NEW YORK: A GE-sponsored eight-part science fiction series has been heard by more people than Serial, last year's surprise podcast success, and an increasing number of brands are now exploring this channel.

The Message, which uses the industrial conglomerate's real ultrasound technology to solve a fictional mystery, has been downloaded more than 1m times, the Financial Times reported.

That figure had "exceeded all our expectations", said Andy Goldberg, GE's chief creative officer.

"It's had a different reach than video on either mobile or desktop," he told the FT. "It opens up opportunities for where you can reach people."

It helps that it's a natural fit for GE as it builds on the heritage of General Electric Theater, a long-running television and radio and anthology series.

"We sort of took a page from that and said, 'OK, we're going to create the GE Podcast Theater'," CMO Linda Boff told a recent ANA conference.

But other companies are finding success via podcasting without having such a background.

Software business Adobe, for example, makes its marketing research white papers available as podcasts for executives without the time or inclination to read lengthy documents. And it reports these are getting six times as many downloads as traditional PDFs.

"It's really quite accessible and extremely inexpensive," according to Alex Amado, vp/ experience marketing at Adobe. At between 10% and 15% of the cost of a video, "it's something we can do a lot of".

At the first-ever IAB Podcast Upfront in September, Julia Turner, editor in chief of Slate, described podcasts as "mobile ad opportunities that have been hiding in plain sight" and argued that "digital audio is a medium poised to hit the big time".

And Slate is backing that view, as Panoply, the podcast network it owns and which co-produced The Message, is creating a unit that will focus on custom work for advertisers.

The long term picture may look very different to today, however, according to NiemanLab, which suggested that the open "RSS-plus-MP3 tech" at the core of podcasting might not survive in the face of publisher demand for data.

The future could involve proprietary technology and middlemen controlling distribution.

Data sourced from Financial Times, Adweek, NiemanLab; additional content by Warc staff