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Initial takeaways from Infinite Dial 2018

Plus: Felix Salmon's "podcast juggernaut" narrative, more on Chompers, and smart speakers.

Steady Growth. Yesterday was Infinite Dial day, and guess what? Things look really good. But of course, it’s a lot more nuanced than that, particularly if you’re assuming the perspective of those who make podcasts. The media category, culturally defined, continues to grow steadily, but the manner in which it will evolve in years to come is a whole other question.

You can find the report and webinar in full here. But as usual, I’ll run my five biggest takeaways in this Extra newsletter for those who haven’t the time to sit down with it yet, and will flesh out broader thoughts and ideas in the main Tuesday newsletter.

Here ya go:

  • Monthly podcast listening is now at 26 percent of all Americans 12+ (est. 73 million), up from 24 percent (67 million) the year before. For context, this metric has grown by 73 percent between 2014 and 2018. And for reference, I’m still sticking to monthly podcast listening as the primary metric for active consumption. Weekly listening strikes me as a better read for more engaged audiences.
  • This one’s exciting: among weekly podcast listeners, the reported average number of podcasts listened per week is now seven, up from five last year.
  • This year, podcasting has officially surpassed satellite radio as a source of audio entertainment in the car, 23 percent to 21 percent. However, podcasting still ranks below online radio (28 percent), owned digital music (45 percent), CDs (49 percent), and of course, AM/FM (82 percent).
  • Of those reported have generally listened to a podcast, 80 percent report listening to most or the entirety of a given podcast episode, down from 85 percent the year before.
  • Only 19% of respondents report speed-listening behaviors. In other news, I STAND WITH YOU.

Okay, more on this soon.

Follow-up to Chompers and smart speakers. A couple of things on this front:

  • I don’t think I actually ended up stating what I thought about the Chompers skill itself: look, I think it’s brilliant. However, it’s worth noting I’m a childless man in his late twenties, so I’m not exactly within target demographic or use case for this product. But I did run the thing past a couple of kid-rearing friends of mine over the past few days, and they absolutely lost their shit.
  • A few readers wrote in asking what’s up with TuneIn being the default funnel for podcasts. A spokesperson described the relationship as follows: “TuneIn has a first party integration with Alexa, this means that we are at the root and come installed and ready to go out of the box. The Alexa team is pulling from our directory for stations and podcasts. They do control the user experience around it, ie pulling the most recent podcast episode for playback”… which is something you could’ve guessed for yourself, if you’ve ever used the Echo to play pods. Two quick things on this. The first is a side-effect: TuneIn’s visual branding has primacy despite whatever a third-party podcast is playing, which might rankle some publishers. The second is, because Alexa’s ad banning policies exempts music apps, these ad experiences get a pass. It’s a tricky thing.
  • Amazon has responded to reports of Echoes spontaneously laughing. “In rare circumstances, Alexa can mistakenly hear the phrase “Alexa, laugh.” We are changing that phrase to be ‘Alexa, can you laugh?’ which is less likely to have false positives, and we are disabling the short utterance ‘Alexa, laugh,'” a spokesperson told Recode.

“The Podcasting Juggernaut has (finally) arrived,” declared Felix Salmon, former Fusion Media staffer and current co-host of Slate Money, in a piece for Wired published on Tuesday. The article is part hypothesis (though not quite written as such), part historical analysis, one that seems to chart a semi-teleological arc of podcasting as a series of show structures and business models in search of an ideal form. It is mostly reductive and reheated, but there’s enough in there that’s broadly true and interesting to generate some food for thought, or at least jog older muscles.

The lede did stand out to me, though: “I used to think that podcasts were a nimble, cheap, democratic alternative to radio. And maybe, once upon a time, they were. But those days are over.” My gut reaction is to think that this is patently incorrect, but upon further reflection, I think it is only somewhat so. In my head, the opposing cases can be found with the podcast operations embedded within Crooked Media, The Ringer, and even Slate, but the reality of those examples involve a podcast operations that anchor —or are anchored by — other digital media arms: text articles, video, a broader publishing presence.

I think there’s more to think through here, and I think I can tie this back to Techmeme’s recently announced daily evening podcast and the acquisition of Gothamist’s assets by a consortium of public radio organizations. Depending on things go, I’ll revisit this thread on Tuesday.