The podcasting business has grown exponentially as tech companies, Hollywood studios and Madison Avenue ad agencies continue to invest in the burgeoning space. So, it came as no surprise that podcasting had a dramatically bigger presence at this year’s NAB Show. On Wednesday alone there were seven back-to-back sessions devoted to the medium.

With the space heating up, one challenge is helping users discover the content they’re looking for from a surging sea of 700,000 podcasts currently available. “As long as people are listening and discovering, there’s nothing wrong with more shows,” Stitcher CEO Erik Diehn said during a Wednesday morning panel, “Inside the Thriving Podcast Marketplace 1: The Exploding Business of Podcasting.” And while the number of podcasts is growing by the hour, the amount of “top tier shows” is in the range of 3,000-5,000, according to Max Cutler, CEO of Parcast, which was recently acquired by Spotify.

Technology will play a major role in helping consumers discover new podcasts, especially for smaller players that don’t have mega-bucks marketing budgets or a big media buzz coming out of the gate, said Brendan Monaghan, CEO of Megaphone. The work being done by tech companies and platforms such as Spotify, Google and Stitcher will improve content discovery. “Every key movement in the evolution of this space has been tied in with technology,” Monaghan observed. And although Apple’s iTunes Podcast app has long been the dominant platform for discovering and listening, Diehn said that’s because Apple was first to put a default podcast app on its devices and the growth has paralleled the penetration of the iPhone. Further growth is expected as podcasts become available on more platforms and devices.

Much like editors at news outlets use search engine optimization strategies when writing headlines, so too should podcasters when it comes to naming their shows. “People search on words,” Parcast’s Cutler pointed out, which is why it chose simple names like “Serial Killers” and “Cults” for their shows. “People will search for a person or concept and if you are the No. 1 show that comes up, it’s a huge advantage,” Cutler said.

To continue to grow, podcasters will need to work harder to leverage YouTube and social media to promote their shows, the panelists agreed. And platforms like Megaphone and Stitcher will help smaller content producers focused on “long tail” niche subjects make money.

New Approaches Needed For Smart Speakers

As they do with broadcast radio, smart speakers represent a rich growth opportunity for podcasters, especially if content providers create shows specifically intended to be listened to on the devices. “I think it’s a huge opportunity,” Cutler said. “But you have to play to how people are using smart speakers,” which often involves short form content. Parcast has plans to launch shorter podcasts designed expressly for listening on smart speakers. “Podcasting is a very personal experience” and smart speakers will change how people listen to content and how programmers approach it, Cutler predicted. Stitcher’s Diehn said content creators need to build a “more lean-back” experience for smart speakers and think about how to string shows together on the devices.

Amplifi Media president Steve Goldstein, who moderated the session, pointed to the level of talent being drawn to the medium as an example of its outsized growth. “Three to four years ago, it felt like there were a lot of people doing podcasts in their basements,” he observed. Now big-name talent like Will Ferrell (iHeartRadio’s The Ron Burgundy Podcast), Anna Farris (iHeart’s Anna Faris Is Unqualified) and Conan O’Brien (Earwolf’s Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend) have jumped into the space, which has built more buzz about the medium.

“We’re seeing a lot of people at that level that want to break in,” said Oren Rosenbaum, digital media agent at United Talent Agency. Big stars are attracted to the space because of its low barrier to entry and the flexibility it offers, Rosenbaum explained. “The nature of the medium is so flexible and that’s disarming to them.” But talent repped by UTA also realize the “meaningful commitment” that goes into entering the space, Rosenbaum said. “It’s very early on. People are experimenting with the medium.”