Breaking Up Your Podcasts

What’s the best length for a podcast?
That’s a bit like asking, “How long is a piece of string?”
The recent RAJAR MIDAS data showed a wide range of opinions:

What this shows is that there’s no consensus. I listen to podcasts that can vary between a couple of minutes and nearly two hours. So I tend towards the belief that it really does depend on the podcast.
At Absolute Radio, none of our podcasts lasts over an hour. That’s because we’re a music station, and once you removed that (and advertising) from a programme, no matter how much the DJ speaks, the show isn’t going to be all that long.
But what if you’re a speech station? Five Live have recently started effectively podcasting the entirety of two different programmes, each running for two hours. Danny Baker’s podcast began back in September when his new Saturday morning show started, while the Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo podcast began a couple of weeks ago when their new Friday show began.
In both cases, the BBC has decided to break the programme up into two parts. But there’s a problem with this.
By default, iTunes only downloads the most recent podcast available. If you subscribe to, say, a daily podcast, but only run iTunes a couple of times a week, then it’ll only download the most recent edition. With the BBC putting out two podcasts in swift succession for Danny Baker and Kermode/Mayo, most people will only automatically download the second “hour” of each programme.
I noticed as a listener this week that Simon Mayo has started suggesting that you “adjust your podcast settings” if you’re only getting one podcast.
The problem with that is that it’s incredibly unintuitive in iTunes, the most popular podcasting software by a long way, for users to do this.
You might start by looking at in Edit > Preferences menu, or Advanced. But you’ll look in vain. Right hand clicking on a podcast won’t help. Nor will attaching your iPod and trying to navigate via that.
No. You have to use the Settings button at the foot of the page, uncheck the Use Default Settings check-box, and choose Download all from the dropdown (You can also just adjust your overall defaults to change iTunes behaviour for all your podcasts).
iTunes is a fairly awful piece of software. It’s bloatware, and much of it is completely unintuitive. I had to use Google to discover this functionality. No wonder that nobody’s in a rush to explain exactly what to do.
Somebody at the BBC has almost certainly noticed that their programmes’ second parts are downloaded far more than their part ones. But I’d attack the problem another way, and simply offer a single download. Yes – that probably means 30-45 MB instead of 20MB per podcast. But does that make much difference? Yes – I know the chart above shows that nobody wants 1 hr plus podcasts, but lots of your audience only getting half the programme is not a good solution.


  1. Adam, the Iain Lee podcast from Absolute is always longer than an hour and is sometimes over 90 minutes.
    I agree on the BBC situation though, a few times I ended up with half a programme until I changed the settings.

  2. Thanks for the blog post. I’ll explain some of the thinking behind the two parts. But first I should declare, in the interest of transparency, that Adam and I know each pretty well.
    I’ll take Baker on first. We had correspondence from listeners BEFORE the new Saturday morning show even started. They all wanted to know if the podcast was going to be the whole show, we assured them it would be. Now if we offered this entire show as one part, it would be one hour and forty minutes, I have not seen any evidence that listeners would download a podcast that long let alone listen to it. In addition one of the other big demands is that we make podcasts available as soon as possible. Emails begin arriving about the Fighting Talk podcast half hour after the show is over if it isn’t live yet. With Danny Baker the intention has always been to make Part 1 available before the show is over at 11am. So anyone that tunes in late, or doesn’t get up that early, or dare i say it, is listening to the fantastic Frank Skinner on Absolute, can get it immediately. There has been a lot of emails from the listeners thanking us for making the whole show into a podcast. Number of complaints about it being two parts – zero.
    In terms of Mark and Simon, we get three very common complaints. 1. Why don’t we get the whole show (you do). 2 Why are all the reviews so rushed (that what the show sounds like ) and 3. Can we have the reviews in a separate podcast, i don’t want to hear the interviews. This last one is crucial and common. We even experimented putting the interviews at the end of the podcast, but often that doesn’t make it a terribly cohesive listen. We have often podcasted 2 or 3 shows from Mark and Simon during the week and this been well received. Now faced with the longer show, the demand from the audience is for the whole thing. So how do we do that given that we know the audience doesn’t want a 90 minute file, they want the reviews in a seperate podcast, and they want the whole show? The two parts seems the best solution. We may be wrong, the audience will, as always, tell us. We are clearly labelling the parts in text and within the podcasts so listeners have clear signposts. The podcast is averaging about 350,000 downloads a month, if it drops in January after we made it two parts, we will revisit the decision. Very interested in hearing other views.
    Brett Spencer, Interactive Editor, BBC Radio 5 Live
    twitter: @brettsr

  3. Adam: You’re quite right about Iain Lee who has very little music in his show.
    I must admit that overall I find running lengths of over one hour somewhat off-putting. “This Week in Tech” is an example of a show that I used to enjoy but now don’t as much because there’s no producer control. It’s a fine line between a rushed interview on Five Live Breakfast and Radio 4, and the free-form uncontrolled length of some podcasts.
    Brett: Thanks for explaining – at length – your reasoning. I think they’re valid and very clearly reasoned. Once it was clear that the show was going to run to two hours solely about film, then that becomes an issue. Perhaps you can get too much of a good thing.
    I think what this really comes down to is that iTunes behaves badly. I think it was listening to Simon Mayo trying to explain to listeners that they should adjust their podcast settings and the fact that I was missing parts of the Danny Baker podcast in particular that drew things to a head.
    The BBC World Service Documentary podcast is another high frequency offering, and I always knew that I had to force-download missing episodes (until the other day when I finally made the change noted above my default). Guardian Daily is another podcast that I was only getting bits of since I don’t run iTunes every day necessarily.
    So it all comes back to iTunes which I genuinely believe has become bloatwear attempting to be all things to all people, and needs a ground up rewrite. Or at the very least, the setting allowing you to automatically download everything new needs to be a little more obvious. I genuinely do think that the complexity of the software is stifling even more uptake of podcasting in general.

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