be a part of his podcast? If you dig a little bit, you'll uncover a rich career of stand-up comedy and acting, but these deep dives into the lives of comedians (and now entertainers and musicians) is one of the best regular pieces of audio content you will find anywhere (podcasts ad beyond). Maron makes each show deeply personal and you feel like you are, literally, sitting there on the couch right next to him as some of the world's funniest entertainers talk serious about their craft.

It's getting better every day.

Are more people listening? Maybe not. But, with content this strong (and more and more people entering the fray with niche content), perhaps we're about to see the first time - in the history of the Internet - where "build it and they will come" becomes a truism rather than a cautionary tale.

Do you listen to podcasts? Which podcasts have captivated your attention? 

Mitch Joel is president of Twist Image -- an award-winning digital marketing agency. HIs first book, Six Pixels of Separation, named after his highly-successful blog and podcast of the same name is a business and marketing bestseller. His next book, CTRL ALT DEL, will be published in Spring 2013.