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What we’re really talking about when we talk about a podcast’s shift to broadcast

Hey y’all!

Now that I’ve successfully fended off the wolves at the DMV and acquired a driver’s license, I’ve encountered an unexpected first-world problem specific to my lifestyle: the choice to (a) drive places that would otherwise take me thirty minutes to go to walk (that, without a driver’s license, was my only option up to this) and my day infinitely more efficient, or (b) walk the thirty minutes anyway, because it’s the only way I can listen to stuff with full concentration. (Two things. Firstly, I can’t exclusively sit and listen, as I am a notorious fidget-gremlin. And secondly, I don’t own a car with a set-up that lets me play podcasts over the speakers. It’s an old car. Come on, I run a fucking blog-newsletter for a living. Do you I think I can afford a nice car?)

Needless to say, I’m still on my feet. Ah, the things I do for love.

On to the extra sauce.

Agency. Spotted this article yesterday floating about in the nether-sphere, by which I mean what appears to be the website of an Australian radio trade publication: “Advertising on podcasts and online audio media has tripled: IAB research.

Why are trade radio industry websites so sketchy? Goodness.

Anyway, the headline is nothing that should be new to you as fine supporters of Hot Pod Media, but there’s a spiffy chart in there you might find useful: it tracks shifts in Australian media agency interest in podcasting between 2016 and 2017. It shows an upward trend, of course, but the way it breaks positions down is pretty interesting.

Might turn this into a bigger item for next week’s newsletter if there’s interest-slash-if I can find anything else that’s interesting.

Follow-up on The Daily and Public Radio, which is really an overly long chin-stroking rant about broadcast radio. I’d like reiterate a point I made from this week’s leading item on that whole cross over situation: moving into the future, I really do think the essential value for broadcast radio — its strategic moat, as it were — is its (a) capacity for live programming, and (b) its localism, and I believe this says as much as about podcasts as it does about broadcast radio.

The local aspect we’ll deal with another day, but for now, I’d like to focus on the other bit. So, the governing definition of podcasts lies in its nature of being on-demand, a product that fits well within the overarching trend we’re seeing in the broader media industry, the rise of pure consumer control, exemplified by experiences like Netflix and Spotify. This observation is nothing new. (There is also the supplementary concern around the illusion of consumer control, as far as media experiences that’re facilitated by algorithmic feeds are concerned, exemplified by Facebook and Twitter. But we’re not talking about those guys right now, so let’s just clock that and leave it aside.)

But it’s worth examining how the emergence of on-demand audio has allowed for two things: firstly, the realization of new communities (i.e. publishers) that benefit from the open publishing nature of the technology, and secondly (and perhaps more importantly), an unbundling of programming previously grouped together in broadcast streams. (Stratechery fans might spot the repurposing of the unbundling idea here.)

Let me put this way: prior to the rise of podcasting as a prime facilitator of on-demand audio content, a narrative show like Snap Judgment had to go over the broadcast airwaves not because it was best consumed off those airwaves, but because it was the only option it had short of selling units of cassette tapes and CDs. A show like Snap Judgment was not best served by broadcast radio — if you tuned in after the three-minute mark of a segment, you might’ve lost the entire plot of a story — but for a long time, it had no choice.

Cut to the present, and we now have a situation where podcasting has, as a result of better serving narrative and other kinds of experiences, chipped away at the desirability of consuming certain kinds of shows over the radio. This is, in part, the impact of competition, but it is also a kind of overarching push towards a more efficient consumption model. But it’s also worth noting that the end-result of this dynamic isn’t one where on-demand audio eats radio into oblivion. It’s one where the former pushes the latter into leaning more towards the innate strengths of its structural traits. The two media distribution can co-exist. And they should.

It’s not the rise of on-demand audio that threatens the existence of broadcast. It’s the rise of the entire digital and internet architecture more generally. Barring rural areas and countries with nonsensically depressed internet connectivity standards (like the one I’m in right now), the probable outcome over the next, say, ten or twenty years is one that sees media distribution migrate almost completely to digital. In which case, the categorization that we’re going to have to make is less about mediums, but about formats. That is, say, ten years from now, the consideration is less about broadcast radio vs. digital streaming vs. on-demand, and more about live vs. on-demand. And radio stations will likely be less defined by their relationship to a distribution architecture, and more defined by their identity as publishers.

This reinforces something that has often been emphasized in this newsletter: it’s all audio. Which, in turn, illuminates a further truth about this newsletter: Hot Pod isn’t covering the rise of a medium so much as it is covering the rise of a community.

Man, gotta lay off the strong stuff.

What’s up? Got three emails over the past week asking about the news from last month on EW Scripps selling off its radio division, and whether, as a result, Midroll is up for grabs as well. I checked in when that story dropped, and the answer was no.

But what’s with the chatter? Curious.

On the Midroll front, the main thing I’m really tracking is the launch of Wolverine: The Long Night. And one sub-thing I’m tracking within that story is: how the early drop on Stitcher Premium, which kicks off March 12, affects the way the company reads and evaluates its success. It’s scheduled for a wider release in the fall.

I’m excited. Personally hitting a little dry spot.

Some stories I’m tracking:

  • Anchor relaunches. The more things change, the more things stay the same. But this time’s slightly more different than before! More on Tuesday, but there’s a lot to think through as far as how this impacts (a) barriers to entry vs. barriers to scale, and (b) competition among hosting platforms. (Variety)
  • McDonalds partnered with Onion Labs to produce a three-part branded podcast on that sauce that made everyone go crazy not too long ago. There’s a lot going on here, and I’m still processing. (Polygon)