I listened to my first podcast on an actual iPod, back when Apple still made them. In those early days, the lineup included Marketplace, News from Lake Wobegon, and The Apple Phone Show (this was before the iPhone was announced). So I’ve watched as ‘podcatchers’ have emerged from nascency, and I think I know where we’re heading.
Lessons From Television
When you subscribe to a podcast, it’s still very much a linear, chronological experience with a heavy emphasis placed on the newest, latest episode. That’s fine for news programs, but it’s not a good way to start listening to a show like Radiolab, whose best shows are in earlier seasons.
I’m waiting for the “Netflix” of podcast apps — an app and system that places emphasis on show seasons and quality ratings. When you subscribe to Radiolab, the first thing you see should be a starter kit of the best episodes, designed for new ears.
Then the question is how do you determine quality…
Now that Apple has started introducing podcast stats, others should follow. And as valuable as that data is for producers, it’s even more helpful for users. It’s now incredibly easy for apps to sift and rank podcast episodes by actual listener count, abandon rate, and ratings.
Ratings is the hardest portion of that to implement, because it requires user action in a passive experience. Even the simplest rating form, thumbs up or down (borrowed from Rotten Tomatoes) would be hard to adopt. After all, most people listen while performing other actions (driving, cooking, cleaning) and wouldn’t necessarily want to engage with the app during that time.
The more adoptable version would need to be voice-based, asking the user to respond orally after each episode “did you like this episode?” The “yes” response would be registered as a thumbs up, and the percentage of yeses would factor into the overall episode score.
Integrating a voice assistant for podcast listening wouldn’t just be interesting when it comes to generating qualitative episode scores. Especially in the age of Alexa and HQ Trivia.
I’m not necessarily advocating for a next generation of live “call in” show podcasts, but I do believe there’s an interesting space to be explored when everyone listening has a microphone, ripe for use. Radiolab’s app has helped users record audio and submit it – that seems like just the tip of the audio engagement ladder.
Anchor has tried to build out similar responses, but the result hasn’t seen widespread adoption. Part of the issue with products that put a heavy focus on user-generated content is the same reason HitRecord has seen lackluster success: it’s really hard to create regularly compelling user-generated content. Great audio requires great editing.
That’s how you democratize audio editing, and production. When it’s easy to edit audio, quality increases, and audience grows. The editing tools of today are changing who listens, and the experience itself.
I can’t wait to see what’s just around the corner.