AfterPod — Skepticism in Podcasting

People TRULY engaged in the podcast phenomenon — whether creator or consumer, on the periphery or in the fray — already knew the truth. It’s the skeptics who did not and were most vocal. It’s likely many still don’t acknowledge the truth. Despite being one of the most adaptable creatures on the planet, human perspectives do not change easily.

Like I’ve been saying

Podcasting is Unique

As a medium, podcasts evolved organically into a digital amalgam of radio and television (and newspaper and magazine and blogging) capable of being created and delivered by even a single person.

Depending on individual skills, any given podcast may have production values as good as any “show” produced by a large team of media professionals.

And have cultured a loyal audience.

Still, many doubted the strength of the medium… such as folks from the RADIO industry. Trained by the ADVERTISING industry, radio people love to play the STATISTICS game and (naturally) try to apply it to the podcasting industry. In their race to the bottom, they forget each medium has distinct characteristics.

Podcasting is a premium medium. Its consumers are not typical, they are exceptional. They are strongly engaged and tend to reject much of what works in other media, especially tired approaches to advertising.

Hand-wringing About Analytics

DOWNLOAD statistics have been available for years, including some indicating consumption WITHIN the episode (by tracking byte range requests). While certainly not complete information nor covering the vast width of the medium, general podcast consumption patterns have been observed for quite some time.

But only some podcast services follow the same rules,

and others followed no rules,

which reinforce doubts in the minds of advertisers spending money in (what they consider) a new and unproven medium. Perhaps nudged by this contingent (?), the powerful Apple mothership announced new podcast statistics in late 2017… and, though numbers have recently started to tumble out of the system, the response has been quite subdued.

After months of anticipation, these new analytics confirm: podcasts are the real deal. Consumption patterns are very strong and listeners are highly engaged. As we have asserted.

The Cynical Me says cheaters calculate that everybody cheats, so expected to find a big mismatch, and were disappointed when industry claims were pretty much confirmed.

Doubt as a Defense

Nevertheless, the “doubting talk” will continue to be promulgated by competitive media. In particular, the shifting media consumer market seems culturally difficult for many in the radio business where, one would think, it should be a logical match.

Television, long considered premium media territory, will also find itself playing defense. Where their large infrastructure and momentum can produce content like a factory, they are also bound to the creative constraints that process imposes… as well as longer planning cycles, production windows, time to market. It’s a numbers game for most networks: introduce 10–20 new shows per year and hope a few remain popular over multiple seasons.

Podcasting allows nimble individuals and small teams to quickly produce audio and video content, distribute it worldwide via RSS, and be prepping for the next episode before many of the major media leaders could even schedule the group meeting to discuss the possibility of producing a show.

Podcasting also compounds the power of its agility with a numbers proposition: given over a quarter of a million existing podcasts and the ability to start a new one with minimal resources, the cream of that digital content will rise to the top, too. An army of new independent creators as well as independent networks will compete with traditional TV.

Listening > 100%

Professionals in the radio industry — a few who are adapting to the podcast era early, that is — seem puzzled by certain aspects of podcasting. One reported an episode with an “Average Consumption rate of 125%. How is that even possible? Many other podcasters are also reporting seeing numbers that exceed 100%. What does that mean?”

Radio, aka “old school streaming”, has no REWIND or REPLAY so they don’t think in such terms. Podcast consumers CAN back up and re-listen.

  • It can happen immediately (“wait, I missed that…” or “that was great, I must hear it again now!”)
  • at the end of the show (yes, some people actually press Play and repeat entire episodes they just heard)
  • or later (going back and listening to part or all of the show when convenient).

True, there are other reasons a listener session may log consumption greater than 100%, including technical errors (predominately related to connectivity). I’ll suggest most “excess consumption” will be ultimately identified as legitimate.

Of course, it isn’t the norm… but it is a common occurrence. Same as with some movies, TV shows, songs. Bingeing, small or large, is nothing new to podcast consumers.

Growth

The industry will continue to grow slowly and steadily until the time when everyday audiences understand how podcasts (can) fit into their lives. THEN, that hockeystick will be seen on the charts.

It wasn’t triggered by Google adding podcasts to Play Music, it won’t be by Apple providing show statistics. Nor by a native Android app, nor a change in RSS.

I won’t present an entire argument, only a tiny example of the kind of thing (temporarily) holding back podcasting from dynamic growth:

DISCOVERABILITY

When an experienced tech, such as myself, has difficulty finding the MOST BASIC COMPONENT of any podcast, a link to its RSS feed, there is a problem. A ridiculously large percentage of podcasts fall into this group. Many newbie listeners don’t even know what to look for AND some podcasters, oblivious of the fundamentals, seemingly hide or omit links to their feed on their own websites!

It’s almost laughable.

Akin to a powerful TV station not mentioning their channel.

…a popular radio station not promoting their number on the dial.

…sending a great sales email with no link to sign up.

The feed is just the tip of the iceberg.


TECH TYPES:

If you are interested in emerging web media development projects, check out my VIZdex Annotated Timeline Presentation Platform and its first deployment, podDVR.com.

Also, here’s the last article throwing shade on yet another podcast term.

You may want to read the first article, which establishes much of the foundation for these views, or the second one that begins to forth our intent to purposefully (and positively) modify podcast consumption behavior.

Thanks!