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It’s Time to Blow Up Podcasting


Despite the rise in podcast usage there are still a ton of people who don’t know what podcasts are and couldn’t care less. Why?

This week in our twice-monthly podcast Media Unplugged, Tom Asacker and I discussed (among other things) how it could be that Seinfeld, an almost twenty-year-old TV show that has been re-run umpteen times, could be worth $90 million in streaming rights fees.

$90 million?!

So what does that have to do with the growing pains of podcasting?

A lot, I think.

Let me explain.

Podcasting was born as media by and for geeks. The content was primarily tech-oriented. To access that content you needed to know what an “RSS feed” was, you needed to have a “podcatcher” of some kind, and it helped if you owned the platform’s namesake, an iPod. And then, if you were either technically facile or really motivated, you got to experience the joys of podcast consumption, such as they were at the time.

The experience today is far easier, of course. But still far from easy, compared to the habitual and familiar way folks are accustomed to getting their audio – the radio. How else to explain the fact that This American Life’s Ira Glass had to produce a video to explain how “easy” podcast listening is – so easy even Ira’s elderly friend Mary could do it.

For the record, any time you have to create a video to demonstrate how easy something is, it’s not as easy as you think.

Chimps don’t need a video demo before taking to an iPad.

I tried to watch this video like a newbie and here’s what I got out of it (and this video is very well done): Gosh, listening to a podcast may not be hard but it’s hardly uncomplicated! Okay, I can go to the website and hit the “play” button – that’s easy. But all the rest – “download the app” and “subscribe” – there’s a word for that, and that word is “work.”

And nobody wants to “work” for “podcasts,” although – and this is important – they may want to work for YOUR podcast.

And that brings me back to Seinfeld.

No matter how Seinfeld is consumed – no matter what platform – it has value because the content – the show – has created that value. Seinfeld is worth $90 million because we – the audience – say it is. Which platform we find it on is a function of what platforms make it available and whatever is easiest and most convenient for us at any given time. Indeed, it’s the fact that we search for Seinfeld and don’t find it that makes up much of that $90 million streaming value.

Seinfeld is Seinfeld. It’s not TV. It’s not even video. It’s not DVD. It’s Seinfeld. And when we want it, we want it whatever way we want it.

Podcasters – those who created the space in particular – tend to view the distribution channel as a silo – a community of podcasters who podcast for those who know what podcasts are and are interested in consuming podcasts. They have been and continue to be woefully ignorant of this fundamental truth: Content knows no distribution channel boundary. Content is bigger than any distribution channel.

Podcasts are a simply a slice of audio entertainment or information, and that space also includes online radio, radio, audiobooks, and perhaps more.

In fact, when metrics for podcasting are as robust as they are for online and traditional radio, the dollars will flow into podcasting not because podcasting is different from these other platforms but because it is now fundamentally the same. In all cases we have human beings with ears seeking out stuff to listen to. And ad dollars will follow the ears no matter what you call your particular silo. In fact, if you really want those ad dollars to flow you should demolish the barriers to your silo.

So a big problem with podcasting in my view is that, as a category, it seeks to set itself apart.

But when you make a movie, do you make a TV movie or a theatrical movie or a DVD or a VOD or a YouTube or Amazon “Instant Video”? The answer is, of course, YES.

Podcasts are simply audio on-demand. And that’s why so many “podcasts” are listened to with the simple click of a play button on a website, desktop or mobile.

And audio on-demand is part of the larger audio space that includes radio, online radio, audiobooks, etc.

When a “podcast” hits it big, it becomes bigger than the narrow platform. In fact, that’s what “big” is. It becomes a brand with box sets and books and live performances and merchandise and spinoffs and new life on radio or satellite radio.

It becomes something we seek out across platforms because we love it. And we want it wherever we are and wherever we look.

The term “podcast” is surely awful, but that’s not the reason why “podcasting” remains so hard.

“Podcasting” remains hard because we expect people to embrace the platform rather than what’s on it.

Seinfeld shows the way.

the audio future festival
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