Serial is a podcast from the creators of This American Life. It tells a non-fiction story, one episode at a time, week by week. The subject for this first season: a murder case. Sarah Koenig, the host of Serial, delves into the somewhat murky details about the killing of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee 15 years ago in Baltimore, MD. Adnan Syed, her 17-year-old ex-boyfriend at the time, was found guilty of murdering her. While Adnan and his family maintain his innocence, he’s been incarcerated ever since.
Murder mysteries are nothing new. From Agatha Christie to Columbo to Law and Order, people have always been interested in a classic “whodunit.” What I find so intriguing about Serial is this: While it’s being broadcast on a more traditional medium (Serial is essentially a radio show), it’s becoming increasingly popular on more modern platforms (the Internet, social media, etc.).
Funny or Die, a comedy video website, featured Sarah Koenig in a short spoof of the podcast (I saw this video when @funnyordie Tweeted it out).
Stephen Colbert hosted Koenig as a guest on The Colbert Report to discuss Serial, dubbing it “the most popular podcast in history” (I found this segment in my Facebook newsfeed and watched it online).
The impact that a mere 12 episodes of Serial have had online is astounding. The podcast has generated 5 million iTunes downloads faster than any other podcast ever. One quick search for “#Serial” on any social channel will yield thousands of results: strong opinions, calculated theories, and desperate pleas for answers.
Did Adnan really kill Hae? Is Jay, the guy who led the police to Adnan, telling the truth? Does the murder timeline match up with the call records collected from Adnan’s phone? Best Buy even had something to say about it.
So why is Serial, a podcast that’s basically a traditional radio show, so popular on the Internet?
Maybe it’s a combination of the high quality content of the podcast (it’s addictive) and the way it’s being marketed across multiple forms of media. Maybe young people like it because it’s a true story about young people.
And cell phones.
Or maybe it’s just the adorable way that girl mispronounces the show’s sponsor, Mail Chimp.
Whatever the reason, the verdict is in: Radio is not dead. Traditional forms of entertainment can still be relevant and successful if they provide compelling content and are marketed properly.
Personally, I can’t wait for Season 2.
Have you been listening to Serial? What do you think of the podcast? Let me know in the comments below!