As podcasts go mainstream, will big companies pick up the slack?
As more and more people start listening to podcasts, it’s not hard to wonder if and when the big internet companies decide to step in to try and support the medium. The rise of smartphones and the spread of internet usage has given a boost to podcasting even in India but the more this medium grows the more chances there are of someone with deep pockets trying to become the YouTube of podcasting.
Much of the videos on the internet are hosted by two websites – Facebook and YouTube. Both of these sites have a huge following that keeps coming back to the websites. It’s hard to see anyone dislodging these two from their perch. Podcasting as a medium has so far managed to remain independent in large part because it is a niche interest. Apple ships its iOS devices with the Podcasts app preloaded, which displays a curated list of podcasts, much like the App Store for apps and the iTunes Store for music and TV. However, Apple does not host these podcasts on its servers, unlike its approach to apps, music, and videos.
While the iPod and iPhone were key to getting podcasting off the ground, it has since expanded to other platforms. Shows such as Serial and Marc Maron’s WTF podcast have helped boost the popularity of podcasts. A recent survey by Edison Research indicates that there are 46 million podcast listeners in the United States. In India, it’s still early days, but there’s great potential if the idea catches on.
But despite recent growth, podcasts still reach a relatively small number of people on the Internet. One of the main reasons for Serial’s popularity was its affiliation with This American Life, a show that airs on over 500 radio stations. This allowed Serial to reach a large audience from the start. Even so, Serial is considering unconventional websites such as music streaming service Pandora to expand its audience for the upcoming second season.
And while big-name podcasts are trying to go to new platforms, the reverse is also true. Besides Pandora, music streaming services including Spotify and Google Play Music have announced that they too want to host podcasts. And that could be the start of real trouble, down the line. So far, Apple has been content to be an index for podcasts, while these other services want to host them instead of just listing them.
This is both good and bad news for podcasters, the people who produce podcasts. The good thing is that their podcasts will load quickly on these services, they won’t have to incur hosting costs, and they’ll reach audiences who’ve never listened to a podcast before. The bad news is that one of these players could become a dominant player like YouTube and then charge a hefty commission on ads, in addition to dictating terms that podcasters will be forced to follow – something we’re already seeing in the industry. video space.
Another potential risk for independent podcasts could be that as they become constrained by corporate dictates, they will lose credibility. Currently, they enjoy higher ad rates than many other mediums, with rates as high as $25 (Rs. 1,650) per 1,000 plays for a 60-second ad in the United States. Indeed, the host usually reads these ads, often mixed with personal experience, which gives them an air of credibility. If podcasts follow the same path as the rest of Internet advertising, podcasters could find themselves increasingly dependent on their intermediaries to be able to support what they do.
At the moment, most podcasters are only concerned with reaching as many listeners as possible. The number of quality podcasts is increasing, but it may be too early to worry about walled gardens in podcasting when the vast majority of Internet users have never listened to a podcast. However, being shackled by corporate dictates could be the price podcasts will have to pay in exchange for reaching the masses.
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