Personal Take: Podcast Movement 2017

“I’m a software programmer not a podcaster, but I bet you are!” That’s how I introduced myself to strangers in Anaheim for the annual gathering of podcasters at PM17. Many were astounded at my clairvoyance and proceeded to tell me about their podcast. I met many fascinating people.

Like Cody Wheat, who hosts a fairly new show called Shots of History. It’s about the history of alcohol… adult beverages… and is quite interesting. We talked a little about how he planned to grow his podcast and potentially make money from it.
BEFORE the event was over, I saw him sitting to the side and approached. He excitedly shared an email he JUST RECEIVED from a liquor distributor saying they are following his podcast, want to discuss the possibility of advertising, don’t know anything about podcast sponsorship, and are open to discussing any arrangement that makes sense. He was psyched!

THAT kind of energy ran through the halls of Podcast Movement. A couple of thousand or so podcasters learned ways to improve their craft, refine production processes, absorb some sound engineering, and establish or enhance personal connections. Many podcasters were concerned about the “business side” of things… some were not, podcasting is purely passion for them.

As a software developer with a project in progress, one of my interests in PM is INDUSTRY KNOWLEDGE, which was in abundance. It is from that perspective — and looking forward — that I share a few thoughts:

HIDDEN TREASURE

Though really a flowing one-on-one conversation guided by master business startup interviewer and podcaster Andrew Warner of Mixergy, a keynote speaker was Dan Carlin of Hardcore History fame, who talked in front of a very large, tightly-packed room. Dan said something I have been thinking about MANY podcasts for a long time. He expects his podcast episodes to survive him. Dan thinks they will have something worthwhile to offer far into the future. I agree and believe the majority of podcasts are just as valuable in their own way.

Imagine IF today’s historians had access to podcasts from people in, say, Biblical times. We’d know intimate details about daily life back then, attitudes, struggles, successes… and from various perspectives. Our understanding of that era would be closer to the truth.

Future historians, students, and regular citizens WILL have this resource. Podcasters are leaving behind a multitude of unique clay pots which, due to better technology, are far more likely to survive their trips into the future intact and not become shards of the past to be puzzled together.

There is true cultural value in preserving contemporary observations. No different than old newspapers, magazines, photographs, radio shows, television news video, and the like. MY project, a work-in-process, happens to address how to find, enjoy, and share these treasures — after captured — entirely via the web.

SOLID GROWTH

Everybody is predicting growth for podcasting, there are virtually no naysayers. It.Is.That.Obvious.

“Drop-in-audio” (aka radio) is not going away, yet audio-on-demand appeals to listener needs for personal preference and convenience. The ONLY argument seems to be HOW FAST podcasting will grow.

Most forecast relatively slow, steady growth… but let’s look at their reasoning.

Veteran podcasters seem bristle at any talk about “hockeystick growth”. I suspect many are just tired of hearing that for a decade without it happening, they’ve been teased too long. They are looking back at history and seeing the same trend for the future. It is a good direction, to be sure, but no rapid jump to the upper right of the chart in their predictions. All other things being equal, I would agree with them. (Certain things are changing, however, so will not remain equal.)

Podcasters approaching it as a business also see growth, but limited by the establishment of measurement standards and the ability to capture comprehensive audience metrics which would support advertising at scale. These constraints are being addressed and, fairly soon, will undoubtedly disappear as technical hurdles are jumped. Larger and steadier flows of revenue dollars will begin to stream into the podcasting space at a faster pace and growth will accelerate significantly.

I suggest that the REAL reason podcasting is starting to take off (again)… and growth rate will increase (faster this time)… is the emergence and adoption of TECHNOLOGIES that support the production, distribution, and consumption of podcasts, both audio and video: more smartphones in use, smarter smartphones, greater wifi availability, faster mobile communication speeds, smarter web browsers, and much more.

Where it has been relatively hard for “everyday people” to find and play podcasts in the past, the task is becoming much easier. Technology, in my opinion, is the single biggest reason consumption of podcasts did not grow faster in the past. A transition is occurring NOW.

INCLUSION

In a keynote, Aaron Mahnke of Lore, said he almost didn’t pursue it because “a podcast is two old white guys in plaid talking about iOS updates”. His perception almost stopped him cold, but he took a chance.

In reality, the podcasting industry is already pretty diverse and newcomers are quite welcome. The breadth of podcast topics is astounding and there are hosts of virtually every background. You can probably find a show compatible with your focus, your orientation, your heritage, your interests.

Plus, there’s always room for more podcasts and very few hurdles to prevent new podcasters from creating them. You, too, can be a podcaster!

EDIT: The day after this was published, Nielsen announced new info pretty much confirming my notions, so I detailed it in a separate post.

PUBLIC RADIO, -WANNABES, -ALUMS, -CLONES

As the decade-plus-old podcast ship moves into the mainstream, NPR et al are getting the lion’s share of the attention in the media. As established storytellers, an impressive body of quality work has been produced and praise is deserved. Of the relatively few “big hits” that podcasting as a whole has had, a disproportionate share comes from the public radio side of the house.

Unsurprisingly. They have an ardent following, experienced talent and staff, and good marketing skills.

It would be a big fail if they WERE NOT “out in front”, don’t you think?

ASIDE: In my opinion, commercial (vs. public) radio could and should have been THE dominate player in podcasting at this point… and blew it.
Today, it STILL seems most don’t understand what makes podcasting different from radio. I fear they’ve been caught up in the corporate ratings chase, listener churn and resetting, repetitive headlines and little depth… for too long.
I sat in several sessions and it appears radio industry attendance and engagement is up significantly over last year. Great! They have ground to make up in the podcasting space or they will not be a “player”.

However, where polished experience once distinguished the few professionals from the vast unwashed masses — the leaders from the also-rans — those masses are quickly becoming more skillful and do possess talent. As the independent side of the podcast industry becomes more proficient, their SHEER NUMBERS will intensify the competition.

Remember, though, that early leaders in any new industry typically continue to reign… “unless they forget what got them there”.

PHYSICS

In nature, certain quantum particles change their behavior WHEN OBSERVED; that is, they behave differently when being watched than when not. It’s true!

There is a warranted concern that an undue emphasis on listener analytics could lead to unintended negative consequences. Whilst analysis of podcast consumption may make it easier to grow advertising and sponsorship revenues (keeping in mind that accurate interpretation of that data is also challenging), it may also serve as an echo chamber or mirror to the producers of podcasts.

Though you can learn good things from stats, if a podcast producer begins to navel-gaze on the numbers, their former focus on the subject matter will be altered, they will start to change things or second-guess themselves, and the show will become less authentic. That would be catastrophic to the industry… it would be too much like TV.

Finally, when “success” is watched closely, there will be clones. The world doesn’t need any more cookie-cutter podcasts. Bring us YOUR unique stories.

I worry that the fresh, original, genuine aura around podcasting cannot be maintained. It has to happen from the bottom up.

NOT JUST-A-TRADE-SHOW

There’s a vibe… podcasting IS a community.

I truly hope the co-founders find a way to steer this convention through some rapid waters as (IMHO) growth explodes over the next 18–24 months. It will be difficult to avoid fragmentation into insular sub-groups that would dilute the significance of Podcast Movement and it’s broad appeal.

I haven’t heard attendance numbers but this year’s Anaheim gathering seemed about the same size as last year’s in Chicago, surprising since many on the East Coast can’t travel all the way to the West Coast. I expect a MUCH larger crowd next year as the travel consideration for a multitude will be reduced.

In 2018, Podcast Movement is in Philadelphia from July 24–26. If you’re a podcaster or involved in the podcasting industry, you should go*.

It’s a “happening”.


*Personally, I would rather NOT attend a large gathering of people but I’ve learned to power through it when warranted. Something of an introvert, I am much more comfortable behind the keyboard and up in my head with some coding challenge.

You, too?

Dig deep. It’s worth getting out for this one. The podcasting space enjoys a very friendly, helpful community.

There was a Best Podcast award given out and the creator was in the large audience… yet couldn’t gather the courage to go up and accept, sending a friend to the stage instead.

Too shy.

But there.

A single golf clap? Or a long standing ovation?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.