Big media-based award ceremonies have one thing in common: most people who are interested in that type of media have more than a passing familiarity with the nominees and the winners of that particular award.
Look no further than the Oscars, the Emmys, and the Grammys for proof. If you’re the kind of person who’s interested in movies, television, or music; you are likely to have watched or listened to all of the winners and most of the nominees for one (or all) of those award shows.
I don’t think we can yet say that in podcasting.
And The Ambie Goes To...
Last night, I joined around 25,000 other people to watch the bestowing of the Ambies for the very first time. That’s the name of the annual awards ceremony from The Podcast Academy, of which I am a dues-paying member. I made a Podchaser list of all the 2021 Ambie winners because, unfathomably, the official page showcasing the winners on TPA’s website doesn’t contain links to actually listen to the show. Odd.
If you work in the podcasting industry, you’re probably familiar with the list of winners and nominees. Chances are, you’ve listened to most if not all of them. Because you’re in the industry, and it’s important to listen to “the competition” if you will.
But that’s us. I don’t have anything other than anecdotes to back this up, but I’d wager that if you polled the 80 million American’s who say they listen to podcasts on a weekly basis on which nominees and winners they’ve listened to, “none of the above” would be the most common answer.
Not because the nominees or winners weren’t deserving. It’s not as if the podcasts that won were dark horse candidates that languished in obscurity. No, these were among the biggest shows in podcasting today. And while you and I likely know about the shows and the production houses that helped make them, I don’t think the average weekly podcast listener would say the same.
Scrappy Podcasters Gonna Scrap
Why don’t more podcasts capture the attention of… well, everyone? I think it’s in large part due to the fractured, decentralized, and chaotic structure that’s been baked into podcasting since inception. We flipped a collective finger at big media two decades ago and are reaping what we sowed. And we’re OK with that, because that rebel streak is in our DNA. It’s who we are.
But that mentality didn’t seem to hold true among the winners last night, with professional production houses and networks taking home multiple Ambies. Big Podcasting media, which is a lot less fractured and a lot more centralized, has some pretty great chops.
And then there’s the prevalent perception that podcasting is dead simple, which is often paired with platitudes that literally anyone can start a podcast in their closet and quickly grab the brass ring at the top.
Is that possible? Yes.
Is it probable? Not so much.
Take another look at the nominees and winners from last night. I assure you it was not the easy road they traveled. And for those who might have recorded parts of their Ambie-winning podcasts in their closets, none of them sounded like they were recorded in a closet.
We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Tent
I genuinely love that so many groups, organizations, and individuals go out of their way to bring attention to shows that need more attention. There are a lot of good podcasts out there that need more exposure. May we always keep looking for those hidden gems and share them with the world.
But I can’t help but wonder if we're failing to give enough attention to the best-sounding shows. The kinds of shows that would attract those who’ve yet to pick up the podcasting habit. I fear that we (yes, I throw myself under the same bus) aren’t elevating high-quality shows from Big Podcasting because we don't think they need further elevating.
From our view inside the industry, it may look that way. Those shows and the studios behind them have “made it”, we think, and don’t need our help.
I get that attitude. Heck, I often embody that attitude. And while I love sharing weird, genre-breaking podcasts with the world, I recognize that none of them are going to be of any interest to people who aren’t already into podcasting. So am I helping to grow the medium?’
Putting Our Collective Best Foot Forward
I’ve been critical of podcasting award shows since… well, the beginning. Even though I’ve been on the receiving end and have been involved in the judging process. They’re either a little too navel-gazy to me or they devolve into pleading-for-attention popularity contests. That’s what originally attracted me to The Ambies: a focus on excellence in podcasting that would go beyond podcasting.
Award shows that commit to surfacing the best of the best will help raise the profile of podcasting, especially if they can attract the attention of other forms of media. It sucks that the anticipated in-person, celebrity-and-traditional-media-attracting, red carpet event The Podcast Academy envisioned wasn’t possible this year. Thanks, COVID-19. So I’m not sure how much additional media exposure this year’s event will generate. But it’s more than a few steps in the right direction.
But let’s be realistic: Awards ceremonies that elevate the best are a zero-sum game. When we elevate the best-sounding shows, all other shows lose. It doesn’t matter if you think a show is a winner. It doesn’t matter if the producers think their show is a winner. It doesn’t matter if the deeply engaged extant listening audience thinks the show they love is a winner. Statistically speaking, the show you or they want to win is going to lose. It probably won’t even be nominated.
So yes, we should absolutely bolster the up-and-coming, indie-minded podcaster. Without question, we should be working to bring new voices into podcasting. There’s plenty of room and we should go out of our way to make sure anyone curious about podcasting is encouraged to jump in.
But I also think we need to do our part in talking up award-winning podcasts to people outside of podcasting.
Take the first step by browsing through the list of winners from last night and adding a few to your listening queue. And then share those that you find compelling with your audience. They’ll appreciate your commitment to quality, I reckon.
And if you found this episode/article compelling, please go to BuyMeACoffee.com/evoterra and do just that. I could use it today, as I might have had more than one cocktail last night during the ceremony.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.