Podcasts

Tour de France 2017 Podcasts

Valverde and Quintana ahead of the Sky train including Peter Kennaugh, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas at the 2015 Tour de France
At the 2015 Tour

Le Tour is back underway, and while I’m sadly not planning to go and visit this year, I am of course closely watching TV, listening to the radio and podcasts and following all the action on Twitter.

And of course, I’m helping out with The Cycling Podcast, the finest podcast covering cycling! Listen in your favourite podcast app!

I’ve been making a few of the KM0 feature podcasts (KM0 indicates the point at which the race actually starts each day, following a warm-up of a few kilometres out of the start town).

Here’s on on the environment and the Tour, with its rolling circus of 2,000 vehicles:

Here’s one on the breakaway kings of this year’s Tour, Wanty-Groupe Gobert, who have been putting their riders in most of the breaks, however much they may be doomed to failure:

And here’s my favourite so far, on Australian Phil Anderson, and in particular his yellow jersey win in the Pyrenees in 1981.

Fortunately…

The first ladies of radio, Fi Glover and Jane Garvey have a new podcast out that’s really quite essential listening: Fortunately…

Glover and Garvey are fantastic radio people, and to a large extent, the joy of this podcast is just to hear them in fairly casual conversation with one another. Episodes are recorded in various non-studio places around the BBC in London.

In fact, the purpose of the podcast is to guide the interested listener to other things they might like across BBC Radio 4 and its sister station Radio 4 Extra (more on this anon). Each presenter takes it in turns to recommend something that they’ve listened to over the last seven days. Often these are current programmes, but sometimes they delve deeper into the archive. The key thing is that they have collated links to all these programmes and you can go back and listen to them in full at your convenience.

Since the primary medium of this programme is as a podcast (it’s not being broadcast on the radio), it’s very easy to either add a new podcast or find something on iPlayer Radio while you’re actually listening to their recommendations.

Now you might think that there’s already a Radio 4 programme that does this – it’s run for years and is called Pick of the Week. And you’d be right. Sort of.

Glover and Garvey are careful not to use the words “pick of the week” in any context where they’re too close together. But I suppose their point of difference is that as people many of us have come to “know” after hearing them so much on the radio, we’ll know the kind of things they’re likely to choose. You do need to know a reviewer to help determine whether what they’re saying will chime with you. Conversely, if I know that your tastes are markedly different from my own, then I will treat your recommendations with caution.

While I’m sure that every presenter of Pick of the Week assiduously listens to vast amounts of BBC Radio output, you do get the feeling that some editions are a little scripted, and that the presenter may not always be quite as diligent as they present themselves.

Fortunately… exists in a podcast-only format, and I suppose it’s a slight shame that three episodes in, they seem to be restricted to national BBC radio output – more specifically the Radio 4 network. Such is the wealth of good radio, guiding listeners to otherwise unknown gems around the various networks is a worthy service, but adding in some third party podcasts might be interesting too.

At one point in an episode, Helen Zaltzman’s name came up, initially described as someone who does a lot of crafting. This was quickly elaborated upon as not being the only thing we’d know her for (she’s a regular guest on programmes like Woman’s Hour, where she has indeed talked about crafting). But it felt like they were avoiding the obvious – she’s actually rather famous for making popular podcasts like Answer Me This and The Allusionist, to the extent that she’s been doing a two-hander live show with Roman Mars of 99% Invisible fame.

I’d hope that perhaps in due course Fortunately… expands its remit to include other radio stations and particularly podcasts. One of the main issues facing both podcast creators and listeners, is discovery. How do you find out about new shows? Some of the broadsheets make a good effort to alert readers, but for the most part, it feels that successful podcasts breed successful podcasts: This American life begat Serial. Serial begat S-Town. And so on.

While the cream is said to rise to the top, I’m not sure that’s always the case if the cup is incredibly deep, and the cream goes rancid before it gets a chance to reach the surface – to enormously overstretch a metaphor.

Incidentally, was I the only person left a little disappointed by the discussion about podcasts on The Media Show a couple of weeks ago? There was a pre-recorded interview with Brian Reed, presenter and producer of the excellent S-Town, before a short state-of-the-nation discussion about UK podcasts with Caroline Crampton of The New Statesman’s SRSLY and Ellie Gibson of Scummy Mummies.

The tenor seemed to be that the UK couldn’t do big podcasts like S-Town because it’s expensive and there’s the BBC here which cripples the opportunity. But I’m not entirely sure that we were comparing apples with apples here. As Reed had pointed out in his interview, much podcasting in the US is still a few people sitting around a microphone plugged into a laptop. A massively successful podcast like Marc Maron’s WTF, for example, is still recorded relatively simply in his garage.

It’s only the very top layer of podcasts that is are at the heavily produced and expensively made level of This American Life, Gimlet, Panoply or Radiotopia. And yes, US scale, and a less well funded public radio system means that there’s more space for podcasts to breathe. But neither of the podcasters in the studio was really in the same market as those big beasts. Indeed, I’m not sure that even the BBC could have put through the resources that went into something like S-Town, where the story germinated for a number of years before finally being made as a standalone series.

But, the aforementioned Allusionist is part of the successful Radiotopia family and is made by a Brit, and the podcasting output of organisations like The Economist, The Guardian and The FT is first rate by any measure, utilising sophisticated sound design and first rate production. However, it’s clear that the UK podcast advertising marketplace has not yet developed to as significant an extent, which means that nobody is getting rich (or even moderately wealthy) just yet. Spin-off live events, books and other merchandising are still a requirement.

There are high quality podcasts being made in the UK. Many of them will be celebrated this weekend at the first British Podcast Awards, and I’m just not sure that was entirely reflected in the piece.

Disclaimer: I am one of several producers on The Cycling Podcast, which is nominated in the sport category at the awards.

How Podcasts are Being Listened

Podcast listening metrics have long been seen as something as a bone of contention. In the digital advertising world, they’re seen as inferior to metrics delivered by other parts of the industry, because while you can be pretty sure a podcast advert has been delivered, you can’t be sure that it has been heard.

As a consequence, the emerging podcast sector, especially in the US, has had to battle the advertising industry to gain full acceptance. This has meant that a large majority of current podcast advertising is led by direct response advertisers i.e. coupon or offer codes when you sign up to buy a product or use a service.

Advertisers are happy to go along this route because they can easily track how successful a particular campaign has been on the basis of sales made using the various coupon codes.

That’s great as far as it goes, but it leaves a large chunk of the advertising market on the table. If you watch a TV break or listen to a commercial break on the radio, you won’t normally get quite as much direct response activity, particularly from national advertisers. Ford knows that you’re not going to buy a new car right now, and in any case, the price will be a negotiation between the customer and the dealer, and probably not subject to a 20% off coupon code! They just want you to consider a Ford the next time you buy a new car.

FMCG products (Fast Moving Consumer Goods such as washing powder or chocolate bars, and often referred to as CPG products in the US) make up a significant chunk of consumer advertising, but largely go unheard on podcasts because there’s no easy way for marketers to track whether an ad for a detergent placed on a podcast has been successful and shifted product.

That’s not to say that the success of traditional television advertising is easy to track either, and advertisers continue to happily spend billions on that medium. It’s not for nothing that the most famous quote in advertising is, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Of course, ironically, while digital is supposed to be the ultimate targeting device, it turns out that P&G, one of the biggest FMCG advertisers on the planet, has decided that it has been attempting to target far too much on platforms like Facebook. That’s perhaps not surprising because, well, everyone needs to buy washing powder and toothpaste, so advertising widely would seem to make the best sense (see the Ad Contrarian for lots more on this).

And it’s not as though there aren’t other problems with advertising in the digital space including fraud and ad-blocking amongst others.

Anyway, the US podcast community is trying to gain more acceptance among the advertising community by working to ensure that everyone measures podcasts the same way, which is very sensible. While this might seem straightforward, in reality, counting podcast downloads is actually a case of interpreting server log files.

This week the IAB has released its Podcast Ad Metrics Guidelines, to both explain the challenges and to ensure that everyone counts podcasts the same way.

The document itself is fairly readable and it’s has a few interesting facts that are worth examining in more detail. It’s probably a first iteration of a living document, with a working group sitting behind it.

One interesting piece of information is the detail of how podcasts are consumed. Five groups on the working party submitted data about podcast platforms, and a table was published as a result, which I’ve reproduced below. Note that the data was based on April 2016.

Platform requesting podcast fileRange of market share %
iOS - Apple Podcast App45-52%
iTunes8-13%
Browsers6-14%
Stitcher2-7%
Everything else12-30%

NB. It’s not explicitly clear if these are US-only figures, or global numbers based on a number of firms based in the US. The partners are Podtrac, Blubrry/RawVoice, WideOrbit, Libsyn and PodcastOne, all of whom I believe are available globally to podcasters.

What I found especially interesting is that Apple isn’t quite as dominant as I’d previously thought. At least in terms of apps used to listen, with a cumulative 53-65% share of podcasts which is lower than the ~80% I had previously thought it might be.

That’s not to say that Apple isn’t vitally important in the transmission of podcasts. Many non-Apple apps use the iTunes Search API to populate their apps with a current list of podcasts. If you’re launching a new podcast, there are a lot places you want to list it. But first and foremost, it’s still the iTunes store if you’re trying to maximise audience reach.

The other interesting question is about downloads versus streams. The report goes into some detail about this, and of course different companies can do this differently. While “traditionally” an app has downloaded podcasts in the background for later playback, today apps allow you to “stream” directly as the podcast downloads.

Beyond that, there is in-browser listening where often a podcast player appears on a webpage and is played back from there. The chart above shows that as much as 16% of podcast plays are listened to this way. Depending on the technology being employed, an in-browser podcast player might be a proper streaming solution, or it might in fact be simply pulling an mp3 to a wraparound player. The user will not notice the difference.

What’s interesting is how this compares with other research on podcast listening and the emergence of the “click and listen” model. A recent Edison Research/Triton Digital report showed 59% of podcast users saying they click and listen immediately, as opposed to just 15% saying they subscribe in the traditional manner.

download

These numbers seem to suggest that although people are actually mostly listening through traditional podcast platforms like podcast apps, they’re actually choosing to download and listen at the point of consumption. It’s for that reason that so many podcasts implore listeners to subscribe, because if you’re relying on click to listen, then it’s entirely likely that listeners will miss episodes of podcasts.

But I’d also love to dig deeper into the numbers in the chart above, because the opacity to the regular podcast listener of how podcasts actually work means they may not actually know what they’re doing or how the audio is getting to them.

I say this because the chart above suggests that 38% of people either subscribe or manually download to listen later 42% of people say they listen to podcast two days or later after the podcast has downloaded. Add in a proportion of the large percentage of people who listen with 24 hours of a download, and you have a larger number of people listening via a download-and-listen-later method than say that’s what they do.

download (1)

Separately, the podcast hosting company Blubrry has crunched the numbers of how its own podcasts are delivered as best it can.

Blubrry defines four different categories of distribution:

Mobile apps – which can both download and “stream” (i.e. download to listen instantly)
Desktop apps – mostly for downloads, and most likely iTunes (accounting for 80% of listening in this category)
Desktop browsers – where you can either “stream” from the page (in this instance an HTML wrapper around a hosted mp3 file, as opposed to a properly streamed file as the BBC often provides)
Mobile browsers and TV apps

Blubrry estimate that within the 71.6% of mobile apps consumption, 39% is accounted for by the iOS Podcast app. And half of that is streaming rather downloading. Whereas of the desktop browsers, two thirds is streaming, while a third is downloaded.

All in all, bespoke podcast applications, whether on mobile or desktop platforms, account for 85% of podcast listening.

Returning to the data in the IAB paper, what it also makes clear is that bespoke podcast apps – e.g. apps created for a particular podcast or podcasting company – are not very popular. The advantage to the podcasting companies is clear – they can properly track listenership and advertising consumption. But to the listener the benefits are less clear. It means one more app on your phone, and the app probably won’t let you listen to other podcasts.

All interesting detail about how people actually listen to podcasts.

The Political Cycle

It’s my favourite time of year – The Tour de France is well underway. Mark Cavendish is back on form, picking up wins 27, 28 and 29, leaving him second on the all-time wins list, and the fireworks are about to kick off as the race enters the Pyrenees.

Recently I raised my hand to say that I’d help out the chaps at The Cycling Podcast. They produce a gargantuan amount of audio during the Tour, with a post-race episode each evening after the stage, and a daily feature episode — KM0 — each morning, that’s on top of the Friends of the Podcast specials (Only £10!).

A couple of promos aside, this is the first real fruit of my labours, seeing me edit this episode of KM0. Tight turnarounds are the order of the day here, so it’s not perfect, but this was a fun one looking back at the Tour de Trump amongst other things.

Overall, I’m pretty pleased about the way this sounds:

Podcasting: Data/Tech Improvements or Leave Alone?

A couple of interesting pieces on the development of podcasts, and Apple’s role, have been published recently and thought worth thinking aloud about (that’s effectively what my blog is – me thinking aloud).

The New York Times published a piece that suggests major podcasting groups have been talking to Apple asking for extra functionality from them – in particular access to data, but also the ability to better promote podcasts.

Meanwhile Marco Arment challenges the NYT, and argues that podcasting is better off as it is now.

I do understand Arment’s perspective. He argues that Apple has actually been pretty open – for example providing an iTunes API that lets apps like PocketCasts use the iTunes directory to find podcasts.

And he takes a certain purist view that the current way things work is fine. Anyone can make a podcast, submit it to stores like iTunes, and host the podcast wherever they like.

Podcasts are simple mp3 files, playable in a vast range of apps, and on a multitude of devices.

I understand all that, and yet…

The main thing the unnamed podcasters seem to be asking Apple for is more access to data. At the moment, data is very low-level and actually quite hard.

Assuming your host is capable of supplying information, the best it can really tell you about how your podcast has performed is the number of times it was downloaded (although what about partial downloads?), the IP address of the downloader (therefore some idea of location), and the platform it was downloaded by.

And that’s basically it, unless the podcast is listened to via a specific third party app.

Now I do agree that I don’t especially like the idea of Apple dictating terms of podcasting. Apple has a built in advantage in podcasting that the two articles suggest leads to around 65%-70% of the market being on Apple devices. (I suspect that’s the US market, and believe ex-US Apple may have a higher share).

While Google has soft-launched podcasting in the US via its Google Play Music app, and there are plentiful excellent Android podcast apps, the market is massively skewed towards Apple compared with overall device ownership. In any case, I’m not sure that Google has yet shown the desire to truly push podcasting as a platform.

For better or worse, Google Play Music is not every Android owner’s default audio app, and so Google doesn’t have the same power that Apple has by pre-installing a non-removable podcasting app on every Apple device.

I’m not saying anything new here, but to re-iterate previous blogs, I do think podcasting needs some work. The status quo works at an enthusiast level, but doesn’t really work for those who want to build a stronger commercially viable medium. So there are things that need “fixing” with podcasts:

1. Data

Sorry, but it’s needed. If you’re hosting your own podcast for fun, as an enthusiast or for your own pleasure, then fine. But if you’re trying to produce podcasts as a business – and they’re a form of media, so this is totally legitimate – then you need some data.

Beautifully constructed, heavily produced podcasts with excellent production values take time and money to make. In any other part of the creative industries, there’s a means to earning if you’re good enough and enough people love what you do. Podcasting needs to be no different.

Now Apple handing some more data over probably doesn’t cut it. They may still represent the majority of listening, but that should decline over time, and mean that a broader form of data is required.

That said, Apple almost certainly does know how consumers are listening to podcasts including metrics like whether a downloaded podcast was actually listened to, how much of the podcast was listened, were pre/mid-roll ads heard, and so on.

Does providing data run the risk of decreasing diversity? Actually I don’t think so. Sure, a big network like Panoply or Gimlet may decide to ditch certain types of offerings and change direction to the mass market, but that shouldn’t affect what everyone else makes. These are businesses that have to make returns to their backers or else they go under. They have to work within the advertising market place. If they don’t, they go away and we lose their podcasts.

I would look at something like YouTube to prove that a platform can be completely open to all, even if there is strong underlying data. I upload a drone video I made to YouTube and do it for the fun of it. I make no money; I expect no money. Perhaps I hit lucky with one my videos and it becomes a viral hit. There’s a mechanism that allows me to prosper a little should I choose. And then at the other end I might strike it lucky, become a YouTuber, and earn a decent crust on the platform (highly unlikely, I realise). I can use the platform for promotion.

YouTube isn’t directly analogous. It’s a closed Google-owned platform. But there’s little to stop me uploading my own work to YouTube as much as I like, incorporating a number of different commercial business models should I choose to.

Look – I know as much as anyone that much digital data is flawed, misleading or downright wrong. Data is open to manipulation, and advertising agencies are still too in awe of it. But if I buy an ad in just about any medium, the least I can aspect is you to provide me with details of who had an opportunity to hear, watch or see the ad.

Data is necessary. But it’s needed across the piece, and I’m not sure how that would work across multiple platforms. To be treated seriously by advertisers you need some data. Every advertising medium offers data, and podcasting can’t be an exception. Of course if you don’t take advertising from advertising agencies, then this perhaps isn’t an issue to you. But I’m not sure it

2. Promotion

If you’re launching a new podcast, you may be really up against it.

If you’re an existing podcast publisher, then you promote your new podcast on your existing programme. You might mention it lots, run promotional spots for it, or even include an episode in the RSS feed of your podcast. But if your new podcast is aimed at a different audience to the one your current podcast appeals to, this doesn’t really work.

If you’re a big media organisation – a radio station or web publisher – then you can promote across your own platform.

Seemingly a major issue with the big podcasting companies is that promotion on iTunes – still the best way to drive new listeners to a podcast – is at the whim of a single person in the US iTunes Store. Others are in charge of their national/regional stores.

Now podcasters may be treating those individuals as restaurateurs treat celebrity reviewers – “Pick me! Pick me! Write nice things about me!” – but surely the major issue is that we need more avenues to promote podcasts. And critically, there need to be methods to subscribe in a simpler manner. I really shouldn’t have to copy an RSS feed from a web page and paste it into a box in my podcasting software. But that’s what I have to do…

3. Android

As I’ve said again and again, it’s ridiculous that Apple has such a hold over podcasting when so many more devices are Android. You can buy a $50 Android phone that’s capable of playing podcasts, but have to pay 8 times that for a new Apple device. Look beyond the coasts of the US, and the metropolitan centres of Western Europe. There’s a massive market to reach – whoever your podcast is targeted towards.

Apple is not going to provide all the solutions, and more importantly, it shouldn’t provide them.

Yes – Apple has the whip hand now, but that’s not a sustainable position for a medium that is actually technology neutral.

4. Technology

Not really mentioned here, but perhaps underlying everything, is whether we need a kind of “Podcast 2.0” format – something that offers better data about whether a podcast was listened to and who listened to it. There are talked about hackabouts that sort of let you do things with mp3s, but they tend to work hidden pixels and the like. But an RSS feed is structurally limiting.

What I am certain is that I don’t want to see us go down a bespoke private networks route. Podcasting is a very open platform.

But as the web has developed, so do podcasts. Like many others, I don’t want podcasters to know my name and address, unless I choose to provide them (e.g. on a subscription basis). But I know that the medium is limited without some developments.

Summary

I don’t want to destroy an ecosystem that allows anyone to make a popular audio piece and serve it to millions of people around the world. It’s brilliant that anyone can produce a podcast on just about any subject and it can be made available to all. But I’m not sure that anything I hear stops or prevents this. Data and technology move hand in hand, and while Apple can help, it shouldn’t be the be all and end all. It’s worth remembering that podcasting extends well beyond the US!

Elsewhere: read this week’s Hot Pod on this whole issue.

The Tow Center Guide to Podcasting

Headphones in Studio 2

There’s a terrific new report that the Tow Center for Digital Journalism – an institute within the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. It has published called A Guide to Podcasting. It’s an unashemedly US-centric view of the podcasting market in 2015, detailing the history of the medium, and presenting a series of case studies of big US podcasting operators.

It’s well worth a read if you’re curious to see where podcasting stands today.

The report is long, and I’m not going to go into it in full. Instead I thought I’d pull out a few key findings, and add some of my own thoughts to them. Some of them are things I’ve talked about before, but in each instance, I think they’re especially worthy of note.

The massive skew in mobile podcast consumption towards iPhones. The Tow document quotes a LibSync report that shows that there is currently a 5.4 to 1 ratio in favour of iOS devices over Android ones in the mobile market. Whereas the report notes that there something like one billion Android devices set against 470m iPhones.

I’ve stolen this wonderful (US focused) chart which illustrates this perfectly.

PODCAST15_clammrfuture_android

Note that this report seems to have been written before Google announced its entry into the podcasting market. But the report does note that there’d be likely to be developments between the report being completed and it being published. The Gimlet case study also misses out on their recent second round of funding.

67% of US podcaster are aged 18-34. They know how to use the technology. It’s not that it doesn’t appeal to other audiences as my septuagenarian father can attest, once he knew how to use the BBC iPlayer Radio app on his tablet. So it’ll be interesting to see how ages broaden out as podcasting increases. In the meantime, the 18-34 audience is one radio broadcasters are very worried about losing.

Podcasting really needs to broaden its user base. The previous two points are key parts of that – growing users beyond one type of phone, and getting those aged over 35 to listen. And the current audience can only listen to so many podcasts – something my inordinately sized PocketCasts library can attest to. Indeed the report suggests that it’s just six podcasts on average per week.

Slow and steady growth. As the report makes clear, podcasting has been around for a long time, and it’s had its moment in the sun before Serial came along (Season 2 out now!). The report includes a chart that shows podcasting as having had slow and steady growth since its inception.

The report goes on to note that the Serial phenomenom actually happened at time when the iPhone podcast app had just been separated out in iOS as its own app, and as the wider media was covering podcasts more. Both of these will have given it a healthy push.

I’d compare podcasting growth to UK DAB growth which has also been slow and steady rather than explosive as some consumer technologies have been. I wonder if this is a factor of audio? It’s not quite as sexy as video, but we still like it.

Searching for podcasts is an overall bad experience. iTunes is not great at surfacing podcasts beyond ones that are either popular according to its secret algorithm, or the handful that iTunes’ editors choose to feature on their site. Other podcast providers have similar issues.

The popular example of a company who manages this well is Netflix and its ability to aid viewer discovery. I’m not sure that’s the best answer – my experience is that all sorts of rubbish gets thrown at me. But I do hear very positive things about Spotify’s Discover playlist with regard to music listening.

Instead podcasters have to rely on social sharing and working within their own networks. Thus both Serial and Gimlet’s Startup launched by being included in the This American Life podcast feed.

That’s an opportunity only avaialble to a very limited number of podcasts and not at all available to those outside, say, US public radio circles. On the other hand it greatly aids those burgeoning podcast networks like Panoply and Gimlet. They can properly support and promote their own shows. An independent producer is going to struggle unless they have the budget to buy promotional airtime on those same shows – a route to market that others have taken.

One of the most exciting elements of Google enterting the podcasting space is what it can do with search. As well as utilising metadata, it’d be interesting to see if voice-to-text technology as utilised by Google Now, Siri and Amazon’s Fire and Echo devices, could be set to work on podcasts to provide more context for audio files, and enable discovery.

In car listening has its place. Cars are important, but it’s worth noting that while 44% of US radio listening is in car (according to a 2014 Macquarie Capital report), in other markets that aren’t as car-centric, it’s much less. For example it’s only 20% of radio listening that happens in-car in the UK. And in any case, new technology added in the car today doesn’t fully flow through the Car Parq (the industry term for all the cars on the road) for a number of years to come – 11 years on average in the US. In other words, just because a new off the assembly line car today comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, it’s going to take a while before everyone has the ability to seamlessly stream audio in their cars without a combination of 3.5mm jack leads, Bluetooth connectivity or even FM re-transmitters.

Data issues. Not only are mobile podcasts disproportionately listened to by iPhones/iOS devices, but the bulk of traffic is delivered via iTunes – 70% is claimed in the report. That’s both a blessing and a curse. Apple was a very early supporter of podcasting, and therefore everyone should be thankful for them. On the other hand, they have the whip hand when it comes to data. Advertisers would like more data, as would podcast producers. I’m certain Apple could provide additional data were they to choose to, but that would involve changes in user agreements and generally it’d be doing work for little to no reward. (Plus nobody needs and even longer iTunes User Agreement!)

The report notes that Apple’s most recent iOS update actually favours streaming over download, with the latter taking an additional click to play back. Streaming, of course, provides more data than consumption of a “dumb” mp3 file.

Meanwhile, as well as adding dynamic advertising into podcasts at time of delivery, another area that is being developed according to the report, is the use of tracking pixels. Now I must admit that I’m unclear how this will work. Ordinarily such pixels are used to track digital advertising in web environments where there is live data. So a hidden pixel is delivered and the fact that it was shown means that you have some data about where and when it was delivered. But pure podcasts are simply mp3 files. While they might have “album artwork” embedded within them, I’m not aware that this would allow for any tracking. Indeed, when you’re listening to an mp3 offline, there simply isn’t a feedback mechanism.

Within bespoke apps this might be possible, and certainly platforms like Spotify employ it, although the free version of Spotify which displays advertising requires internet access.

Yet both Panoply, who have purchased the Audiometric software platform, and Acast are both talking about this technology. I’m curious to learn more.

Direct and foundation support is more normal in the US. Most US public television and radio is partly funded by viewers and listeners. The audience is regularly asked to dig deep and contribute. If you enjoy these programmes, then you need to pay is the message. That’s why this has been a key way a number of podcasts have supported themselves using a direct funding model.

But this is not something that’s “normal” in Britain and elsewhere. If there’s a pledge drive happening on TV or radio, it’s for charity. For some, it’s actually a bit “embarrassing” and runs against the traditional stiff-upper-lip attitude we have as a nation.

Now it’s certainly true that the landscape is changing, and more people are getting more comfortable asking for monetary support.

There is not really a history of foundations supporting radio and television services. These foundations just don’t exist in the same way in the UK, where spending of that type might instead be focused on visual or performing arts. Instead, across Europe, much public radio is supported by various forms of licence fee. Notably the UK television licence pays for all BBC Radio as well as BBC TV and other services. This is undoubtedly changing as podcast listening is not limited by borders (Hence I hear all sorts of advertising for products that are unavailable to me). And Radiotopia’s fundraising success internationally was such that it saw fit to hold supporters parties in various parts of Europe.

But philanthropy tends to reveal itself in different ways in different countries – so the US model does not necessarily work internationally.

Podcasters need to own their direct relationships with the audience. This is an important one. The case study on the Reveal podcast makes this point well. Obviously podcasts do have a relationship between themselves and their listeners, but they don’t own it. Without direct intervention, a podcast producer does not know who you are. And that places them at something of a disadvantage.

When you hear a podcast urge you to sign up for an email newsletter, like them on Facebook or even follow them on Twitter, that’s because these are they only ways they can form a relationship with you. As it stands, that relationship is actually “owned” by the podcasting platform – so Apple in all likelihood.

The reason that magazine and newspaper publishers have always been so keen on you taking out a subscription is not just that they have a guaranteed form of income, but that they get to add a name to their database. And they can develop a direct relationship from there. That could be selling additional products and services, or learning more about the audience.

Indeed a podcast producer needs to think, “What would happen if for some reason Apple shut down podcasts tomorrow?”

No, they’re not going to do it. But they could. It would be a painful, and very probably expensive business rebuilding that audience.

The only podcast I can think of that I subscribe to that knows who I am is The Cycling Podcast, because I’ve paid to become a premium member. They have my email address.

It’s the same argument some news providers have had with Apple – sometimes falling out with them. Apple owns the relationship (and takes a healthy cut of subscription revenues). The middleman has the keys to the castle.

In subscription television, the same is often true. It’s why BT Sport went around quite a convuluted route to get Sky viewers to register directly with them to enable the BT Sports channel rather than the less painful route of adding the channel via a few clicks of the remote control. Now BT knows who those Sky subscribers are. If they hadn’t taken that route, they’d have just known how many subscribers they had.

And finally, if you know who your customers are, you can also more easily shift platforms should you ever wish or need to in the future.

The ethics of podcast advertising is not straightforward. There was a very good recent episode of Gimlet’s Startup podcast looking at money and in particular what the company would and wouldn’t do. It’s really worth listening to if you’re interested in this area, as it explores many of the issues. Indeed Gimlet has always been very upfront about how they work advertising into their podcasts.

In the US, the most effective type of podcast advertising has proved to be presenter-read adverts. They tend to be delivered in the same tone as the overall podcast rather than from a specific script. The way the advertising is weaved into different podcasts can vary a good deal – the listener sometimes only belatedly realising that they’re actually hearing an ad. Sometimes specific music is used, or words along the lines of, “And now we must thank another sponsor…” But neither of these are always the case.

The presenter-read model can also lead to a lot of implied endorsement of products. Perhaps the presenter has indeed used the product and strongly recommends it. But are we certain? Indeed an earlier season one Startup episode also examined this area.

And what happens if a product maybe isn’t best-in-class? Their money is still good though…

Another “ethical” question is the use of native podcasts, or ad-funded podcasts. This kind of advertising is considered both very effective and profitable. There are clearly lots of companies now interested in having podcasts made for them.

But how do they get promoted? What’s the mechanism for launching them? Do you drop them into your regular programme feed? Or should potential subscribers be pushed in another direction?

If you ask different people these questions, the recent Startup episode suggests you’ll get different answers.

The current case to look at is The Message, which is paid for by GE and produced by Panoply. It’s an SF drama delivered in the guise of a presenter-led podcast. I’m not aware that the full podcast was placed in any other Panoply streams. Instead there were a number of promotional trails (in radio parlance) and ads promoting the series.

But it seems clear that there are no firm rules across the full podcasting environment and what some people will do, others will be uncomfortable doing.

Networks – them and us. The way things are working at the moment, the big networks are best suited to prospering. But what about smaller or independent podcasts? Is there a way through?

The beauty of podcasting originally was that it’s very cheap and easy to do. You can make a professional sounding podcast with an inexpensive microphone, a laptop and free editing software.

But in many ways podcast networks are raising the game. They have more resources, they have sales teams to sell advertising, and they can cross-promote their own new podcasts.

If you’re not part of a big network or broadcaster, you probably are at a disadvantage. You’re not out of the game – but like indie films versus studio blockbusters, or independently published books versus those from major publishers, you’ve got your work cut out for you. On the other hand, there are ways through.

More disruption in types of podcast is needed. It does feel like too many podcasts are just public radio programmes that might have previously existed given a fair wind and a friendly commissioner. There surely needs to be a wider range of podcasts dealing with a broader set of interests? Currently many of the more popular podcasts can feel very middle class. And that’s not surprising because it does seem like every half-decent producer in the US who was working for public radio has been poached by a podcast producer or network!

This isn’t necessarily true of all podcast types, but I tend to think it is true of the bigger shows in terms of listeners and awareness.

Finally the Tow Center report is also accompanied by a very smart interactive timeline telling the podcast story from a US perspective.

Why Doesn’t Audio Go Viral?

Live On Air from the Isle of Wight

I’m a regular reader of Nick Quah’s Hot Pod newsletter on Podcasts. It’s worth subscribing to if you’re interested in the medium, even if there are slightly too many animated GIFs in the emails!

A few weeks ago, Nick addressed something that goes back to a Digg piece from well over a year ago. As he rightly says, it’s still a relevant question.

The Digg piece by Stan Alcorn in essence says that it’s a visual issue. And it’s true that if someone sends you a YouTube link you can quickly see a still frame chosen to whet your appetite and hit play. An animated GIF takes no effort to see. Even a bit of text can be quickly scanned, and accompanying pictures seen.

Audio, on the other hand, takes some effort.

You have to hit play and hope that however it’s titled is an accurate description. You can’t scrub ahead to what you perceive as “the good bit,” as people do with YouTube videos.

There’s a Digg revisit up now, and Quah goes on to make his own points. And the piece was followed up the following week – I suggest going away and reading up on the subject if you’re interested.

But I’d just like to offer a few thoughts of my own on the matter, and they boil down to audio actually being harder “to do” than video.

The Oxford English Dictionary (the online version anyway) defines “viral” in the internet sense thus:

(Of an image, video, piece of information, etc.) circulated rapidly and widely from one Internet user to another:
‘a viral ad campaign’
‘the video went viral and was seen by millions’

The definition doesn’t specify it, but I would suggest also that something that goes viral is also quite short. That’s a relative term of course, but we’re not talking about longform here. Serial might be popular, but would you describe a multi-hour podcast as a “viral hit?” I’m not sure you would. I’d simply describe it as a hit.

Most commonly, when we think about something going viral, we’re thinking of video. And when it comes to a viral clip, it’s either professionally shot, by which I mean the source footage comes from a TV station, a production company or agency, or shot by an amateur – probably on their phone. (There are many other types of video of course, but I think this accounts for a substantial portion of viral videos.)

Yet even clips that are shot professionally are as often as not, spread virally by a viewer. The TV company might work hard to share their own clips and with pre-recorded programmes that’s very possible. Hence Lip Sync Battles and Carpool Karaoke. But if an amazing goal is scored, or a presenter inadvertently tells a reality show contestant that they’re out of the competition before they should have, that probably happened live, and the producers may not want to share the clip or in the case of sport, even have the rights to make it widely available in social media.

But for the viewer, sending that clip to the internet is easy. Somewhere a viewer hits rewind on their PVR. They point their phone at their TV and record the action. Within a couple of clicks, they’ve sent it to Twitter/YouTube/Facebook/wherever and it’s out there. There are better ways to do it, and in higher quality, but this is instant and it works.

Sure, the Premier League/ITV/Sky/HBO/Disney might get the clip taken down in due course, but someone’s put a copy up, or they’ve shot their TV from an odd angle and talked over the audio. The clip gets out there. If it goes viral, it’s watched by millions.

Maybe a couple of days later, the rights owner gets YouTube to replace to the unofficial video with their official one. But it’s probably too late by then.

Meanwhile, if the video is of your mate doing a silly stunt, or you hearing a racist outburst heard on a bus, or seeing a horrific terrorist attack in a city, then a phone is all that’s needed. Again, you get viral success if all the planets are aligned.

Now consider making audio into a viral hit.

Suppose Nick Grimshaw says something funny on his Radio 1 Breakfast Show. It’s really entertaining and you want to share it instantly.

Well Radio 1 might put it up themselves – indeed they might share some video. A producer or someone in charge of station’s social media is probably sharing a few clips, and they might be doing it really well, perhaps with visualisations. There are some excellent examples of this where studio video or even animations have been used. And there are a number of platforms available to radio stations that allow them to share audio clips E.g. Omny.

But the station gets to choose what goes up. And they might not choose to share the clip you’re interested in. Social media managers on radio shows and stations are wary of posting too much in social media over too short a time. They ration what they post so as not to overwhelm their social media followers.

And anyway, a radio clip “going viral” should not solely be in the hands of the show’s production team. As mentioned, that’s not what always happens in video, and indeed it’s a limiting factor on sending audio viral if only the original producer gets to choose.

If a listener wants to share something they heard on the radio with their friends and followers, how do they do that? They can’t just hit rewind on your radio. Yes – a handful of DAB sets do have this function. But most don’t.

For the large part, broadcast radio disappears into the ether.

A listener might be able to get the audio by waiting until the programme has finished and grab either a podcast, or rip the audio from Listen Again if it’s available. The latter in particular is not a straightforward process, with the majority of stations simply not offering it. But if it is available, and the listener has the technical knowhow to rip that audio, then they can pop that audio into an audio editor. Because everyone has access to one of those and knows how to use it don’t they..?

Then they edit their viral clip – now probably at least two hours after it went out – and share it on YouTube accompanied with a still image, since they’ve actually made a “video” because that’s what the most obviously site for sharing clips – YouTube – wants. Otherwise the likely candidates for hosting the clip are perhaps Soundcloud, Audioboom or someone else.

That’s all really quite hard and the spontaneity has gone.

A good piece of audio is still a good piece of audio. But for those, “I don’t believe that just happened moments,” the impetus is gone.

There is a service called Rewind Radio which would seem to create a solution. They’re effectively an online radio clipping service, allowing you to find an audio segment on your chosen service, and clip the audio. The resulting clips can be embedded or posted in social media. E.g.


I’m not sure whether the service is designed for consumers or radio stations themselves. Nonetheless, I was able to make the above clip without registering.

The main problem is that again, it’s down to stations to get themselves listed and therefore recorded into their system. I could find BBC Radio 1 for example, but couldn’t find BBC Radio 2 or BBC Radio 4. And there is also a bit of a time-delay issue. In my test, I couldn’t link to audio newer than that from nine hours earlier.

[And I hate to mention it, but we have to think about copyright. Can I just embed or tweet a single song clip? Music is a big part of most radio after all.]

How about someone wanting to share a podcast?

Well it’s possible. But an iTunes link doesn’t cut it because not everyone has an iPhone (see previous blogs by me ad nauseum). And some podcasts don’t have a site for streaming them. They should. But they don’t.

Even if they do, it’s remarkably rare for those players to have functionality to allow sharing to a specific point in a show – something that’s essential if you’re pointing someone to a moment in a three hour breakfast show.

There are companies like Overcast and Acast who can do the job for you with podcasts, and even let you link to a specific spot in a podcast (e.g. Here are Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg in interview on the a recent Kermode and Mayo podcast, with a timestamp to take you directly to the interview). But you have to know about Overcast or Acast to make that work. Acast’s link will also deliver an embedded player in social media which is smart, but at time of writing, Overcast links don’t do that. Overall, YouTube again has an advantage here.

In the end, many more people have YouTube accounts than Soundcloud or Audioboom ones. So sharing audio on YouTube is still the easiest place to go, even though that does mean making a quasi-movie first by adding a still and exporting a movie file to upload to the site.

WNYC in New York has been experimenting with “videos” of audio in Facebook feeds. But long-form podcasts feel wrong in such an environment. There are exceptions, but most shared video is a few minutes at most.

But what about amateur recordings? Those moments you deem interesting or newsworthy enough to share, and which might turn viral depending on what is being captured.

Well the truth probably is that if something amusing or noteworthy is happening around you and you have your smartphone to hand, you’re more likely to start the video camera rolling on it rather than the audio recording function.

Yes, if you’re getting nowhere in attempting to cancel your cable TV subscription and are recording the call, then you might go for the audio recorder functionality on your phone. But otherwise, unless you’re trying not to make it obvious you’re recording something, you’re going to reach for the video camera function.

In summary then, making audio go viral is hard because we are visual creatures, so that’s our first port of call. But audio is enormously powerful, so we need better tools to allow listeners to share audio – from radio, podcasts and life. And importantly, it needs to be shareable on the listener’s terms, not the service provider’s.

[Finally a top-tip: There used to be functionality direct in iPlayer to deeplink to a specific timecode in a given programme when sharing that link. That was taken out at some point, but you can still do it!

All you have to do is append #playt=xxmyys where xx is the number of minutes into the programme and yy is the number of seconds. So I might link to a point in this week’s Infinite Monkey Cage using this link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06r4wg9#playt=9m07s

So as long as you wait for a BBC programme to finish and be made available on the iPlayer, then that allows you to share a specific point in a programme. That’s not a wider solution by any means.

Thanks to Nommo for details.]

Following the Tour de France

Tour de France 2014 - Stage 2 - York to Sheffield-13

And by that, I mean “following it from afar” not being at the race itself.

The Tour de France takes place over three weeks, including four weekends. That equates to 21 stages and two rest days.

If you’re not on a roadside somewhere watching the race, then you’re going to be following the race remotely. The question is then, how do you do it?

Your first choice is to decide whether you’re going to watch live or wait until the hightlights. Or both.

Following the Tour today is a multimedia affair. Broadly speaking you can:

– Watch on TV. In the UK that means ITV4 or British Eurosport, which both carry live coverage. They both have streaming options. Interestingly, the £3.99 a month Eurosport player also has live streams from the different camerabike “Motos” so you can stick with a particular group. Think of this as a red button option. This isn’t available on Sky Go which otherwise offers Sky subscribers online streaming of British Eurosport 1 and 2.

– Follow on social media. i.e. Twitter. There are loads of official and unofficial accounts from the organisers and the teams themselves. More often than not they Tweet in English.

– Follow on a website. You have the official Tour de France site, plus others, again including the teams and sports newspapers and sites. We’re also finally seeing the fruits of an agreement between Tour organisers ASO and Dimension Data. This week saw the launch of a beta website that allows live tracking of all the riders. This year, for the first time, GPS “trackers” are attached to riders’ bikes just behind the saddle, and they ping data to nearby officials’ vehicles which then relay that data on via the aircraft that overfly the Tour, to a collection point at the finish. The data is cleaned, analysed and presented.

– Follow on the radio. In the UK, the stage finishes are on Five Live Sports Extra… except when it clashes with the Ashes (like today), when it’ll be streaming online.

– Follow on podcasts. There are loads of podcasts. The Inrng went through some of them this week. I listen to at least three (The Cycling Podcast, ITV’s TdF Podcast and BBC Five Live’s Bespoke), with The Cycling Podcast being the runaway winner. They’re attempting two podcasts a day this year, with one of them being more feature-based. Really well put together, and it must be an awful lot of work to get this kind of quality turned around that swiftly. ITV’s is a more relaxed version of the end of their programme, often having a bit more time for analysis and squeezing a couple more interviews in. Five Live’s is a more basic wrap up, but also with post-race interviews.

In reality, it’s a combination of all those things. I think you do have to make a decision as to whether you’re going to try to have a news blackout when watching the highlights in the evening, or go in knowing what happens.

Personally, I find this can vary. If I go in “blind” – as I did on Wednesday – then I have to swear off social media for several hours, otherwise I’ll find out. I also have to avoid sports bulletins, which in the UK are likely to report any British success, and probably ignore the race if there isn’t.

My preference for highlights is ITV4. While I think that the Phil and Paul commentary might have past its best, I think I still prefer it to the Eurosport duo of Carlton and Sean. More than that, the pre- and post- race production is better on ITV4, although Eurosport has invested a little more in this in recent years with Greg LeMonde and recent retiree, Juan Antonio Flecha. ITV also has more resource to actually edit the story together for their package, rather than simply run the final x minutes of the race to fill the time available.

My only issue with the live coverage is the frequency of ad breaks and their length, and the repetitious nature of the promos in particular that surround the ad-breaks (ITV: I know The Cycling Show is back. Please don’t tell me any more! There were two promos for it within one hour of highlights on Thursday!).

I’m really looking forward to playing with the Dimension Data website. The TV feed has featured some of the live data on-screen, but I’ve not always been convinced that it’s entirely accurate so far. When they were comparing Froome and Nibali on the Mur de Huy the other day, it was clear that Froome was going faster, yet Nibali was often shown to be moving quicker. A delay in the feed and change in gradients may explain some of that. It should really come into its own in the mountains when riders are blown apart. I hope the website is mobile optimised!

US Podcasting Developments

Like many people since last weekend I’ve been bingeing a series since last weekend. No not the new season of House of Cards, although I will be catching up with that very soon, but Alex Blumberg’s Startup podcast about how to build a startup podcasting company. Very meta.

It’s been sitting there on my phone for many months, unlistened to. But I was pushed into listening after I listened to a recent Slate Money – possibly my favourite podcast right now.

Slate has been busily developing a burgeoning podcast business. Although they’ve been making podcasts for a long time now, in the post-Serial world, things are really taking off. The high CPMs (cost per thousand – the rate that advertisers pay) that podcasts can charge advertisers, the spin-off live events, and the flexibility that audio offers are all being snatched up.

Andy Bowers runs Slate’s podcasting business, and he was on this episode of Slate Money talking about their new “platform” – Panoply. They’re partnering with a number of blue-chip podcast providers with some big names like The New York Times Magazine and Huffington Post, to provide facilities, editorial support and I suspect mostly, advertising sales.

They’ve built a strong podcasting business, but this perhaps allows them to scale it more, and drive listening.

[Side note: I’m not sure about the word “platform”. I think of platforms as new or bespoke technologies. If they were removing mp3 versions of podcasts and using some new technology that embedded imagery, provided metrics about how much of a podcast was actually played, or other “beyond podcast” technologies, then I think “platform” would be right. In reality, I think this is a “podcasting network.” Your mileage may vary.]

And they’re not the only ones. There’s the “Startup” business that has been honestly documented in the podcast I’ve just been listening, and there’s mighty Kickstarter success, Radiotopia (who recently published some interesting numbers about their success to date). Beyond that there are a myriad of different networks of different sizes and specialisms out there.

These would seem to be good times for podcasters.

But I’d like to see more brand advertising on podcasts. The advertisers I’ve personally experienced so far have been direct response advertisers – enter a coupon code for a free trial or money off. So I know all about Audible, Square Space, Mail Chimp and Harry’s – which isn’t even available in the UK. But I’m hearing fewer advertisers who are building brands over the longer period – “You might not be buying a car now, but next time you do, you’ll want a BMW,” or “Why not try our new flavour of Coke?” Neither of these are transactions that you’re likely to complete online. Yet a vast amount of advertising is actually this sort of thing. It’s not trackable via entering a discount code on a website. It just plants the idea that next time you’re thirsty, you’ll drink a Coke rather than a Pepsi.

To help achieve this, another interesting development is that Triton Digital and Edison Research are launching metrics for podcasts. They claim that it is to precisely support this kind of advertising model than big brand advertisers need (they get it from their other media).

Triton and Edison’s aims are bold, and to be welcomed. But I wouldn’t under-estimate the technological challenges of this. The RAIN article above says that there’ll be a combination of client and server side measurements. This suggests perhaps a panel with an apps on their phones or computers to measure listening, allied with data supplied by the podcast providers. Neither is a straightforward task, and the latter suggests that only providers who sign up with the pair will be measured. (Ordinarily you might measure the non-subscribing outlets, but just not publish the data to give them a free ride).

All of this raises a few questions for me:

For these businesses to scale, podcasts need to be made easier to listen to. What are they doing to achieve that? And as I mentioned the other day, there’s the Android problem. Is there an over-arching technical solution to this? A way we can listen on a multiplicity of devices, and importantly, share that audio with others. I’m convinced that shareability is key to podcasting’s growth.

Much of what is happening is, by and large, all happening in the US. What about the rest of the world? Yes, in the UK we speak English too, but there are only so many US political gabfests or whatever that I want to hear! Podcasting is still really driven by radio broadcasters, and the BBC in particular. Crowd-funding notwithstanding, I’m not sure that there is quite the range of advertisers buying into podcasting in the UK or elsewhere in the world, as there is the US.

So the common theme, if there is one, among these developments is that these new businesses are all coming from an NPR background. Does that impact on NPR’s audiences in the longer term? At the moment many of the big podcasts air on NPR stations, but over time that will change. And the NPR audience (or Radio 4 in the UK), is only a fraction of the audio-listening audience. Yes they are wealthy, which is why everyone is clustering around them, but true scale is going to be achieved via mass-market. Who’s targeting the wider population?

I’m excited about the future of podcasting, but I wouldn’t pretend that there aren’t some big challenges.

In particular, I’d like to see more non-broadcaster activity in the UK. Audioboom has made some movements in that area, with its recent deal with Russell Brand (ironically then getting a broadcast on conventional radio via Xfm). But it’s not clear to me yet what Audioboom’s business model really is. It’s certainly changing though.

Then we had The Guardian pull out of a lot of podcasts last year, just around the time that the US podcasting boom was underway. Will they re-evaluate a bit? I note that they’ve just launched a Startup-style behind the scenes podcast documenting an attempt to properly engage the public over Climate Change.

And podcasts are certainly feeding back into radio. According to David Hepworth in his Guardian Guide radio column this week, Radio 4 is looking for its own version of Serial, although it may not be offering quite the same budgets as that series had. At an event at the BBC Radio Theatre earlier this evening, The Media Show’s Steve Hewlett asked Dana Chivvis, producer of Serial, how much it cost. She didn’t know, or wouldn’t say, but spoke of at least two full-time salaries for 15 months plus more production costs – including her own – beyond that. It was not cheap, and they were fortunate to have the backing of the behemoth that is This American Life, even if at 6 million downloads an episode, it has now overtaken its mother-brand.

The really interesting thing is just how important audio remains, with so much of what’s happening in technology revolving around it.