Based in part on a short thread I posted on Twitter the other day.
Spotify sent out a notification the other day that proudly proclaimed.
“How many podcasts?!
“5331034. Dig deep and discover yours.”
Spotify has over 5 million podcasts then. But is that a good thing?
How many of those titles are good?
Can I navigate that many titles easily in your app?
So is a big number of podcasts a good thing?
Let’s consider TV for a moment. How many TV shows are there out there that you’ve heard good things about, know you should probably watch, but for one reason or another, haven’t gotten around to? I’m guessing there are a few.
John Landgraf at FX Networks in the US has regularly updated the US TV industry about the number about how many adult scripted TV shows there are. 2021 saw a record number of series aired – 559. That number was seen by the industry as astronomical and quite probably unsustainable (see recent reports about Netflix having flat subscriber numbers, and Warner Media Discovery cutting back on some of the things they do).
But think about it: just 559 scripted TV shows is too many to be sustainable!
Contrast that number with 5 million podcasts.
Of course scripted TV is much more expensive to make than podcasts are, so the economic model is very different. I’m definitely not saying that there should only be 559 podcasts. The format beautifully serves both mainstream and also very niche audiences. There are podcasts exploring things that no other media would be able to.
But there is also a question of time. It takes time to watch a TV show, and it takes time to listen to a podcast. And we have many demands on our time.
In the music world, having a big number of songs is definitely considered a positive marketing thing to talk about. Spotify claims to have 80 million music tracks. But most songs are between 3 and 4 minutes, and tend to be well organised and categorised. Beyond that, there are hand-curated and algorithmically-curated playlists to help users.
5 million podcasts of significantly longer duration are not easy to sift through for the user. You can skip through songs, perhaps knowing after just a couple of seconds whether you’re interested in listening to an entire track. That’s just not the case with podcasts.
From my perspective, good discovery mechanisms for podcasts are going to be vastly more important than the sheer weight of numbers. Maybe 5m podcasts is a great marketing line, but navigating those 5m will be vastly more important for users.
First, is that 5 million “brands” or 5 million episodes. I agree a good way to organize and filter is necessary but it is a different level of urgency if we are talking about 500,000 properties with 10 episodes each than if we are talking 5 million properties with 10 episodes each.
Spotify doesn’t make that clear in the notification that I received (picture above), but reading this Podnews page from earlier this year when they had a lower number in combination with what Spotify’s Newsroom says today suggests that they are referring to “podcast titles” or “brands” as you refer to them. Each will have 1+ episodes. I suspect for a lot it will only be a single episode because spotify’s sister company Anchor is feeding an awful lot of those podcasts onto the platform. Given the Apple also lists millions of podcasts, I think it’s fair to assume that Spotify is indeed talking about 5.3 million podcast titles and not just episodes.
In any case, navigating even just half a million podcasts would still be an almighty challenge.
By way of comparison, YouTube had more than 51 million channels as of June 2022.