The year in podcasting: The top news of 2023

PodPod's most-read news stories from this year

It’s certainly been an eventful year in podcasting, with ups and downs from mass redundancies to innovations in technology and an ever-expanding roster of amazing talent coming into the market. It’s been a whirlwind, to say the least.

With 2023 almost behind us, we thought we’d take a look back at what the year’s brought us, and to do that, we’ve selected the most popular news stories on PodPod from each month. Note, however, that we’ve discounted any articles about PodPod’s own events or awards.

January: The News Agents scoops major Channel 4 privatisation update

At the start of the year, The News Agents scored a significant coup by exclusively obtaining confirmation that the prospective privatisation of Channel 4 would not be going ahead from a letter sent by then-culture secretary Michelle Donelan to Rishi Sunak. 

While a major national news story in itself, the fact that it was a podcast that broke it helped contribute to the medium’s growing credibility as a serious news source, and set the tone for a year in which news podcasting would be a focus for many madia owners.

February: PodCo to release new Nickelodeon and Disney rewatch podcasts as part of partnership with AdLarge

Another major trend this year was TV companion podcasts, particularly those focusing on older cult favourite shows. This was typefied by the agreement between audio ad sales company AdLarge and podcast production company PodCo to produce a range of Nickelodeon and Disney rewatch podcasts featuring original cast members. 

Part of many networks’ lineups, these podcasts proved to be reliably popular this year - although this was somewhat complicated over summer by entertainment industry strikes that blocked many guild members from promoting the works in question.

March: Tony Robinson to launch new culture and entertainment podcast

First announced in March this year, Tony Robinson’s Cunningcast saw the national treasure speaking to a range of celebrity guests, including former Blackadder colleagues Miriam Margolyes and Stephen Fry, to explore life’s unanswered questions.

The podcast has so far proved to find a consistent audience, and is part of a new wave of celebrity-fronted podcasts that focus on topics that their hosts are genuinely interested with and engaged in, with another notable example being Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Wiser Than Me.

April: BBC launches investigative podcast on disappearance of eight-year-old Vishal Mehrotra

In recent years, the BBC has invested significantly in investigative podcasts via its different divisions, and April saw the launch of a nine-part series looking into the death of Vishal Mehrotra in 1981. It followed other successful shows in a similar vein, including A Very British Cult and the second season of I’m Not A Monster.

The podcast, hosted by his half-brother Suchin Mehrotra and award-winning investigative reporter Colin Campbell, was later updated with a tenth episode exploring new information which came to light following the show’s initial publication, further demonstrating the power of podcasts to impact ongoing investigations.

May: Jamie Bartlett to uncover “shocking conclusion” behind death of teenager Megan Bhari in new BBC podcast

Fresh of the success of producing A Very British Cult and The Missing Cryptoqueen, podcaster and journalist Jamie Bartlett’s addition to the year’s sweep of top-quality investigative podcasts from the BBC was Believe In Magic - a gripping look at the web of conspiracies, misdirection and tragedy surrounding the death of teenager Megan Bhari.

The podcast was met with widespread praise, and has made its way onto several end-of-year lists as one of the best podcasts of 2023, underlining both Bartlett’s skill as a journalist and storyteller, and the enduring popularity of true-crime investigative podcasts.

June: Elis James to launch new independent history podcast ‘Oh, What A Time’

Elis James is already a prolific podcaster, co-hosting How Do You Cope and Elis James and John Robins for BBC Radio 5 Live as well as The Socially Distant Sports Bar, but this year saw the comedian add another podcast to his resume with the launch of Oh What A Time

Presented by James along with comedy writer Tom Craine and Chris Scull, presenter and co-host of 90s football podcast Quickly Kevin, Will He Score?, the history podcast was first announced on PodPod during an episode with James. Released the following month, the podcast has already made a name for itself among history fans.

July: New BBC true-crime podcast explores mystery behind crossbow murder victim

Following the success of Vishal and Believe In Magic, The Crossbow Killer was another entry into the BBC’s catalogue of investigative podcasts that quickly found a following. Hosted by Tim Hinman of Coldfront and The Nobody Zone, the six-part series looked into the murder of retired lecturer Gerald Corrigan by crossbow in 2019. 

The podcast was produced by BBC Cymru Wales, and represented an expansion of the regional bropadcaster’s podcasting efforts, including contributions from a number of Welsh cultural luminaries in its music and writing.

August: SXM Media partners with The Trade Desk and HUMAN

Over in podcast adland, this year was dominated by the rise of AI-powered brand safety and suitability tools, with the goal of convincing more brands and agencies to invest in programmatic advertising by helping ensure that their campaigns reach the right audiences and aren’t placed next to controversial material.

While Barometer was one of the most active companies in this space, SXM Media announced new partnerships in August this year with cybersecurity company HUMAN and programmatic ad platform The Trade Desk to improve ad fraud detection and auditability for its advertisers. 

September: Political Currency podcast with Ed Balls and George Osborne launches this week

Amidst the growing popularity of news and politics podcasts this year, economics podcasts emerged as a related trend to help listeners make sense of the cost-of-living crisis and its causes. Tapping into both trends, former political opponents George Osborne and Ed Balls joined forces to launch Political Currency.

Produced by Persephonica, the production company behind The News Agents, the podcast examines how politics affects economics (and vice versa) as well as the impact that these decisions have on people’s lives. The podcast is going head-to-head in the charts with The Rest Is Money - Goalhanger’s effort to capture a similar audience with Robert Peston and Steph McGovern.

October: Goalhanger expands into fiction with new Sherlock Holmes podcast

Goalhanger has dominated the UK podcast charts this year with its The Rest Is franchise, adding to its stable with The Rest Is Football and The Rest Is Entertainment, but 2023 also saw the production company take its first steps into the world of fiction with Sherlock & Co.

Created by the team behind Boom, Jackie The Ripper and The Offensive, the podcast is an adaptation of Conan Doyle’s classic novels set in the present day, with Watson reframed as a true-crime podcaster. The show has already become popular both at home and in the US.

November: New iHeartMedia podcast claims to reveal the real culprits behind JFK’s assassination

A late addition to iHeartMedia’s stable of podcasts blended the ever-popular genre of true crime with the world of conspiracy theories, exploring possibly the most enduring topic of them all among conspiracist circles: the assasination of US president John F. Kennedy in 1963.

A 10-part limited series, Who Killed JKF? is hosted by journalist Soledad O’Brien along with award-winning actor Rob Reiner, and promises to reveal new information about Kennedy’s death and the events surrounding it.

December: Spotify lays off 17% of workforce amid cost-cutting drive

Adding a sour note to the end of 2023, Spotfy capped off the year with the announcement that it would be making a startling 17% of its workforce redundant in a bid to cut down on costs. With more than 1,500 staff let go, the news came as a shock to many - particularly after its most recent financial results less than two weeks previously showed a return to profitability for the company.

The announcement was further evidence that 2023 has been a turbulent year for many podcast companies, with ongoing disruption in the wider economy leading many advertisers to cut budgets and batten down the hatches. This has had a knock-on effect for podcast platforms and producers, who have felt the sting of decreasing ad revenue.