Surviving The Balkanization Of Podcasting
The decentralized nature of podcasting has made it resilient for 16 years. But with countries threatening to block tech and media companies they deem a threat, the ramifications for us could be dire.
I didn't have “singalong social video app brings us to the brink of war” on my 2020 bingo card. Perhaps you did. But here we are. You likely heard the news the administration of these United States is putting the squeeze on Tencent, a company from China that runs or has an interest in the social apps TikTok and WeChat. But Tencent’s interests are much more diverse, with ownership plays in a lot of tech, media, and entertainment companies around the world.
And what is podcasting if not the intersection of tech, media, and entertainment?
I don’t know what ownership stakes Tencent has in podcasting. And at least for the purposes of this article, I’m not fretting Americans’ loss of access to TikTok or Wechat. But it does allow for a great framing to talk about what balkanization could do to podcasting as we’ve known it for the last 16 years.
Sovereign Is As Sovereign Does
Countries get to decide what will and will not happen inside their borders. They also control what travels through their borders. Even in our information age with a global internet that, with few exceptions, lets anyone around the world access the same information as anyone else, countries exhibit control. As part of (or perhaps an overstep of) that control, then can (and do) make seemingly unreasonable demands on the companies that provide the tech, media, and entertainment accessed by their citizens or subjects.
Take, for instance, India’s stance against content flagged as “Explicit” in Apple Podcasts. According to my friend Rob Walch from Libsyn (and I’ve zero reasons to doubt the veracity of his claim), if you flag even a single episode of your podcast as explicit, the entire show will not be displayed to users of Apple Podcasts in India. This isn’t a new policy. It’s been that way since as long as I can remember. Nor is India the only country that excludes certain types of content. But it is a rather large country filled with people hungry more media-based entertainment.
Unreasonable Demands Beget More Unreasonable Demands
The current administration’s beef with TikTok and China’s retaliation could just be the opening salvos in an ill-fated battle of wills that could both escalate and spread to other countries. It’s the ramifications of the retaliations that concerns me.
There are a few podcasting apps that have Chinese connections. Will they get caught up in the purge? And will China in turn block podcasting apps owned by American companies? Or will either country (or both countries) place onerous demands on tech companies, making it too arduous to operate, resulting in self-imposed geo-banning?
Yes, a quality VPN (Express VPN worked great for me the couple times I visited China) will get you around many of the geo-blocks in place when you travel. But they’re not all that convenient for long-term use as countries work to thwart their efforts. All that without getting into the possible legal ramifications of citizens working around government-imposed boycotts. Espionage charges probably aren’t fun to fight in any court.
The Solution: Distribution And Diversification
If (as?) these escalations continue - and spread - we should expect to see restrictions placed on apps and directories that list our content. When the citizens or subjects of a country are no longer able to use a popular podcast app to listen and/or find new content, they won’t stop listening to podcasts. They’ll find another app that does work in their country.
Are your podcasts listed in that new app?
That concern doesn’t keep me up at night. Nor is sleep disrupted for the couple dozen clients who trust my firm to manage their podcasts. We rest easy because we’ve worked hard to ensure we’ve distributed all shows on a diverse set of relevant podcast apps and directories. Effectively all of them.
If a big country with a billion people suddenly blocks the #1 podcast listening app everywhere else, we’re not worried. Citizens in that country will simply (grumbling all the way, I’m sure) switch to another podcast listening app that works. And our shows are already there.
My go-to-source for relevant podcast directories and apps is maintained by James Cridland of Podnews.net. Check out his aptly titled page “How to add your podcast to every directory” and make sure your shows are listed on all of those places. And if not, fix it!
Don’t Let National Pride Block Your Podcasts’ Success
My globalist leanings are on full display, but I think it’s important that your podcast be available everywhere and to everyone, regardless of how their government feels about your government. Furthermore, I think it’s important that podcasters continue to grow their audiences outside of the base where their current advertisers want impressions.
I don’t see an immediate end to the current political bickering and tit-for-tat tech fight we’re in today. Feel free to draw your own lines in the sand, but my advice remains what it has been: Be everywhere anyone wants to listen to podcasts.
The balkanization of podcasting will happen. The best thing that working podcasters like us can do to protect our shows and our audience growth is to make sure our voices are spread as widely as possible. And that means distribution in a diversified fashion.
To think otherwise is anathema to me, and rather short-sighted.
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And finally, there are many brand new podcasters out there who do not know the importance of diversification in their distribution and only list their show in one or two places. If you know of a baby podcaster, send them a link to this episode so they can better understand why - and how and where - they should distribute their feed, would you?
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.