It seems that everyone – news outlets, sportscasters, poets, comedians and companies – is podcasting. How many people are profiting is another question, but, as The Economist pointed out this week, podcasting is in the midst of yet another renaissance:
It is hard to identify the moment when podcasting took off, because it keeps having them. In June last year Barack Obama showed up at a Californian man’s garage to tape a podcast (“WTF with Marc Maron”), while “Serial”, a podcast series about disputed real-life stories that was launched in 2014, has surpassed 100m downloads.
I’m amused by the fact that the Economist referred to Marc Maron – host of the phenomenally popular “WTF” podcast, which consistently ranks in the top ten podcasts on iTunes – as a “Californian man’s garage.” But they nonetheless point out the podcasting industry’s growing, if still-small popularity, as far as advertisers are concerned.
Listeners will be forgiven if they feel they have heard this story before. Podcasts were meant to have arrived a decade ago. But they remain a tiny market for advertisers…In 2014 Apple put a podcast app on the iPhone that is all but indelible. In 2015 Spotify and Pandora added podcasts to their music-streaming services. As increasing numbers of cars get wireless-internet connections, that will give podcasts another fillip.
Podcasts are obviously an evolving medium. What makes it such a curious format is that, unlike online video – where Netflix can see where exactly a viewer stopped or started watching – or online reading – where content publishers live and die by pageview and click metrics – podcasts have no intrinsic way to track audience engagement. Podcast apps are glorified mp3 downloaders-and-players, whose ability to track user metrics isn’t substantially better than the ways that TV and radio survey companies compile their user-reported data. It’s odd that a format whose rise has been dependent on the internet doesn’t have access to the same sort of data-mining that the rest of the internet publishers utilize.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Podcast app producers like Apple – whose “indelible” Podcasts app the Economist credits with a spike in podcast popularity – certainly have data on what their users listen to, but it likely seems unethical – or perhaps insecure – to them to pass that information onto producers and their advertisers.
The paucity of data – for the time being – may lead podcast producers to make their own apps (NPR put a lot of effort into NPR One), or to develop creative solutions for the podcasting world more broadly. Mobile communication app Zula recently released a livestreaming service called ZCast, which allows users to broadcast their podcast material in real time (think Periscope for podcasting).
Whoever figures out how to “crack” the data-and-advertising question for podcasting will be in high demand, indeed. Until then, I’ll just be tuning out to Note to Self.