It's early June, which is an odd time for me to be pontificating about podcasting, as this is generally the month I take a break from producing episodes. But that was when I was releasing episodes four times a week and I needed a break! June is my birthday month and my wedding anniversary—33 years and counting, baby—was last week. That, and it's hot as hell in Phoenix! All those combined to make June a good time for me to pause and take stock mid-year. A short respite and a time to restate my assumptions for myself, my business, and the larger world of podcasting.
June is still a good month for me to do that. But instead of doing it quietly on my own, I can now podcast my way through it! And, not surprising, I've been doing a little bit of that pondering (OK, more than a little) on what serious podcasters like you should be pondering as the rest of the year progresses. Because the next six to 18 months are going to be weird. For a lot of reasons, ranging from political to technological to economic. And all of those factors, when they combine, are going to make new challenges—and opportunities—for podcasters of all shapes and sizes.
So today, I wanted to share with you just three of those challenges (opportunities) as I see them. Things on the horizon that will require shifts in your/our ways of thinking. Concepts that could do with some serious consideration on your part. I'm convinced that all of these will leave a mark on podcasting. What shape and what color that mark is I really don't know. Much of that is up to you and how you deal with them for your own podcasting efforts.
Dissing Of Programmatic Has Got To Stop
The first trend you need to weigh for yourself is the ongoing fad of dissing programmatic content. Yes, I mostly mean ads. Even if you don't sell CPM-based ads on your show (like I don't sell CPM-based ads on this show), you still should pay attention to this.
I think we podcasters, collectively, are too protective of our audiences. Yes, I know the relationship we podcasters have with our audiences is worth protecting. I'd never suggest you intentionally damage that relationship. But at the same time, I think the evidence is lacking when it comes to the likelihood that people will bail on our podcasts if we start running programmatic ads.
If anything, the evidence shows that, in general, audiences are pretty tolerant of hearing ads on podcasts. Yes, even programmatic ads.
And yes, I have read the exact same studies you read that show how much more "effective" hard-to-buy, baked-in, endorsement-style, host-read ads are when compared to every other form of advertising, especially announcer-read ad spots.
I don't doubt any of those studies. I just don't believe that the majority of companies eager to spend money on easy-to-buy programmatic ads care about those studies.
When it comes to buying ads en masse, easy wins. And yes, there are some exciting ad tech companies working to reduce the friction that's inherent with the host-read ad world. But that rate of change is far less rapid than what can happen and is happening with algorithmic automatic ad placements.
So even if you are anti-programmatic ads, at least be open to having your mind changed as the months progress. I'd hate to see you miss out on opportunities because you thought you were doing the right thing by protecting your audience. They're probably not as fragile as you think.
Stop Ignoring Video
The second trend I need you to think about is video. Specifically. I'm not so sure you'll be able to ignore video for much longer. Keep in mind that comment is coming from a guy who is and has been a staunch audio-first kind of guy. But this staunch audio-first kind of guy has been making full videos of this show available on my site and YouTube for a few years now.
I understand that podcasting as you and I know it is primarily for the ears. But for the new group of "listeners" coming to podcasting, they don't have that assumption. For many of them, there is an assumption that video will be and should be a part of their podcast experience. And when they don't find that video component on your podcast, they're going to wonder why you aren't providing that experience for them.
I think the question you need to start asking yourself over the next few months needs to shift away from Do I need a video component? to line up with the question those people are already asking: What's stopping you from having a video component?
Oh, and I don't think you'll be able to get away with a quick-and-dirty upload of an audiogram or just the side-by-side video of you and your co-host or guests captured by your remote recording software. Just like you don't upload your unedited audio files to your hosting platform—because you don't do that, right?—you're going to need to find the time and the tools to help you make a solid video. The good news is that there are less painful ways of doing that coming soon. But for now, start thinking about video for your show.
Lean Into Paid Subscriptions
The third and final thing I want you to contemplate over the next few months is paid subscriptions. Specifically, I want you to ask yourself why aren't you leaning into paid subscriptions?
"Podcasting should be free and open!", I can hear you shouting at me right now. The good news is that for the foreseeable future, we'll continue to have just that: free podcasts (many of them subsidized) that are available on the open web. Go podcasting! I don't see any of that changing anytime soon.
But having the majority of podcasting be free and open doesn't preclude a paid-for and closed subset of podcasting. Nor does a paid-for and closed subset of podcasting threaten the free and open majority of podcasting. Not in my mind. I think they can live happily side by side, simply because they are happily living side-by-side right now!
Both can keep and likely will keep growing. The question you should be asking yourself is how you can embrace both? Not should I?, but how can I?
What would you offer that would entice someone to sign up for a paid-for subscription? I don't think an ad-free or a responsive reversion is enough (he said, speaking from personal experience) and I don't think offering more content is enough either. (Actually, less content might be something your audience would be willing to pay for, which I know sounds weird).
There's little doubt that the friction for subscriptions is coming down quickly for both listeners and creators. So it's worth your time to consider how you can embrace this as a way to better serve your audience.
Those three are enough for right now. If over the next three to six months you can figure out how to adapt your show to take better advantage of just one of them—I think you'll win. And I think you and your show will sail through the challenges ahead.
I shall be back next week with yet another Podcast Pontifications.