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A word in your ear from the podcasting pioneers

Every edition we assess an aspect of the French zeitgeist. This month: the huge popularity of downloadable audio, by Jane Hanks

Podcasts are popular in France. An opinion poll by OpinionWay in 2017 showed that 39% of the population have listened to a podcast, at least once. That compares with 11% for the winter of 2017 in the UK where the phenomenon started earlier.

The word podcast entered the language in 2004 and it is a contraction of ipod and broadcast. There is a French word, balado, but it has not caught on. 

There are two types. Most are free. There are radio programmes, which have already been broadcast and are downloaded later by the listener. Radio France, which had its highest audience figures ever in November/December 2017, also has some of the most listened to podcasts. 31.6M were downloaded from the speech channel France Inter and 19.8M for France Culture in one month at the end of last year.

The second form is an audio file produced solely to be downloaded and listened to as a podcast. These are made by amateur individuals at home, just like a video blog, or by a growing number of companies producing them professionally. They are available on almost every subject you can think of.

A new website, is hoping to list as many as possible so they can be found easily. There are 18 categories including sport, politics, leisure, music, books and holidays, with the two most popular being cinema and information about running your own business.

One of the most successful professional podcast producers is Les Nouvelles Ecoutes, launched in November 2016 and founded by two journalists. They have six programmes covering women, the economy, food, football and pop culture.

Lauren Bastide gave up a glittering mainstream career as Editor of Elle and the main news programme on Canal+, while Julien Neuville was an international reporter for Le Monde. He says audio is making a comeback in a world we thought was dominated by the visual and it is now more relevant than ever:

“Everyone leads very busy lives but we like to keep informed. Now it is easier than ever before. If you have a portable smartphone and headphones, you can listen to a podcast while you are doing something else. My girlfriend tells me I have never done so much housework or cooking because I can do the boring tasks while being entertained through my headphones. We find that people who work in manual or visually creative jobs listen to podcasts all the time.

“Another reason is that once you have downloaded your programme you don’t need a Wi-Fi connection, so you can listen on the train or at the gym.”

He says that in one year they have seen a 287% rise in the number of listeners to their podcasts. They have 400,000 listeners a month, tiny compared to Radio France, but more than enough to attract advertisers: “Two years ago no-one wanted to advertise with us. Now we have offers coming in all the time. Everything we see shows it is continuing to grow.”

 “Both of us had come across American and UK podcasts and loved listening to them. We realised this was a new medium, where your content is not dictated to by a huge corporation, and you can talk about and listen to subjects that are often ignored by mass media.

“Lauren in particular did not like the way women are portrayed and had the idea of producing her podcast, La Poudre, before we met.”

Podcasts attract a young audience. 52% are aged 18-24 and 52% are men. Other popular podcasts in France are Noir is the New Black where three 30-year-olds from the French West Indies and Africa talk about what it is like to be young and black in France; Transfert by Slate France where unknown people tell their own story; Studio 404, about what is happening on the web; Boloss Football Club, where football is discussed with humour, and NoCiné which reviews current films. 

When you see a young person walking along plugged into their headphones – they may not be listening to endless pop music but to an erudite talk on economics.

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