This is a jet-lagged post from the LAX American Airlines lounge waiting for a flight to Dallas. (Every Aussie frequent flyer should fly domestic in the US once in a while to realise how great we have it back home).
Yesterday I spent my lay-over at the “Now Hear This” podcast festival in Anaheim. I got to see two of my favourite podcasts live: “The Gist” with Mike Pesca and “The Incomparable” with all nine of the hosts. (If you want a podcast that in one episode can discuss “Alien” while referencing “Dr Who”, “Blade Runner” and “Dungeons and Dragons”, then “Incomparable” is the podcast for you).
Some of the conversations at the festival mused on the difference between the radio format and the podcast format. Here are some of the takeaways:
1. The podcast form is less restrictive
Unlike broadcast radio, where you have to keep with certain time limits – the podcast form is not time-bound. The story can take as long as it takes to tell.
2. Podcasts are “opt-in”, meaning you can take risks
The podcast form is “opt-in”. That is – people can choose what to listen to, what spots to listen to, or can go on to the next podcast in their feed. That allows you to take risks. “Serial” would never have been done these days in radio. A twelve episode piece on a fifteen year old murder would never have made it to air. But the podcast form allows the producer to take the risk. The implicit contract with the listener is different.
3. Podcasts are cheap and therefore democratic
Podcasts are cheap to produce. In a traditional radio station, one of the biggest costs is transmission. Podcast distribution costs are negligible in comparison. This allows for a democratisation of content. Anyone can do a podcast. Of course the downside of this is the mushrooming of podcasts, most of which don’t find an audience (the median number of downloads of an episode is only 15).
4. Podcasts are independent
The ease of producing a podcast means that you are not tied to any large media company. Podcasting is truly an independent medium. This also protects the producers of a podcast. If you annoy people you can keep on posting. You can continue to monetise your content with sponsors aligned to your values.
5. Podcasts are authentic
The democratic and unrestricted nature of the medium means that podcasts allow you to be authentic – to experiment and to be yourself. In jurisdictions where you are unconstrained by the relevant broadcast licence codes – this can lead to interesting results.
So what’s next?
Between 2% and 4% of total listening time is dedicated to podcasts. Advertisers are becoming more mainstream (at least in the US). The form has a future. It’s unlikely to replace broadcast radio in our lifetimes, but it will certainly act as a complement.
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