Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Podcasts are like life

Podcasts are really interesting things. If you listen to one regularly you develop a strange affinity with the people on it and tend not to like it when there's any kind of shuffle of the personnel.

I'm a big fan of The Game, the weekly football podcast from The Times. Actually I'm a big fan of The Game as it was two seasons ago when it was chaired by the indefatigable Danny Kelly and featured Gabriele Marcotti, who makes Geoff Boycott seem self-effacing, Alison Rudd, who used to sing a football song every week, and Bill Edgar, an anorak's anorak. It was perfect because it didn't try to get clever. It just put the week's football events through the same mincer every Monday. I would have paid 70p a week (the price of The Times) to listen to it but nobody has yet worked out a way of taking that money off me.

At the beginning of last season Danny Kelly left and they put Marcotti in charge, which was not playing to his strengths. At one stage he was so aggressive I thought Kevin Day was going to hit him. They introduced interviews, most of which didn't work. The appeal of the podcast is it sends a gust of opinionated air into an arena in which most speech is a waste of breath. With rare exceptions its talks with standard "football folk" were the dullest part of the show. Alison Rudd disappeared and instead we got a rotating cast of football writers from the papers, most of whom don't begin to understand podcasting and give the impression that they regard it as an effete distraction from their real job of heaping ink on paper. But nonetheless I listened.

Now the new season arrives and they've got Phill Jupitus in to present. Phill's very good but you can't help but think that they went for somebody who's built upon the same lines as Danny but lacks the latter's zany attack and willingness to fill any space with his own opinions. The other thing about getting somebody like Phill in is there's presumably money involved, money that nobody in the podcasting world appears to be getting back in either sponsorship or advertising. I'm still here with my 70p but for that I might insist they get Danny back.


  1. Anonymous7:16 pm

    Speaking of which, can you give us an ETA on the next Word podcast?

    I'm on the methadone over here.

  2. And the moment anybody works out how to make money from podcasts, let me know. (It'll probably spell the end for us all.)

    By the way, have you been edged out of the Media Guardian, Dave, or have I just missed your last column? I too resent personnel being moved around without being consulted!

  3. What with them having a new Media regime which involved them getting rid of the regular columns and me getting very irate about their asking for something and then not running it, I appear to have taken my bat home. Yes, here it. "Slazenger Elite Pro." Needs oiling.

  4. Agree that The Game isn't really working at the moment. Jupitus hasn't formed a rapport with any of the others and he just doesn't seem to fit yet.

    In terms of money, they do seem very keen to push people onto their website with endless references to the site and the fantasy football, which is a bit tiresome. But surely the kind of people that listen to the podcast are already users of the site?

    I have wondered why podcasts don't contain ads where the little indents are ("Word, A Magazine, A Podcast, etc...") By the time you know they are on, you're not going to fast forward your ipod.

  5. I would imagine that Times Newspapers are in the same position that everyone is with regard to podcasts: some of their staff enjoy doing them, many of their readers (or visitors) enjoy listening to them but nobody can work out how to make any money out of them.

    This is because advertisers as a breed don't understand them, partly because they can't work out a way to measure their effectiveness, partly because the sums of money involved are too small to deliver worthwhile margins and partly because their ignorance of them is nothing compared to the clients'.

    The most interesting piece of advice I was given by a guy from a digital ad agency was to make the Word one a video podcast as soon as possible because that way it could feature an advertiser's logo. It's very frustrating because I genuinely think the sponsor of a popular podcast gets huge "halo value" from its association.

  6. Anonymous11:40 am

    I think the big appeal of podcasts is that they are one of the very few things these days that dont contain ads. If you can keep doing them like The Word's and Andrew Collins' - low-tec, spontaneous and virtually at no cost, and still make them highly entertaining then that's how it should be in my view. As soon as you start bringing in adverts, you'll potentially lose quite a few core listeners. You're not that skint are you, Dave? You shouldn't think of them as free. But more as a bonus track for loyal Word readers.

  7. Where do you work?
    I'll pop round and help myself.

  8. Anonymous12:14 pm

    the treasury. feel free.

  9. That's what we need. A podcast tax!

  10. Anonymous1:10 pm

    Okay. I'll suggest it. But I can't make any promises. I'm only a junior minister.

  11. I listened to a couple of Virgin Radio podcasts and they all have an ad at the beginning, or an advertorial involving an audiobook company anyway. I suppose that's being creative. It doesn't stop people downloading the podcasts - in the reception area of the station they run stats and it said that Iain Lee's podcast was getting 21,000 downloads. With an ad for audibooks built in.

    I like the fact that advertisers don't understand podcasts yet. Richard Herring and I have real trouble getting accurate figures for downloads anyway, so even if we did want to sell "space", which we don't, it's hard to put it into numbers, and advertisers like numbers. (Do you have any idea how many people download the Word podcast?)

  12. The very small number of ads in this area tend to be for web-based products like audiobooks. Makes sense in a way but it's very restricting.

    I don't know accurately how many people download the Word podcast. I suspect that if you could get numbers they would be a bit like telling people how much you earn - half of them would think it was too much, the other half would think it wasn't enough. I do suspect one thing: that a huge proportion of them listen to all of each podcast very closely, which is not something that applies to most "media products".

    I bet that Russell Brand's podcasts are downloaded a lot more than yours, Andrew, (thanks to the massive promotional muscle of the BBC) but I wouldn't mind betting yours are listened to more closely.

    Everybody in advertising knows that communication depends less on reach than it does on *engagement* but in practice they can make more money and impress more clients by doing things the same old way. I think podcasts offer more engagement than anything else in the media landscape. They turn chore time - jogging, commuting, walking the dog - into time people look forward to. It's staggering to me that advertisers have't gathered that yet.

  13. The Game's a great podcast - although I must declare an interest, I was the exec producer of it during season 1 and 2.

    I think there's some truth in the idea that advertisers don't really understand podcasts - but remember The Game has been sponsored before. It's not just a money pit - there's money to be made from these shows. It just takes a brave agency to commit cash to something like this. And I think, at the moment, the fashion is for online video rather than podcasts. But perhaps agencies will consider a more mixed media approach to campaigns in the future.

    As for Phill - I think he's great. My guess is that, come Christmas, the team will have bedded in and will be firing on all cylinders.

    Although I would say that, wouldn't I.....

  14. One question. Where did Alison Rudd go?