What if Podcasts Could be More than Audio?

In the Planet Money episode, Episode 671: An Insider Trader Tells All, the following dialogue occurs at the opening:

All right, Jacob, here’s the photo. This is a surveillance photo, we’re pretty sure taken by the FBI. You want to describe it?
Yeah, so it’s two men in a parking lot. It looks like the picture was taken from across the street. You see the men in profile. The man on the right is wearing sunglasses and a dark jacket. And he’s handing an envelope to the man on the left.
KESTENBAUM: What I love about this photo is it captures the exact moment where the guy on the left is actually taking the envelope.
GOLDSTEIN: You can see the thumb just closing right over it.
KESTENBAUM: We can tell you what’s in that envelope because this whole thing ended up in court. It is stuffed with money. The envelope’s filled with hundred-dollar bills.
GOLDSTEIN: And this is a picture of insider trading. You hear about insider trading in the news. It’s this abstract thing. No, here is a photo of it happening.

The episode goes on to tell the story of Scott London and how this photograph taken by the FBI would lead to his indictment for insider trading. Yet, this crucial photo — central to the entire story and interview, cannot be seen anywhere in the podcast. It’s not on the album artwork, since that’s the Planet Money logo. It’s tough to search Google for the image if you can’t remember key details from the podcast, like London’s name. And if you do find an image, it’s tough to know if it’s really the picture they were referencing. You’re stuck, resigned to listening to the Planet Money hosts describe the picture to you, until out of insistent curiosity, you think to look up the Planet Money episode webpage and find this key image, right there, front and center, giving the perfect context to the episode and solving your quest to find it.

Scott London accepting a bribe, United States Attorney’s Office

Podcasting is on the rise. With shows like Serial and This American Life, coupled with smartphones in millions of pockets, podcasts have seen rapidly growing popularity. However, they are, in a sense, still stuck in radio age. Due to podcasts being auditory only, podcasts are missing out on an opportunity to further engage their listeners. In addition to the aforementioned Planet Money episode, I have heard many podcast hosts forced to simply describe the image or media being discussed or forced to tell users to just look it up on Google or YouTube.

But what if podcasts could be more than that? What if, instead of relying on the host to describe the scene in the recording studio, or a movie or picture being discussed, you could look at your phone and the media would be there? What if podcast producers could create more engaging content to improve their podcasts, increase listener engagement with the hosts and even create unique and appealing ads?

With podcasts reaching customers through a variety of devices, platforms and apps, the methods by which podcasts reach listeners are quite varied. Podcasters upload the podcast to iTunes and it is then pulled by many different podcast apps (also called podcatchers) to phones and devices. Podcasts and producing companies sometimes create their own apps, but still upload their episodes to iTunes so that the majority of listeners can receive it on whatever podcatching app they use.

Concept: Podcast App with Enhanced Content

This app would create an experience whereby users could look at time synchronous media and content while listening to their podcast episodes. If some media is mentioned, users could simply open the podcast app and see it along with a caption. This content could include links, social media posts and even videos. In the case of the Planet Money episode mentioned, listeners could have received a notification and would have been able to quickly open their app to see the photo saving the effort needed to accurately describe the photo so that listeners understood the importance.

With this “enhanced content” podcast app, listeners would be able to use it like any other podcatching app. Episodes of podcasts without additional uploaded content would play and function as they do on other podcatchers, while “enhanced” episodes (ones with additional uploaded content) would offer a much more interesting and engaging podcast experience. For podcast producers to take advantage of this app, they would upload their podcast like normal — uploading in standard mp3 format to iTunes so that it reaches all podcasting apps. They then could upload the additional content to a dedicated site and platform for this app so that listeners using this enhanced content app could enjoy the additional media along with the podcasts — a much more enriching and engaging experience.

App Layout (from left to right): Episode listing (showing overview of episode and media), Full size media (synced to specific time in episode), Notification Screen (alert from podcast)

Podcast App Mockup

On the episode screen, the title of the episode, podcast name and podcast producer are all present to the right of the podcast artwork.

The header image would be submitted by the podcast as an alternate logo image or as a featured image for the podcast. This could be anything from a picture of the hosts to a specific image referenced in the podcast or even a funny gif. If the podcast had not submitted any data/information, the picture would simply be an enlarged image of the album artwork.

Beneath the titles and header image would be the summary information given with each podcast. This would be automatically added from the podcast repos, but could be modified as the podcast producers would see fit.

Users could scroll up to find all of the media and images uploaded for the podcast, much like a social media feed. Alternatively, as the podcast track progresses, different media objects would slide up to full view. This is shown in the second artboard. These media objects would be synced with a time stamp provided by the podcast and are represented by the smaller lines on the scrubber for the track. As it reaches a new line, the next image would slide up and the user could read about the new media in question.

These time synced media objects could also appear as notifications. If you’re listening to the podcast with your phone in your pocket, they could mention the image and you’d feel a buzz. Upon pulling it out, a notification would take you right to the mentioned image and you could see exactly what they were talking about.

Granted, the audio-only nature of podcasts gives them their unique quality and charm. There is a certain allure to visualizing the scenes and images in your mind and also the advantage of being able to work or drive while listening. However, many times, the listener would benefit so much more by being able to just see the context with their own eyes.

This app would be a podcaster app first and foremost. By not creating an exclusive podcast format, users can still listen to all of their subscribed podcasts on this app, even if the podcasts do not upload additional media or content. Taking this idea even further, this app could have a key outcome regarding advertising with podcasts, as further engaging ads or notifications about the ads in the podcast could drive up advertising revenue, sustaining many podcasts networks and helping create many more.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! 
You can reach me on Twitter: @DGraups or by Email: dgraups[at]gmail.com