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PodEx: Why?

The Guardian, like the rest of us, wants to “make it easier for listeners to support podcast makers," with grant help from the Google News Initiative.

A somewhat baffling post went up on Guardian Australia’s digital blog yesterday, titled Why We Want To Make Podcasts Better. “There’s only so much you can do with the standard XML feed,” the authors say. They’ve started a project supported by a Google News Innovation grant to enhance the fundamental architecture of podcasting. They want to “make it easier for listeners to support podcast makers”. Here’s their description:

What our new system will do is this: when the host is calling out for supporters we can display a notification or content within the podcast app that has a direct link to a financial contribution page. This will reduce the steps listeners are required to take before they can contribute.

Although this sounds a lot like a pop up ad, the post says that isn’t what they’re trying to create, not least because the visual notifications they want podcasts to be able to serve would be entirely optional for the listener.

There’s a lot to unpack here, and I will admit to being somewhat bewildered by the framing of this. Yes, I do think technological innovation that makes it easier for listeners to support podcasters is a good thing, but I’m slightly at a loss as to why it requires major grant funding and a big fanfare, especially since I think similar visual podcast systems already exist. Last October I profiled Entale, a (Guardian-backed!) British startup that has bet heavily on the inclusion of rich media in podcasts, and they have a similar messaging, saying “existing podcast standards are out of date.”

The part that I just can’t get over with any of this, though, is that all this innovation presumes that users are staring at their screens while listening. Some may be — in our interview, the Entale CEO said that “22% of all listening time on the app is spent interacting with rich content” — but that’s a lot who aren’t, presumably because they’re driving, exercising, cooking, walking, or really doing anything else. What can I say, I’m just yet to be convinced that making audio more like video is its next game-changing evolution.

Nick’s Note: A grant from the Google News Initiative, huh? That reminds me: I wonder how Google Podcasts is doing?