Are podcasts “dying”?

“Are podcasts dying? Have they peaked?” I wondered to myself when I saw some of the research presented at “Podcast Day 24” in Sydney. In relation to podcasts, the United States has always been a little ahead of the game. Compared with Australia, there has always been a greater awareness and use of podcasts in the United States until this year.

Australia now seems to be ahead of the United States, which made me wonder “Have we finally caught up?”, or “Have things peaked in America”. It’s hard to know for sure, though the vibe from today’s conference was that the industry was “maturing”, and that maybe some of the extraordinary growth in the past few years has come to an end.

I can’t remember who it was, but someone noted there was fear in the industry about the possible impact of COVID. As people worked from home, there was a fear there might be less podcast listening, as people stopped taking public transport. But they started walking a lot more. And there has been a significant increase in in-car apps from Apple and Google, meaning people have actually been more likely to listen to podcasts. And most people listen to podcasts from home!! Like seriously, most people.

“Being a radio guy, I know it’s all about routines”, one of the panellists said today, noting the challenge for podcast listening now was to re-establish routines. With radio, people get up, turn on the radio, and it sets them up for their day. The research around podcasts is that, on average, people listen to seven each week. Obviously, some people listen more and others less. The challenge is how you make your podcasts interesting/distinctive enough to be part of people’s lives. “You need a 50/50 rule”, one of the panellists today said, noting “You need to spend 50% of your effort finding audiences for your podcast, not just creating it”.

This was the second time I’ve attended this conference and actually enjoyed it much more than the previous one in 2021. “You almost had too much content this year”, I said to the organiser, James Cridland. By the end of the day, my brain was “full” of many ideas and thoughts for the futurue. “I haven’t been making notes, as much, as action points”, I said to a colleague who I sat with for most of the day.

She’s very active in the audio on-demand space, whereas my interest is very much around the state of the radio… um… er ah… I’m supposed to just say “audio” now, space.

As a “radio person”, I was especially interested in how some of the “rules” of radio apply equally to podcasts. For example, there was a presentation about the effectiveness of “live reads” vs “promos” in promoting further listening and advertisers (it wasn’t just an ABC conference, with lots of commercial people there too!). There were no surprises for me in the research: a presenter telling you to listen to something else, or to buy a product is more effective than an advertisement read by someone else. But for me, the “takeaway” was that we likely aren’t doing enough of this on podcasts. With the exception of someone like Leo Laporte who is a master at this, I think there is likely too much of a gap between the high-end “art” podcasts, and the more informal “two blokes around a kitchen table” style of podcast. “There is still a lot to learn from the middle ground lessons of 100 years of radio craft”, I said to someone.

Some research about promoting your podcasts. The impact of an unscripted live read from the host, a scripted one, and a pre-recorded read from someone else.
Some research about promoting your podcasts. The impact of an unscripted live read from the host, a scripted one, and a pre-recorded read from someone else.

Another highlight for me was a presentation by Siobhan McHugh, a “veteran” radio producer who now works in academia, but still keeps her hands “dirty” by making podcasts. I first met her maybe 30 years ago when she did a wonderful oral history project about the people who worked on the Snowy Mountains scheme. https://siobhanmchugh.org/the-snowy/ More recently, she worked on a project with Patrick Abboud about the “special” gaols for gay men in Australia. https://www.patrickabboud.com/podcasts/the-greatest-menace She spoke about structure and sound in the creation of podcasts. She is wonderfully inspiring with her enthusiastic love of sound.

Wonderful presentation by Siobhan McHugh about structure within a podcast episode.
Wonderful presentation by Siobhan McHugh about structure within a podcast episode.

From a different generation, there was the wonderful story of a couple of young people from radio backgrounds who fell “accidentally” into podcasting, and who are now working full time on a podcast that’s been picked up by Spotify. https://open.spotify.com/show/5OzkclFjD6iAjtAuo7aIYt

Ryan and Toni

In particular, I loved how they spoke about their affection for their audience. “Do you think we should do the Spotify deal?” they asked them. Ryan spoke about the time it takes, but always responding to the comments from listeners. “I love their work ethic”, one of my colleagues commented. There was no sense of “privilege” that you sometimes/often find from people in the media.

Even though the conference is very much a “nerd fest” for those of us who work in the industry, I picked up a few listening suggestions along the way too.

The audience watches and LISTENS
The audience watches and LISTENS
Scott Stephens and Waleed Aly from The Minefield on video from Melbourne
Scott Stephens and Waleed Aly from The Minefield on video from Melbourne
With some of my colleages from "our part of the ABC": Blythe, Angela and Oscar
With some of my colleagues from “our part of the ABC”: Blythe, Angela and Oscar
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