In any conversation about why it's taking so long for podcasting to become a truly mainstream platform, the experts toss out a lot of theories. No matter how you slice it, podcasts have been around for a dozen or so years. And yet, many studies – include our commercial radio Techsurvey 2019 – indicate that roughly half of North Americans are what we call “podcast nevers” – people who just don't listen to podcasts.
So, what's the problem? In an environment where on-demand video has become a complete rage – who doesn't watch Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime? – on-demand audio lags well behind. Some point the finger at the notion that podcasts are too complicated. There are those who lay the blame on Google's lack of a native podcast app on their many handsets and mobile devices. Many believe the name “podcast” is a limitation. And of course, there's the issue of metrics – historically insufficient for both creators and marketers.
Podcasting is also beset by corporate and entrepreneurial fragmentation. The list of podcast producers, distributors, and other players continues to grow – or better put, sprawl, adding to the confusion. The many missteps committed by well-heeled startup Luminary this week underscore the immaturity of an industry that struggles for coherence.
But many point to the difficultly of simply finding good podcasts to listen to as the main culprit. And the morass – nicely called podcast discovery – is the focus of our post today. There are those who maintain that great content simply finds a way to be discovered – that brilliant podcasts will simply rise to the top based on their quality and word of mouth. And in the case of a handful of podcasts – like Serial or WTF – that is often the case.
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But in an environment where there are more than 700,000 podcasts – and growing – discovering what you're looking for or simply something good to listen to isn't as easy as it should be. In contrast, think of the Netflix interface. In an efficient, clear fashion, it is not the least bit difficult to navigate thousands of options, many different genres, as well as the algorithmic recommendations that more often than not are pretty good in order to find a movie, documentary, or series that's entertaining.
With podcasts, it's a whole different story, and it's becoming increasingly difficult to sift through the good, the bad, and the lame in a reasonable amount of time. I once heard a former NPR programming head refer to the oceans of podcasts as a content “flea market.” If you look long enough and you're patient, you just might find a treasure.
I don't know about you, but life's too short to spend a lot of time looking for a piece of audio content. It simply shouldn't be this hard. So, to learn more about podcast discovery, we included a new question in Techsurvey 2019. The idea was to learn the pecking order of how podcast consumers find this content. We came up with a list of sources, and asked those who listen to podcasts weekly or more often which one(s) they typically use for discovery.
There's nothing wrong with organic discovery, of course. Every medium – from music to television to live theater – can be helped by word of mouth, whether it's people talking with each other about their favorite content or whether it's occurring online, on social media, chats, and other places where recommendations are shared and exchanged.
But if the podcasting platform is to reach its potential, a true discovery engine must emerge that facilitates an easy, elegant way of searching through all that content to find the good stuff.
And that's why it should come as no surprise to any of us that a new social media platform is emerging with one main goal:
“Make it easy for users to recommend podcasts and see what their friends are listening to.”
A story in TechCrunch by Anthony Ha shines the spotlight on Swoot – a new social platform, created by the same two guys who created HipCat, a team chat app.
Pete Curley and Garret Heaton are the masterminds behind Swoot. As Ha explains, it's about “making the listening experience more social.” Swoot is a way to easily see the podcast episodes your friends are enjoying.
Whether a discovery tool like Swoot is the missing link that will rocket podcasting into the mainstream remains to be seen. We've seen the power of social media on music, videos, and other pop culture phenomena, amplified by your friends and followers.
And the fact that bright minds are working hard to counteract the podcast discovery problem suggests the day will come when on-demand audio is on the same plane as its video counterpart.
It starts with making it easier to find the damn things.
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