I answered this question on Quora. I loved the question because it encompassed three of my main interests: Podcasts, self-driving cars, and the economic way of thinking.
Great question! I hadn’t thought of that possibility, which is surprising given my interest in both self-driving cars and podcasting.
First, let’s establish what a podcast is. A podcast is a series of media files syndicated via RSS feeds. The dominant form of podcast right now is the audio podcast. My own podcast is an audio podcast, and when I talk to people who are interested in starting their own podcasts I tell them to stick with audio over video for the following reasons:
- Audio is easier to make than video.
- Audio demands less attention than video, so people can listen in their cars or while doing other things.
Both of these make audio podcasts an ideal space for amateurs to thrive. An amateur with only a couple hours a week to make his podcast can easily produce an hour of great content each and every week. And production values are less important with an audio podcast. The best-produced NPR podcasts only sound a little better than many amateur podcasts, so they mostly compete on content.
Now to your question: How will self-driving cars affect this? Self-driving cars will mean people can give their full attention to media while they drive. That will mean some attention shifting away from podcasts and into TV and video games, yes. But it will also mean a shift away from audio podcasts and into video.
With video demanding more attention than audio, production values are much more important. It’s one thing to ask someone to listen to two people have a conversation for an hour. It’s quite another to ask that person to watch two static heads have that same conversation. You need things to be visually interesting to keep people’s attention! That means graphics, text, stock footage, etc.
I have made parts of my podcast episodes into videos to post to my YouTube channel. This clip took me longer to make than it did to do the whole hour-long audio episode because of all the time spent editing:
Needless to say, if I had to work that hard on every episode, I’d have to make podcasting my full-time job.
So I predict that while self-driving cars may slow the growth of the podcasting medium, their main impact will be to make podcasting a more expensive activity that will come to be dominated by a few professionals rather than amateurs. There will still be amateur podcasts, but they will cater to smaller niche markets, similar to popular YouTube channels today.
As a side note, my answer does assume self-driving cars to mean fully autonomous vehicles, not just vehicles that have some self-driving functions in addition to a human driver. This was implied in the question. Since fully autonomous vehicles are still quite a few years away from consumer markets, the death of audio podcasting is also a long way out.