WTF is a Podcast? (And Why Does it Matter?)

Factors to consider as the definition of podcast evolves

download (3)

. 4 min read

Determining what a podcast isshould probably be the least complicated step in the podcast strategy process, but it’s something that even those in the podcast industry are struggling with as of late. And that’s a problem.

In the same way that ‘Social Media’ used to be nearly synonymous with ‘Facebook’ in the eyes of marketers, podcasts were defined by what was available through Apple Podcasts. The method of distribution (public RSS feeds that could be accessed by any app built to do so) defined the media, and as an industry, we’re going through a period of transition where that is no longer the case.

We live in a world where (arguably) the most popular podcast on the planet is a full-video show that started on YouTube and is now available exclusively on a music streaming service. And it’s only going to get more complicated.

The Technology

Podcasts are obviously not the first media to go through this kind of identity crisis — let’s use digital video as a proxy for thinking about how we define media.

Let’s say after dinner you want to relax with some media content. Which of these would fit your definition of ‘watching TV’?

1. Watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine on your TV set at its regular air time on NBC

2. Watching Orange is the New Black on Netflix on your laptop

I think most people would consider #1 an obvious inclusion, and opinions might be divided on #2. The content fits the bill, but it’s being consumed on-demand, on a streaming service rather than a television network, and you aren’t watching it on a TV set. There’s also the matter of advertising; does the fact that B99 has ads make it more “TV” than OITNB, given that the latter is never going to be part of a brand’s television strategy?

The Content

Let’s flip things around:

1. Watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine on Netflix on your smart TV

2. Watching an Orange is the New Black on Netflix on your smart TV

Does this change things? Now the format, distribution, and devices for B99 and OITNB are identical, and neither one has ads. Does it matter if OITNB ever aired on a television network? What relevance does the broadcast TV origins of B99 hold to a ‘cord-never’ who has only ever subscribed to streaming services?

From a listener perspective, this is where we’re already at with podcasting — if someone is watching H3 Podcast on YouTube, does it matter to them if it isn’t being distributed by RSS feed, or if the ad tech is an entirely different system than the one that would be serving them ads while listening on Apple Podcasts? No, they just want to consume the shows they want, on the platform they prefer.

Podcasters have already been wrestling with how to handle YouTube distribution for years because it meant carving up your potential audience into smaller streams that had to be monetized differently. Now, with the big players buying up content in an effort to drive listeners to their respective platforms, they’re the ones doing the carving.

This is more of a convenience issue than a cost issue for listeners, as even the exclusive podcasts are typically available on free apps, but it’s a larger problem for advertisers and brands who are trying to develop a podcast strategy.

The Distribution

Does your podcast strategy include YouTube? How are you reconciling YouTube’s performance metrics with those from ‘traditional’ podcast apps?

Is your podcast strategy dependent on podcasts exclusive to one particular app? How does the user base compare to the other apps, and to podcasters as a whole?

We have seen the podcast industry grow over the last few years, and while still fewer than half of North Americans are monthly podcast listeners, brands have clued into the fact that the podcast listening market is too big to cede to their competitors. The potential reach of any given podcast was only limited by the number of listeners, as they could access any podcast on any app, but if the big platforms continue to gobble up the podcasts that rise to the top, it’s less about how many podcast listeners there are in America, and more about how many Spotify, YouTube, or Amazon Music users there are.

Does it matter?

Our recommendation to clients when they are publishing their podcast is to make great content and make it as widely available as possible. You want listeners to be able to listen on their preferred app because asking them to use an app they don’t already have is a speed bump towards getting them to hear your show. But when you’re making your own podcast, you have the luxury of dictating the distribution; brands relying on advertising won’t be able to.

Oh, and when you’re thinking about your podcast strategy, if you manage to define what a podcast is — or more importantly, what it will be in the future — please let me know. ;)

Sign up for the Pacific Content Newsletter: audio strategy, analysis, and insight in your inbox.

Related Posts