Towards the end of last year, something strange happened in the world of digital media: people started to talk about audio.
For someone who's spent the last 18 months trying to persuade people that audio is the future, this was pretty good news.
2013-2014 can only be described as the year of the moving image; social media feeds were littered with viral videos, bedroom Youtube presenters became multi-millionaire media moguls, Instagram launched a video-sharing service and Vice Media contemplated a $2.2 billion valuation - mainly off the back of its video content.
But as 2014 rolled on, this frenzy of excitement began to subside, as smartphone owners were lumped with heavy data bills and suffered the embarrassment of 'bufferface' (see Kevin Bacon).
Then, as Christmas approached a new word entered the vocabulary of the media-savvy millennial: Serial. Forget video, "Gen-Y" were talking audio. So why was Serial so popular? It's my opinion that it happened to find itself at the crest of an even larger wave - that of the audio revolution. It goes without saying that a large part of Serial's success is down to genius narrative construction, but it would be silly to ignore the medium of its delivery.
At the risk of knocking out an obvious statistic, 56% of all online content is now consumed on smartphones. It therefore seems strange that this is primarily confined to text, images and video, none of which are optimised on a small screen.
In recent years, audio has gradually been pushed down the content ladder. Who'd listen to radio in a world of Netflix and Buzzfeed? Audio suddenly became archaic and irrelevant. But despite its dwindling reputation, spoken-word quietly persevered; podcast consumption has been growing 25% year on year and, against all odds, 89% of the population still tune into radio every week.
The truth is, audio makes sense in a mobile world. Staring at text and images on a small screen will give you a headache, whereas consuming information through your headphones is effort free. Audio streams quickly, it wont eat all your data and it's perfect for an active, multi-tasking 'millennial'. So you can fix your bike, twerk to Destiny's Child, or soak your chia seeds, all while getting your audio fix.
Take news for example. 54% of smartphone users access it through their mobile, mainly via text-based sites and apps. But the truth is, it's pretty hard to engage with a 1000 word article on a phone screen, no matter how well written it is. Even if news sites have been adapted for mobile, their content is still dominated by traditional journalism - complete with unnecessary clauses and incomprehensible political jargon (TTIP anyone?). This just isn't practical for the time-starved twenty-something pressed up against a stranger's crotch on the tube to work.
The friction between traditional journalism and smartphones is reflected in young people's increasing disengagement with news. Something clearly isn't working; despite the rise in mobile content consumption, 30% of 16-24 year olds now use social media as their main source of news. Moreover, in a recent poll carried out by Sky News, only 18% said they trust mainstream media. This coincides with the shocking fact that, in the same survey, only 8% of young people said they were fully engaged with politics.
In order for my generation to feel involved with the democratic system, they need a news source that speaks directly to them, in a format that suits their lives. After all, providing someone with clear and accessible information is the first step to political engagement. The answer isn't about dumbing down journalism, or providing listicles of politicians making faces, it's about innovating and adapting the medium through which information is delivered.
This is why I believe short-form audio is the next step in digital news. It's time efficient, hands free and when delivered by someone you'd actually want to hand out with, engaging and relatable. Surely if we create news content that fits in with people's lives and speaks directly to them, they're going to be more compelled to engage with what's going on in the world.
Apparently I'm not the only one who's betting on audio. Last year Apple bought the personalized radio news app Swell for a rumored $30 million and the shares of UK-based audio sharing platform Audioboom rose 800%. This, combined with the imminent release of the iWatch and increasingly smart car stereo systems, means I'm pretty confident that 2015 is the year sound becomes the king of digital media. (Or I'm out of a job.)Suggest a correction