Podcasting Will Never Die

Podcasting will never die. That’s a bold statement to open with, but in it’s true to say the soul of podcasting is a hardier beast than many give it credit for. There’s been an awful lot of talk lately about the patent trolls threatening the future of podcasting, but before that all the podcast chatter centered around the three words “podcasting is back”. The die-hard podcast fans, myself included, will tell you it never left, but it’s fair to say that podcasting is bigger now than ever before.

So why are we threatened by patent litigation? If it came to pass that syndication of audio through a single URL, i.e. an RSS feed, was a violation of a patent and infringements should either be ceased or be prepared to pay the price, would this spell the death of podcasting? Take a moment to imagine all the podcasters out there right now. Imagine the passion it takes to record a regular podcast for little-to-no gain and more often than not, at a personal loss. Imagine the industries that are seeing a whole new market for their microphones, headphones, software and apps. Imagine the audience that has seen a whole new content stream from their favourite creators mouths to their ears spring up with rich, regular content. Now turn all of that off.

Just take a moment to think of those passionate podcasters, who tomorrow are unable to distribute their podcast to their fans. Imagine those microphone manufacturers who saw that potential industry disappear overnight. Think of the world where lovers of on-demand audio, are suddenly left without their beloved voices and their preferred medium. Now the real test, imagine a world when one of those people, cut off from podcasting as we know it, doesn’t find a way around it.

The problem of the patents is a uniquely American phenomenon. Although I will admit that I would be inconvenienced a little by the worst case scenario, the patent would not affect podcasters operating outside of the US. Theoretically, based on past events, anyone podcasting from inside the US, using a non-US host could still fall afoul of the troll, but the most obvious workaround for the rest of the world is to switch to a hosting provider based internationally (which would be a boom for whoever is first at bat).

There’s way more to it than that though. Although I love to sing the praises of Australian podcasts, I won’t pretend that the biggest producers and consumers do not reside somewhere between the Pacific and the North Atlantic. So, what do all the American podcasters do? Well, find a way around it. I’m not going to pretend to understand on what basis the podcast patent is supposed to restrict usage, but let’s look back a decade or so and you tell me what podcasting was then. Go back a couple more and tell me your experience of the internet. Look how much it’s changed in such a short time. Do you think podcasting will be unchanged ten years in the future? Try 20 years, will you even recognise podcasting to be anything like the delivery method we use today?

Not to say that we shouldn’t fight the patent troll, obviously many people and their business would be hurt by an unwelcome decision, preventing that is a worthy cause. It should be considered, however, that should we end up with victory, how long will we continue to use the disputed medium?

A conversation I had with some Australian podcasters recently was discussing the dilemma of breaking your podcast’s release schedule. In theory, with the syndication format, this won’t be an issue, as your listeners don’t need to tune in at a certain time, they’ll automatically receive your content when it’s published, but in practice that’s not how it works. Any podcasting coach will tell you to be regular and be consistent, you will create a habit in your listeners and you will grow your audience. So then, the syndication is not the factor that we desire. It’s the ease of access for our audience.

Take, for example, YouTube. Which bears little resemblance to podcasting in it’s delivery method, but it’s far-and-away more popular. Why? Because your average podcast listener could care less about RSS feeds and the details of the patent that is being fought for so strongly, they just want to hear your voice. As long as you are producing quality content then you will be heard. That is why podcasting will never die. You can take away our RSS feeds, but you can never take our content. Podcasting will find a way. As long as there’s a microphone and someone who wants to listen to your opinions, there will always be podcasting.

Joshua Liston, a serious name in Australian podcasting has recently launched his sixth concurrent podcast, Social Audio Think Tank, exploring why content is king and the tech stuff should come second. Full disclosure, I’m a co-host, but he’s the driving force behind it, so check out his other podcasts as well.

By Jackson Rogers of OzPodcasts.

54 Seconds (The Wadsworth Constant)

Podcasting is part of a strange realm of content where consumer engagement lives somewhere between the extremes of reading and watching. There’s whole books that could be written about the differences between these three mediums, and in fact I wrote a thesis about it a few years ago, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s just say that reading requires more use of the imagination, watching is quicker to engage and listening lies somewhere in between those two poles.

On the imagination scale, audio sits in a nice middle ground where our voices are doing half the work and the listener does the other half, the visual half, by themselves. This is a great advantage of audio, where it allows consumers to drive a car, exercise, and generally go about their business while enjoying your content. On the engagement scale, audio can often be left behind. The instant visual impact provided by video content allows video producers to hook their viewers and move straight into their content. Except the immediacy of video, where a title card can be all the introduction the audience needs, is rarely taken advantage of. This phenomenon of long, unnecessary introductions in online videos gave rise to what is known as The Wadsworth Constant.

Named for the handle of the Reddit user who introduced the concept, the Wadsworth Constant holds that the first 30% of any online video is easily skipped without missing any important content. YouTube even introduced a URL modifier (append &wadsworth=1 to the end of any YouTube URL) that instantly skips the first 30% of any video. Of course it isn’t true for every video, sometimes you may need to jump back for context, but try it out, you’d be surprised just how effective the constant is.

The Wadsworth Constant is a reliable way to skip the unnecessary introduction portion of most online videos, but it’s also an effective rule in other mediums. If we apply the Wadsworth Constant to this article, then we start at “jump” in the last sentence of the previous paragraph, skipping the context and getting right in to the take-away from this article…

What lessons can we learn from this when applying it to our podcasts? We’ve already learned that audio content is a great stimulant for the imagination and when listeners are engaged, the imagination element is a great tool to make your content more intimate and personal, but our problem is how to get over that initial barrier of getting the audience to listen.

Podcasting has the built in method of serialisation; releasing regular content to create a habit in the audience, ensuring that you don’t have to guide your audience over that hump every episode. This doesn’t help us get new listeners though, and if we get too reliant on this, it can even lose us our subscribers. One of my favourite podcasts is slowly increasing the advertising content they play at the top of the show. Obviously I’m happy to tolerate a few advertisements for free, daily content, but when there’s 180 seconds of advertising played, even before the intro theme is heard, it can be easy to switch to another podcast that doesn’t have that kind of barrier. If I were a new listener it would be even easier for me to turn off. This isn’t an article about advertising, so let’s not go any further into that, but the lesson to be learned is that front-loading your show with advertising, introductions, theme music and other secondary content can be a barrier to entry for your audience.

How fast can you get from the audience pressing play on your podcast to hearing the content they downloaded your show to listen to? A theme song can be a good device for framing your show and putting your audience in a familiar mindset for your podcast, but it’s a hangover from old media content where it could signal the transition from one show to the next. In the stand-alone podcast world, do you need it? Advertisers obviously pay a premium to be read at the top of the show, where they are guaranteed to be heard, but if you’re loading three minutes of sponsors before a single second of content, how can you be sure your listeners aren’t skipping forward, or worse, switching off? Advertisers won’t keep paying those premiums if you don’t deliver your audience effectively.

If your podcast runs for more than ten minutes it’s likely that 30% is over-reaching. For an hour show the applied constant would mean that the first eighteen minutes are disposable. If you have eighteen minutes of fluff and filler at the start of your podcast then you should have very grave concerns about the quality of your content. Let’s go back to the examples I gave earlier, of the podcast that loaded three minutes of advertising at the top of the show. If we apply the Wadsworth Constant to this example, we get 54 seconds that is not needed. Can you get to your main content within 54 seconds of the show starting? Can you have your advertising, theme music and introductions completed in under a minute? If you do you might find your audience quicker to engage with you. Forcing yourself to skip the fluff will also help you tighten up your show. Don’t forget the Wadsworth Constant can be applied multiple times. Applying it to this paragraph three times discards everything before the salient question, “Can you get to your main content within 54 seconds of the show starting?”

Try it out and see if you can streamline your podcast.

If you want to hear further discussion on this, I discussed it on my podcast with Joshua Liston, Social Audio Think Tank. If you want to know more about the Wadsworth Constant then you can read the genesis of the term from Know Your Meme.

Written by Jackson Rogers (OzPodcasts)