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Are celebrities making it harder for indie podcasters? That is the current buzz as of late. For those of us who’ve been in this space for a long time, we’ve heard similar sounds of frustration before.
No sir, we collectively don’t like it. We don’t like when big players—big companies, big tech, or big celebrities—come in and try to take over our space. Space that we built from the ground up, spilling more than a few drops of blood, sweat, and tears along the way. And here they come, taking full advantage of the time, energy, and effort we spent laying the groundwork that made podcasting what it is today.
I get that. But I don’t see quite the same need for alarm as others.
I’m not as worried because I know the internet is pretty big. Vast, one might say. The internet as the repository of most of the digital content of the world—so yes, podcasting too—is big enough to hold indie and celebrity podcasts. In fact, it kinda has to.
You May Like This Celebrity Podcast
But I do agree with many of my fellow podcasters and concerned denizens of the podosphere that celebrity podcasters don’t face the same “discoverability” challenges as we do.
(I’ll set aside my doubts on the perception of the entire “discoverability problem” for another episode, or we’ll be here all day.)
Podcast listening apps and directories love celebrity podcasts. A fair amount of “discovering” happens on the home screens of podcast listening apps and directories, and curators of those apps trip over themselves to get the latest celebrity podcast in front of every user of their app.
You and I may be snooty podcast listeners who ignore those home screens and instead rely on other more reliable sources to surface new shows for our listening pleasure. But none of us should underestimate the number of people who will faithfully listen to whatever podcasts are curated by their app, with very little “personalizing”. They are legion. And celebrities pique their interest, so you can bet they’re going to give the latest celebrity podcast a go.
That’s important to app makers who rely on MAUs—monthly active users—as a way to prove the efficacy of their apps. And to please their investors. They need to keep making charts that show “up and to the right” trendlines, and that means pushing content likely to get clicked. Household-name celebrities with podcasts are a sure-fire way to make that happen.
Is “Good Enough” Good Enough?
With marketing budgets, dedicated PR campaigns, and large social media followings, it’s a safe bet that the next celebrity podcast will debut on just about every podcast listening app or directory’s home page. And so long as those shows are good, the rest of the podcasts that may not make it to the home page can still benefit from the “spillover” effect of listeners who decide to dive deeper into this thing called podcasting.
But I worry that low-effort—and therefore low-quality—celebrity podcasts may have a chilling effect on podcasting.
That’s not really a concern today. Celebrity podcasts tend to be well-funded and often produced by production houses with a track record for making great-sounding shows. The entire celebrity-based-media-property ecosystem is built on the idea of spending lots of money to make even more money. Podcasting, in comparison to TV or film, is a lot less expensive. So, in theory, it should be easier to recoup the money invested into a celebrity podcast.
But as anyone who’s been in podcasting long enough can tell you, there’s no guarantee of profits with podcasting. Even a podcast with a big star attached.
So what happens when the income attributed to the podcast—ad sales, merch, whatever—fails to hit projections? TV & film studios know well the risk of making a production that doesn’t make money, and they’ve myriad ways to lower costs so they can keep cranking out content while not hemorrhaging money.
While the money to fund future celebrity podcasts may shrink, I don’t think the demand from celebrities themselves will shrink. Faced with the pressure of more celebrities wanting their own podcasts and less excitement from the money-holders to spend tends of thousands (or more) per episode, they’ll just go cheaper, lowering the quality bit by bit to squeeze more profits out the other end.
While you and I might be punished by listeners for lowering our quality bit by bit; the fans of the celebrity won’t care about a low-quality podcast. Fans have a high tolerance for mediocrity, as they really just want more and more from the celebrity who they are fanatical about. No matter how much it offends our refined ears.
And therein lies the danger, I think.
Think again of the large number of people who listen to whatever their podcast app pushes when they’re in the mood for a new show. If the featured podcast by a recognizable celebrity stinks, non-fans won’t keep listening for long. And if the other celebrity podcasts who also share the same carousel also stink, they’re not going to keep clicking in hopes of finding a diamond in the rough. And when their other choices on the app’s home page don’t look interesting, they may never again open the app, assuming it’s filled with… blah.
A few bad experiences with recommended shows from apps or directories could have them looking like the magazines in the checkout line of your grocery store. That place is great for those into low-quality, salacious stories. But of little value to anyone else.
If the promoted listings in apps are filled with junk, a lot of people are going to stop using the app to find good content. Instead, when they’re in the mood for something to listen to, they’ll turn to other apps on their mobile that consistently give them good things to listen to. It could be their preferred music app, filled with music curated to their tastes. Or if they want spoken word content, they may stick with audiobooks, where the listener can be sure that best-selling, high-quality titles will be readily available to them. Whichever way they go, they’ll likely have a great listening experience. Or at least much better than offered by that podcast listening app.
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Apps And Directories To The Rescue
No, I don’t think that a trend in lower-quality celebrity podcasts will be the death knell for our industry. And even though I’m not likely to listen to a celebrity podcast just because it’s from a celebrity, I'm not anti-celebrity podcast. I still believe that celebrity podcasts can, do, and will continue to bring new listeners into our ecosystem.
What we need is for the developers, designers, and curators of content for podcast listening apps and directories to pay close attention to their metrics. Instead of just feeding fans more celebrity stuff, we need them to take a longer view and present a sort of well-balanced diet with their recommendations that draw users deeper into the app.
Podcasting has a lot to offer listeners, including celebrity podcasts. We need apps that care about the entirety of podcasting. We need them to care about being excellent on-ramps to podcasting, getting the right content in front of their users to keep them happy. They’ve a big part to play as we try to survive this flood of celebrity podcasts. Which we will!
New Baby And Value Payback
A quick congratulatory note to Bryan Barletta of Sounds Profitable. He and his wife, Sierra—in fact, mostly Sierra—welcomed their second child into their household. Bridger looks like a happy baby. Mom and Dad look proud. And tired. But mostly proud.
Bryan, in case you don't know, writes (and I edit) the Sounds Profitable newsletter and podcast, two things that should be in your media consumption pathway, working podcaster.
And if you got any value of today's episode or the other episodes I bring to you four days a week, please return that value by visiting BuyMeACoffee.com/evoterra, and buying me a virtual coffee. Or twelve.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.