As we move into the MLB Playoffs, the much-feared S-word is on the minds of many players, coaches, managers, and of course, fans. After a great season where just a handful of teams will be playing baseball in October, there is that abject fear that all of a sudden, a star player will fall into a dreaded slump. Some of the best major leaguers ever – Barry Bonds, Clayton Kershaw, and Albert Pujols – have experienced prolonged slumps at the wrong time.
In baseball, slumps are crazy, unquantifiable phenomena. It's generally not known how these reversal of fortunes start, how long they'll last, and when and how they'll end. But they are painful. And the longer they go on, it seems the harder it is for a player to overcome the mental anguish that accompanies these unanticipated downturns.
That's why the last few weeks for podcasting are so curious, causing many to wonder whether the medium just hit a speed bump, or whether there's something more significant going on. It came to a boil last week when the Columbia School of Journalism‘s Mathew Ingram wrote this provocative story:
Ingram refers to a number of recent events we covered in this blog last week in our “Breaking Tech News” post we published last week.
There was Panoply‘s personnel pullback (owned by Slate), deciding to focus on podcasting distribution rather than their creation. Then, Audible (owned by Amazon) axed a number of key staffers from its podcast unit, including former NPR exec, Eric Nuzum. And finally, BuzzFeed, followed suit, shuttering their podcasting division.
These aren't small entities nor are they insignificant events. In fact, each parent company has well-financed operations, supported by corporate dollars and a strong sense podcasting could be “the next big thing.”
Coming out of a highly successful Podcast Movement this summer, blossoming into a fertile “upfront” from the Interactive Advertising Bureau, these downsizing exercises seem counter-intuitive to the general belief that podcasting is about to explode in a good way – especially for radio. The IAB event drew a reported 300 participants, including high-profile execs that included Bob Pittman and Jarl Mohn.
So, what's the problem with podcasting?
Ingram says part of the issue is an overabundance of podcasting content, stretching the ability (and time restrictions) of fans to take them in. But that hasn't stopped Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon – content-rich video streaming platforms that are having great success on the TV side of on-demand.
And then there's the data piece – the lack of granular metrics that track podcasting's usage and strength. Downloads aren't enough to truly float the financial boat, nor make media buyers satisfied they're getting what they pay for.
There's also a sense that with the glut of podcasts, their overall quality has suffered.
And to that, I'll throw in a problem we're seeing – would-be publishers are discovering that good podcasts are flat-out difficult to produce.
Many in radio are coming to that realization. Broadcasters can't “mail in” podcasts like they often do commercial production. It is simply not possible to crank great podcasts out, unless we're talking about re-purposing an already existing show.
And finally, my time spent at Podcast Movement producing our “Broadcasters Meet Podcasters” track strongly suggests an obvious, but inconvenient truth:
Many radio broadcasters do not really understand the podcasting space, much less the mindset of those who produce them.
All these conditions conspire to make podcasting's ascent arduous and problematic. It's one thing to talk about “Serial” – it's another to produce a podcast series that even approaches its quality or appeal.
Radio executives may be slowly coming to this same realization. Many are actively assessing how their companies are approaching podcasting initiatives, calculating how they can either produce competitive podcasts in-house or find a way to connect with existing producers who simply need more exposure.
And then there's the monetization issue. Even for many who are producing podcasts that have established a respectable level of downloads, making money on them has become something of a Rubik's cube.
Ingram draws an interesting, even hopeful conclusion about the current slump podcasting may be enduring:
“None of this is to say that podcasting is dead—just that, like anything else, it requires an investment of time and money to do well, something that not every media company has a lot of right now. Perhaps it always made more sense as a niche market for a passionate few rather than the next big solution to the media’s financial woes.”
So, is podcasting more of a nice business than a mass appeal enterprise? How much money can podcasting generate, and what kind of content needs to be produced that can unlock it?
In tomorrow's post, we'll examine a different model for podcasting – both for production and revenue generations – that's taking place thousands of miles away. And you may be surprised to learn who's successfully behind this effort.
Until then, have you listened to our podcast?
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,200 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.