Dear Podcasting World

A mini research project of discovering insights, pain points and problems of podcast listeners today.

Drowning in content on a barely floating boat.

2019, the year of the podcasting BOOM. Everybody nowadays has a podcast, our ‘To Listen’ lists are filling faster than they are clearing up and the audio-space M&A space is looking like a bloodbath already.

Through long discussions with a number of smart people about this brave new world of podcasting, I kept stumbling upon the same struggles. The more I dive into podcasting the more I realise that:

The current podcasting ecosystem is not mature enough to enable podcast creators and consumers to take full advantage of the medium.

Which is of course natural…

Windows 95, Amazon.com v1 & Super Mario pre 2000s

I though it would be an interesting exercise to compile all the qualitative insights and struggle points I stumbled upon as well as a list of ideas that resulted from those discussions.

The profile of the 9 people I had ‘interviewed’

The content is split down in 5 categories:
📱 Platform/Apps
🧠 Mental Model
🌟 Discoverability
🎧 Consumption
⌨️ Interaction
📻 Sharing
💰 Monetisation

LEGEND
✖️ = Problem
💡 = Potential Solution/Idea
|“…” = Quotes


📱Platform/Apps

✖️Too many apps to choose from. Unclear as to how each is differentiated.

🧠Mental Model

✖️Nobody clear definition of what a podcast is. I got 9 different answers to the question: “So what do you classify as a podcast?”. People were unsure as to what is a podcast so they were also unsure as to the kind of content one would expect to find on ‘podcasting apps’.

“There are plenty of DJs on Podcasting Apps (ex. Nora En Pure) . Are those podcasts or Music Mixes?
There are also plenty of Storytelling Shows too. Are those podcasts or Audiobooks?”

Today we know that if we want Music, we go to Spotify, Apple Music or Soundcloud. If we want video content we go to YouTube, Netflix or Twitch. If we want audiobooks, we go to Kindle. Yet at the same time Soundcloud has podcasts, Spotify has Audiobooks and YouTube has all of it.

“Why does everything have to be part of a Show? One-off content is not considered a Podcast? Netflix has one-off documentaries.”
“I don’t always want to subscribe to a show; I just want to listen to that one episode.”

Podcasting Apps do have an approval process today for the content that makes it on their platform but the guidelines and expectations are not clear for consumers and possibly for creators as well. In general; there is a lot of ambiguity in this front.
The truth is that this is a problem that is hard to solve. 
Creators want people to find their content so they make it available everywhere. Podcasting apps act as aggregators. That means that their success is heavily dependent on content from those creators. Restricting creators from hosting shows on the platform might not be the best move. 
I presume the kind of content in a platform is a result of the evolution of the medium and something that is hard to affect.
💡Consider allowing creators to post content that does not have to fall under a ‘Show’. Instead let them organise that under a theme or a creator.

✖️No clear taxonomy in the podcasting space. Here are how other mediums organise themselves:
🎧 Music
Album = SUM(Tracks) 
Attributes: TYPE: singles, remixes, collaborations…
GENRE: Classical, Jazz, Rock…

📹 Video
Show = SUM(Seasons) 
Season = SUM(Episodes) 
Attributes: GENRE: Documentary, Drama, Comedy
TYPE: One-off, Series

💡Here’s a sample podcasting taxonomy inspired from the above that resonated with most people:
🎙️ Podcasting
Subscription = Show = SUM(Seasons) or SUM(Episodes) 
Episode = SUM(Snippets)

Attributes: LABELS/THEME: #streetfood, #crypto, #Japan, #LeonardoDaVinci
GENRE: Solo, Interview, Narrative, Information (News, Educational etc.), Entertainment Show
TYPE: One-off, Series
HOST: Personality, Brand, Publication

🌟Discoverability

Import feature of Breaker, Apple Podcasts Reviews for shows, Intro screen of Luminary

.✖️Not discoverable, no solid recommendation engine for neither shows or episodes. Most common way to discover is Twitter suggestions.
💡Recommendation Engines are the way to go here.

  • Show Recommendation Engine.
  • Episode Recommendation Engine.
  • Snippet Recommendation Engine.

For training the Recommendation Engine, suggestions can be made on the basis of:
- Listener’s History: Thumbs up/Claps, ratings, time spent consuming, comments, labels, analysis of the transcript etc.
- Use light social media integrations to follow the listener’s interests and posts.
- History of people with similar subscription profiles.
- History of people the listener follows on Twitter/Instagram.
- Just ask. Introduce an intro survey or settings in one’s profile.

✖️“The reality is that I am not interested in every episode of a podcast. I am interested in many subjects or particular people I follow; not the host.”

💡Subscribing to a theme/interest/hashtag/community/subject/label like Game Theory, Manufacturing, Greek Philosophy and so on instead of a show. Interesting how Twitter’s Jack Dorsey talked about this in his recent interview at TED:

“We started the service (Twitter) with this concept of following an account; and I don’t believe that’s why people actually come to Twitter. I believe Twitter is best as an interest based network. People come with a a particlular interest and they have to do a ton of work to find and follow the accounts related to that interest. What we could do instead is allow you to follow an interest. Follow hashtag, a tag or a trend.” — Jack Dorsey

Categorising content into interests is not that trivial but:
- Labels can be assigned by the author or the listeners.
- Use the transcript to programmatically extract the information (Android seems to be the first) and populate labels.
- Use comments to programmatically extract the information and populate labels.
💡Link profiles/personas to shows and then enable listeners to follow people/profiles instead of just subscribe to shows. Breaker appears to be the most social/user-centric app of them all since it allows you to search and follow Users; something the rest do not support.

💡Social Feeds. Breaker has implemented a great Social Activity feature (see below) where you can import your Twitter follows and then follow what they had listened to, liked or subscribed to. This is fantastic since word of mouth, especially from people you respect, is one of the most powerful -probably the most powerful- way to get people to try things.

Breaker’s awesome activity feed. Breaker also allows you to search for not only Shows but Episodes & indeed Users.

💡Curated Lists. Spotify has their own pre-curated playlists that are categorised per theme or mood. For podcasting, we could have:
- Featured Show/ Episode of the week like in the App Store.
- Monthly curated episode(not Show) lists per interest.
- Curated show lists per interest.

✖️Too many shows to pick from and not easily ‘browsable’. A podcast’s content is invisible. One cannot preview or skim through it to get a sense of it.
💡Audio/Video Pitch of Show like Movie Trailers.
💡Written Summaries of every Episode.
💡Audio Summaries of Episodes .
- Can be provided by the creator on upload.
- Can be offered as an add-on service of the app.
- Can crowdsource audio highlights and collate them together.

💡“In an ideal world, I would open my app and get an auto-generated Weekly Summary of the most interesting audio chunks regarding a specific interest I follow. Like in Spotify.”

Indeed this idea of being able to consume select snippets of the episode instead of the entire thing + having access to a curated list of those according to subjects/interests/labels instead of shows the follow resonated with many of the people I talked to.

✖️”Some people I subscribe to are also doing Live Streaming. I wish there was a single app that would host both the livestream and the frequent podcast shows.”

💡Integration with Periscope/Twitch to allow creators to automatically push the livestream recording to a podcasting app.
💡Support Live Podcast Streaming. Real Fans will want to tune in for the raw unedited version. A few days later the edited one can be published.
- Allow Live Q&A session through the app through text or voice messages.

✖️The Filter Bubble Effect. The eternal problem… On the one hand we expect the platform to cater to us new content according to what we listen, follow or like (see Recommendation Engines) yet at the same time we want the app to delight us by surprising us with something we would never expect to have liked. This is a rather big ask and a tough and nuanced problem to crack. That is why most content platforms end up becoming eco-chambers the more they get to know our likes & dislikes (Twitter, YouTube, Amazon Books etc.)
💡Spotify’s ‘Made for You’ playlists are a great example. I find, of catering to the familiar but yet surprising me pleasantly from time to time. This is a very very hard algorithmic challenge. Only with more advanced AI methods can we tackle this challenge through very advanced recommendation engines I believe.

🎧Consumption

✖️No time to listen to everything that is interesting out there; especially when each is on average 45 minutes long.
Some of the people ditched all together shows that had a duration of more than 40 minutes unless they were really interested in the subject. They did not want to commit that much time. The 20 minute mark appeared to be the duration that they were more positive towards.
This is also causing a content monopoly and does not enable smaller creators to be discovered since most people would prioritise the ‘popular’ shows over something ‘new’.
💡Creating shorter content as a creator might be a way to ‘break’ into podcasting since those can act as fillers between the usuals people listen to.

💡“I wish there was a way to pick between a short, normal or extended version of an episode according to how much time I am willing to invest.”

✖️Sometimes people tend to lose concentration.
💡Increase visual stimulation through:
- Auto-generated text on screen. It is not true that all of the people who listen to podcasts do so while on the move or while multitasking. Surely that is a great plus of the medium but a few of the people I have talked to, listen to podcasts while having the screen in front of them.
- Video version.
- Overlay multimedia on top of audio stream using timestamps: polls, images, links, tweets etc.

✖️“Often times I want to revisit something I listened to yet I removed from my Queue. There is no way to do that on Overcast or any other app I know of.”

✖️The shows that are done in a language other than English are rare.
💡Improve Accessibility via Auto Translation in different Languages. Possibly use English Transcript → Turn it into other language → Add text-to-speech on top.

✖️”I wish I could add episodes to my podcast lists in a ‘Bookmark’ fashion straight from the browser. I end up finding something on Twitter or a Newsletter and Add it to my Reading List. I then go through the Reading List and download them all through Apple Podcasts manually. It is a pain.”
✖️💡“Sometimes I go in the Tube and before I recall I have to download an Episode, I am losing connection. Predictive auto-downloading of episodes would be awesome!”
✖️💡“I typically listen at x1.5 speed so music shows start playing at that speed. Overcast lets you set custom settings per show which is great stuff! I would expect every app to allow me to do that; or even better, allow me to customise settings per ‘type’ of show, not the show itself.”

⌨️Interaction

✖️Not possible to skip specific sections or navigate to points of interest. This was one of the biggest ones.
💡Index the Podcast. Cut it down to sections with a start & end timestamp. Add a short title or even an emoji for each. 
- Allow community to do the indexing
- Allow community to add comments + transcription of audio → Programmatic Indexing through ML.
- App Offers it as a Service.
- Allow creator to do the indexing.
Using the above; add a skip/next button instead of the +-30 second buttons. For example, in an interview-formated episode, the indexing could be done accouring to Q&A pair where a Skip button would skip to the next question. In a storytelling/narrative episode, it could be skipping to the next story section and so on.
💡Add a fast-forward button. This is so simple since all apps today have a speed control setting yet everybody treats it as a global setting of the app and not something we would want to control over the duration of the podcast. I am surprised nobody has introduced this feature yet. Overcast does have a Smart Speed feature that minimises silence. 
💡Enable searching (using a transcript).
💡Use a YouTube-like overview thumbnail but instead of scrennshot of the video, use an emoji or 1–3 word headline.
💡Visualise sections on the progress bar. Visualise ads like YouTube does through the yellow marker.

✖️No way to interact with the podcast. No comments, no ratings.

“The comment section is often times the most interesting part of a blog/video.”
💡“Adding voice comments might be a new way of interacting with podcasts.”
Voice Messages on Anchor

💡Allow people to react to snippets/phrases/sections. Not just the episode or show itself. Can use a Thumbs Up-Down/Heart/Clap/Emojis.
💡Add comments along the track like Soundcloud.
💡Provide a visual reaction timeline through emojis on top of the progress bar.

Soundcloud’s Interface. Visualising comments but any other dimension like emotional reactions.
✖️“I don’t know of a way to save a specific snippet in the same way I am highlighting in Medium. I have to be taking notes as we go or take a screenshot of the timestamp. “

💡Allow people to Star/Save/Bookmark specific snippets. When a user presses the Star button then the app could automatically be starting the entire snippet that has already been indexed and then allow the user to crop it and confirm.

✖️No clear structure of the podcast that I can browse to choose If I want to listen to it or in order to navigate to specific sections.
💡Give out minutes of the podcast as part of the summary.
💡Provide a visual timeline through headlines on top of the progress bar.

‘Visualising Sound’
✖️”No clear structure of the show. Does it consist of one-off episodes? Is it a series in which I have to start from EP1?”

💡Allow creators to organise episodes into seasons or themes or programs or shows. The app itself should be indexing them according to a single algorith that makes everything seem tidy up instead of making the creator add the Episode # in the title.

✖️”I find myself having frequently opening the Notes app in order to scribble down interesting facts and things I have to check out.”

💡Summary of the products/books/people etc suggested or mentioned during the show as part of the show notes. Allow them to buy, save, download right from inside the app.
💡Dynamic Buttons. Add contextual controls to the interface that evolve with the content. Share buttons when the author asks to share, Tip buttons when the author asks the listeners to donate, add To Reading List when there is a book or article mention, Download episode/subscribe to show when a podcast episode is mentioned, Buy/Open in browser button when there is an ad, sign-up when there is a newsletter features…

📻Sharing

✖️Hard to share specific content. The apps are optimised for sharing the entire episode or show, not a part of it; which is usually what people wanted to share.
💡Option to share the episode with a certain starting timestamp like YouTube.
💡Share a highlight/snippet (Overcast recently released this).
💡Make sure that the link is displayed nicely when shared on Social Media (thumbnail, title, description).
💡Make sure that the link is displayed nicely when embedded in other platforms like Medium.

💰Monetisation

✖️”There is no straightforward way to monetise content other than reaching out to sponsors. But saying that I am looking forward to that will be a lie because that is when the podcasting world will be flooded by noise instead of signal.”

💡Push Ads outside the content and inside the platform/app.
- Allow for control of the creator to dynamically change the Ads on each show. (an episode from back in 2016 will now have the latest Ad shown instead of an expired) (also checkout Spotify’s new interactive voice ads).
💡List any mentioned or promoted content to the app. Add+ Buy buttons to Pay with Apple Pay. % goes to creator % goes to platform. Sponsors now have a metric for conversation.
💡Pay monthly fee for the app. % distribution of subscription fee according to % allocation of time listening to certain creators. (like Medium)
💡Tokenise Shows
- Allow token holders to be able to vote for next guests.
- Vote for questions to be asked to a specific guest.

✖️”The only way to show gratitude and appreciation to a creator I like is by making a donation through their Patreon Page -if they have one-.”

💡Patreon Integration to setup a pledge easily.
💡Tipping Jar in-App (like Buy me a Coffee).
- per episode - per creator - per guest - per cause

💡”It would be cool if creators would unlock content like raw material, extended editions or director’s cuts by paying the creator directly or making a donation/pledge.”

Take your pick.

Though these discussions were extremely interesting and taught me a lot about the space and how listeners think, the hard part is never ideas. Ideas have no value until they take form.

The hard part is choosing which ones to tackle first. Product developement is part logic — part art.

I am very curious to see on which solutions will each player bet and as a result who will dominate the podcasting space.


⚡⚡⚡⚡⚡⚡⚡⚡⚡⚡⚡in PART 2⚡⚡⚡⚡⚡⚡⚡⚡⚡⚡⚡

We zoom out to observe the ecosystem and explain how the existing big players like Spotify, Google, Apple are uniquely positioned to dominate the space.