Friday, June 19, 2015

Where's podcasting on the hype cycle?

Says Farad Manjoo at The New York Times:

So don’t call podcasting a bubble or a bust. Instead, it is that rarest thing in the technology industry: a slow, steady and unrelentingly persistent digital tortoise that could eventually — but who really knows? — slay the analog behemoths in its path.

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I’m not sure about the ultimate result, but steady progress in podcasts seems right to me. (And, while a possible bubble in podcasting ad rates is a legitimate and serious question for those directly involved, I’m not sure it’s a terribly important factor in the overall development of the medium.)

Here are my own experiences and observations.

The hype around podcasts initially was enormous—THEY’RE GOING TO KILL RADIO OMG! Yet, a lot of that first wave of podcasts was pretty horrible and self-indulgent. LISTEN TO ME! I’M PODCASTING AS I DRIVE TO THE GROCERY STORE! At the same time, it was a laborious (or at least rather manual) process to get podcasts onto an iPod. Pre-smartphone, syncing things to a mobile device was a pain. It’s why I, like many others, got tired of trying to sync that gadget of the moment, the Palm Pilot, to our calendars in a previous technology generation.

In no particular order, here are a few ways in which today is different.

We have smartphones. While I often find syncing isn’t as automagical as I might like it, it’s really not bad—especially if you’re somewhere that has cell coverage.

Even leaving aside the enormous popularity of a show like “Serial,” there’s a solid line-up of professionally-produced shows from a wide range of outlets. NPR shows have some of the most consistently high production values overall but...

Even leaving aside those shows assembled by a professional staff, there’s a solid stable of podcasts with clean sound and interesting content, whether niche or of more general interest. Interviews are one common format but hardly the only one. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve collectively gained enough experience with the format that a lot of people have learned how to put together engaging episodes without investing thousands of dollars in gear or spending way too much time in post-production. 

There’s probably still an ongoing shift toward more people consuming multimedia, rather than printed, content. Video gets more of the press here. But I’m at least willing to listen to the argument that the amount of listening may be increasing at the expense of reading.

Another trend that would clearly seem to apply here is a secular shift from listening (and watching) whatever happens to be on to deliberate on-demand choice. (And decreasing incremental effort associated with on-demand—think DVRs vs. VCRs—will only reinforce this change.) 

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