SCENE + HEARD: Today's Read Listen Up, Tune In and Chill Out: People Turn to Podcasts for News and Information By Mark Tosh Friday, May 1, 2020 12:00 AM NEW YORK—Echoing an old line, it seems to be the best of times, and the worst of times, for podcasts and podcasters. Yes, most people have a lot more time on their hands and are looking for new forms of entertainment. But, on the other hand, commuting to work is way down. The train or bus routes that had been one of the places podcasting flourished have almost ceased to exist. The bottom line is that the podcast sector is a bit of an unknown right now as the U.S. market closes in on two months of work-from-home and a shelter-in-place mentality. One thing seems certain, though: news podcasts, including those focusing on COVID-19 developments, are among the most popular subjects among listeners. The Daily podcast, produced by The New York Times, and NPR News Now were the two most popular podcasts in March, according to Podtrac. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the popularity of podcasts had been an ongoing phenomenon for the past few years. Both listening numbers and advertising dollars were growing. Here are a few key stats, according to the HubSpot marketing blog: • The number of podcast episodes climbed to over 30 million in December 2019. • One-third of millennials regularly listen to podcasts. • The number of people that said they listened to a podcast at least once a week rose by 17 percent between 2018 and 2019. • Between 2018 and 2019, the number of people who listened to podcasts at work doubled. Off the beaten path of hard news, the iTunes store ranks the comedy podcast The Joe Rogan Experience and Crime Junkie as two of the most popular shows. Another popular podcast, according to iTunes is Rabbit Hole, a New York Times’ production about “what the internet is doing to us.” Closer to home in the eyecare and optical sectors, there are a number of highly rated podcasts, including the Power Hour, with optometry practice-building consultant Gary Gerber, OD, and WO Voices, which is produced by Jobson’s Women In Optometry. The WO Voices podcast features women ODs and others who talk about some aspect of practice, business, career choices or other topics. The Power Hour podcast is a replay of what is known as “optometry’s only live talk radio show,” and guests typically discuss current business challenges and opportunities. Other optical podcasts include “Try Not To Blink,” which features James Deom, OD, and Roya Habibi, OD, who discuss the “ups and downs, ins and outs, news, tips and tricks of those who live the optometry lifestyle.” The podcast has been around for about two years, and usually drops a new episode on a weekly basis. In addition, “New York Eye Doc,” which launched last September, focuses on inspirational interviews, patient-centric health and “being Latina,” according to its iTunes description. It is produced by Damaris Raymondi, OD, a graduate of SUNY College of Optometry who has been in practice since 2015 and who had already built a large Instagram following. Raymondi talked about her outreach to patients and philosophy in this Voices and Views feature on Vision Monday last September. There are certainly other existing podcasts that discuss eyecare, optometry and contact lenses, among other optical topics, and likely some that are in various stages of development. It’s an interesting time for podcasters—as it is for just about every media platform—as producers attempt to read the tea leaves and predict what the future holds for the podcast, which is a relatively new medium (it launched in 2004). This uncertainty was borne out this week when the streaming service Spotify noted in its first-quarter earnings report that it has seen distinct changes in many users’ listening preferences since the lockdowns began. “Every day now looks like the weekend,” Spotify noted, which means listening habits change, too. Getting ahead of the next wave of listening will be the challenge for everyone in the podcast field. Spotify also told analysts that listeners are moving toward comforting audio that may help them manage their stress levels and anxiety. Two in five Spotify users said they were listening to music more often to manage stress, the company said citing its own survey. But as March turned into April and now April into May, podcasting listening is rebounding as downloads move back up, according to the tracking service Podtrac. The week of April 20–26 saw growth in overall podcast download totals (up 4 percent) and audience numbers (up 2 percent) for the first time since the week of March 2–8, Nieman Lab reported. So, what does the future hold for podcasts and podcasters? The best answer: Stay tuned. VMAIL Weekend Readers, do you have a favorite podcast that you want the rest of us to know about it? Please send us your suggestions to email@example.com and we’ll pass them along to everyone. Thank you.