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Friday, February 26, 2010

Podcasts preach to the converted. That's why I like them. It may be why advertisers don't

I love podcasts. I love listening to them. I love doing them. There are times when I think they're the most perfect form of media ever invented. Gather a few people with views on something around a microphone and let them talk. Then put the finished product in a place where it can be found by the people most likely to appreciate it. People respond to the human voice in a way they don't respond to anything else and because people have pulled it towards them rather than having it pushed in their direction they'll give it slack that they wouldn't extend to anything else.

At the same time I think there are inherent problems with podcasts. They only appeal to people who listen to podcasts. Clangingly obvious, I know. I'll go further. People who don't listen to podcasts don't begin to understand them. They don't know how they work, how they reach people or what makes people warm to them. Mark Ellen has done hundreds of Word podcasts with me and I know he wouldn't mind me saying that not only has he never listened to one, he wouldn't know how to listen to one. It's just not one of the things he does and nothing is going to change that. He's not the only one. Recently we had a guest who asked "is it live?" That's a question I didn't know how to begin to answer. We did an interview with an artist on a podcast not long ago. Three weeks later the PR got in touch asking if we could send him the podcast and asking when it was going to be "released". I had to point out that it had been "released" three weeks before, within two hours of it being recorded. He was dazed. He was twenty-eight, which goes to show that it's not only old gits who don't understand how these things work.

Unlike Mark I now listen to podcasts more than I listen to music. I prefer the burble of speech to music as I walk to the station. I know from talking to Word podcast listeners that they're largely a question of habit. I meet people all the time who tell me where and when they listen to them: walking the dog, jogging, taking the kids to school, enjoying a precious sliver of private time that they don't have to share with anyone else.

Podcasts can't be promoted the way conventional media is promoted. It's little use pointing people towards the contents of special editions of them. You want the lot or none at all. You don't dip in and out. Adding a new podcast to your repertoire is like deciding to have a new friend. It's a commitment. As with friends, you don't expect them to be sensational or surprising. You'd find them a bit tiring if they were. You want them to be dependable. You want them to be there.

And as many people have found, they're a nightmare to sell advertising or sponsorship around because advertisers don't understand them, find them too fiddly and not quite mass enough. They're very quick to say that they want media which engages with an audience but can't be bothered to find out enough about podcasts to see which of them do engage and which of them are merely "subscribed" to after a lot of unpaid radio promotion and never listened to. A couple of years back I spoke to somebody at a digital advertising agency and he advised making the Word podcast an enhanced podcast so that we could get a sponsor's logo on the screen of your iPod. "The clients will never listen to it but that way they can show it to each other."

18 comments:

Uncle Albert said...

Podcasts are the new comics - a replacement for the regular weekly arrival of the Hotspur, Victor or, if you're dad was a dentist, The Eagle. To be devoured privately, ideally in some ramshackle wooden hut in the back garden. Half an hour of escape with your mates - Alf Tupper, Braddock, the Wondrous Wilson. And if you'd been away, the glorious backlog of two or three weeks at one go...

David Hepworth said...

Do you know, you might be right. And they never got any ads, did they?

Meg said...

As a member of 'the yoof', if 26 still counts, who is generally uninitiated into the podcast world (aside from The Word, obviously), could you give us a few recommendations?

Lee said...

David, I completely agree about podcasts. I constantly buy new albums on iTunes, promising myself I'll listen to them this time; yet time and time again, my fingers will always reach for In Our Time, Guardian Football, The Bugle; The Word; Slate's superb podcasts, NPR; Speechification; This American Life; and so on and so on.

David, I'd be interested to learn which podcasts you just can't do without?

Mondo said...

I'm not usually so shameless - but, as the subject's up for discussion why not have a punt on Podrophenia - podcasts from a friend and I. Mostly music with tunes and chat, each podcast is built around a different theme. For the latest (our eighth ) we've chosen Families. It may be raggy, unscripted and possibly in need of some heavy editing - but, it seems to be popular with those who've downloaded. I'm not blogging until Monday - but it's available here via itunes if you fancy an early listen.

Or try one( the only one so far) from my wife and I (The Joy of Six) two bottles of wine, one crate of vinyl singles and six lucky dips apiece.

rivets said...

I listen to them. And I do understand the technology in tedious detail - I just don't enjoy listening to talking, I tend only to listen to instrumental music too. The human voice demands to be listened to (well, not DJ chatter generally) and so is not something I would chose as background when I was doing something else. If I hear a group of people discussing something I want to be part of it and join in, and podcasts exclude me from that. I will confess that I shout at the TV and books and websites quite often.

Dan Thornton said...

I think things are changing regarding podcasts - there are several factors at work which has led to Absolute Radio constantly breaking new internal records for podcast downloads (Disclosure - I work there!), but there's also a growing number of ways which make subscribing a lot easier - e.g. iPhone, iPod, internet-connected radios... All of which are increasing in take up and ownership...

Advertising always takes time - a few more innovative people will have a go early on, but the rest will wait and see whether a platform is viable - the same thing that happened with web advertising or search advertising.

Phil Thomas said...

A possible answer to the strange behaviour of the advertisers and their agencies. Their world is split broadly thus: mass market (TV, cinema, outdoor, decreasingly magazines and newspapers) and branded content that they hope really "engages" audiences directly with their brand (just one famous example: http://www.insidefacebook.com/2009/01/14/whopper-sacrifice-shut-down-by-facebook/). It is hard to see how a podcast, no matter how loved by its audience, can fit into either category -- it is the Word brand people love and "engage" with on the podcast, leaving an advertiser sitting awkwardly alongside it as an unwanted gatecrasher into a relatively small party. Whatever they did, it would be interruptive, which is okay in the middle of Britain's Got Talent but maybe counterproductive on an adored podcast. And yes I mean even if they didn't actually interrupt anything. Maybe the agencies realise that?

Zero Albedo said...

The word (obv), mark kermode, the official lost podcast, astronomycast, collings and herrin, collins and herring, film weekly, science weekly, scientific american, onion (video), the bugle, phill and phil, thinking allowed, in our time, sidepodcast, skeptics giude to the universe, skeptoid etc...

Where do I find the time???

TimT said...

David - what happened to The Word’s video podcast trial, the one with you and Mark sitting in a mock-up of a record shop? I rather enjoyed it.

Robert said...

This is slightly off topic - I only discovered the Word Podcast last summer and adore it. It is my soundtrack of choice for train journeys and supermarket sweeps. Given how much I've enjoyed the last 40 or so 'casts is there any way of getting those I've missed - before about number 88?

BPP said...

You should listen to the Watch With Mothers podcast, whoever you are. It's got appalling songs, ill-informed examinations of ancient television shows, unfair quizzes, low grade celebrity encounters AND piss poor quality recreations of classic British game shows. And all for free because no bugger'd pay for it, not even 20p! Hooray!

It's available at watchwithmothers.net and on iTunes.

BLTP said...

yep I listen loads of podcasts, a lot from the BBC (so I can time shift what I listen to). The good ones are compulsive Clive james a point fo view are sublime a slice erudition and wit you enjoy while feeding the ducks or cursing a late train. I love the diy nature of the best ones like mondos a couple of friends with a lap . I don't get the video ones maybe I need a bigger screen but also on the move you don't need pictures just the gentle burble of humanity and the odd joke.

Dr Volume said...

Fun to make, fun to listen to. We do one, and if the stats are correct around 200 people i've never met listen to it which is extraordinary as we're unknown. I've always wanted to be on the radio, and now I can in a small way.

The Word podcast is always a treat and frequently laugh-out-loud funny. It may not be understood by ad makers but it surely does a great job in maintaining Word readers interest and loyalty. It brings the magazine and the writers to life in a unique way, and certainly prompted this reader to take out a subscription and gift one to a friend. So there

StuartD said...

Spot on David, particularly "You want the lot or none at all. You don't dip in and out."

As for ads, "Whatever they did, it would be interruptive, which is... maybe counterproductive on an adored podcast." - true, but if a free podcast only reached me thanks to a message from a sponsor - as with, for example, the David Mitchell SoapBox ones, I'm more than happy. In fact, weirdly, I would listen to the ads as I don't like missing any of my fave podcasts. And for a spell, the marvellous SModcast were sponsored by ThinkGeek.com, and the two podcasters performed little sketches to amuse and entertain while promoting their advertiser. Everyone's a winner.

Michael Taylor said...

Completely agree. I've started doing one with some people I've never met but who share an interest. We do it over Skype and the experience is just wonderful. No idea where it may go, but it can only get better.

Jonathan said...

Firstly David, I totally with you. I am so addicted to audio podcasts that they have become my main form of entertainment.

Secondly, if you want to know how to do podcast advertising, you should listen to Leo Laporte and any of his TWiT network podcasts. As an old radio guy, Leo is the master of sponsored links and smooth transitions. Also, his ads are relevant to the audience of his shows.

John said...

Podcasts have certainly replaced music as my default listening option while walking/bathing/washing up, quite probably contributing to a lack of interest in acquiring new music (which is now a Spotify-fuelled background for working).

However, the one major limit for podcasts for me is that they are a real-time medium: a 1 hour podcast inherently takes an hour to listen to, meaning there's a clear limit on how many podcasts I can regularly follow. That's very different to textual content where I can easily skim many more sources and pick and choose particular sections or strands to 'consume'.