From my Notebook

Why is the Serial Podcast so successful?

Brian Boyer just tweeted about Serial’s success, and it made me wonder—why is it so successful? (And why can’t I name a TV show that I am enjoying more than this?)

Here are some of my ideas—things that may be contributing to Serial’s success:

  1. Heavily promoted by the popular This American Life podcast
  2. PBS / NPR-style ads only; no interstitials
  3. Ad for Mailchimp randomly records somebody who uses Mailchimp
  4. One of few podcasts without “radio personality guy” voice
  5. High school murder mystery
  6. High school popular kids murder mystery
  7. High school popular kids doing drugs murder mystery
  8. Late 1990s setting means slightly more affluent audience that can identify with time period
  9. Love story
  10. Story with a wide cast of characters
  11. Story with an appealing cast of characters
  12. Cold Case without the Cold Case behind-the-scenes-didacticism
  13. Story presented with twists, turns, and clever recaps
  14. Quality of narration voice
  15. Non-linear presentation (well let’s go back to so-and-so now.)
  16. Suspense / Mystery / Whodunit genre
  17. True crime
  18. Meta-procedural (a procedural path through a broken procedural narrative)
  19. Team of amateur sleuths
  20. People who inexplicably refuse to help an amateur investigation
  21. People who seem to be lying but won’t admit it (trunk body sighting)
  22. Nobody really knows how it will end / cannot google ending
  23. Persistent “start listening from the beginning” message to better hook listeners
  24. Convincing guy is convincing (Adnan)
  25. Convincing guy draws funny graphs (Adnan)
  26. Pursuit of justice angle (potentially any member of the public can help out)
  27. Cops are thrown under the bus / “Cops can’t be trusted” messaging
  28. “Prosecution is worthless” messaging
  29. Inexplicable conduct by defense attorney
  30. Exposes people who are not exactly as they appear
  31. You’ll never believe this (stripper-exhibitionist guy)
  32. Phone booth that may never have existed but there’s no way to know
  33. Sneaky things done in parking lots
  34. Sketchy guy who inconceivably gets let off the hook (Jay)
  35. Ease of recommendation level: Public radio
  36. “By the way, I listen to NPR” factor
  37. Great soundtrack
  38. Novelty (no other podcast does the above)

You can listen online at serialpodcast.org