It’s official: pure-play podcasts are hot in public radio.
American Public Media–home to national shows like Marketplace and A Prairie Home Companion–just launched the Infinite Guest podcast network. The network features six new podcasts, along with three national radio shows and three existing podcasts already in production.
The new podcasts include: Big Appetites, hosted by Pati Jinich from the Pati’s Mexican Table TV show and Sally Swift, co-creator of The Splendid Table, join forces on Big Appetites; Home Dunk, a sports show with Wits host John Moe; and a show about hip-hop artists called Secret Skin, hosted by L.A. based Mike Eagle.
The nationally syndicated shows are The Dinner Party Download, Wits and The Splendid Table. My guess is that their inclusion is intended to give an immediate boost to the new network by exposing it to these popular shows’ audiences.
“We know that listeners are moving to mobile platforms and they are hungry for rich conversations and content from interesting people,” said Peter Clowney, Managing Director of National Content Development and Arts & Ideas Programming.
APM’s Infinite Guest follows the Public Radio Exchange’s Radiotopia and WNYC adding three additional podcasts to its roster. All three are focused efforts to create born-digital programs that are not necessarily heard on broadcast.
While public radio jumped on the podcast train early on to distribute broadcast programs, and there have been a number of podcasts produced by both local stations and national networks, the podcast-centric approach of Infinite Guest, Radiotopia and WNYC’s SmartBinge marks a distinct shift in strategy. It’s one that recognizes how the Netflix-only House of Cards is treated interchangeably with a network show like Scandal. A viewer may have different expectations from AMC than from CBS, but the platform is less important than the content.
Actually, the platform is important, but only so far as the viewer can find the programs she wants, whether that’s live on broadcast, recorded on a PVR, on cable on-demand or streaming online. The fact that a show once was broadcast over the air or on cable is quickly becoming irrelevant.
At the same time, the channel and the producer do matter. Just as HBO is associated with Game of Thrones or Girls, public radio is associated with This American Life or All Things Considered. The problem for public radio networks and producers is that the term “public radio” is a catch-all; for a listener there’s a pretty wide gulf between Diane Rehm and Snap Judgement.
These new public radio podcast networks are efforts to create brands with a recognizable identity apart from “public radio,” or–to the chagrin of half of public radio–the generic “NPR.” The fact that being born-digital is a strong element recognizes that to many listeners This American Life and Radiolab are podcasts first, broadcast programs second.
Future survival and prosperity for public radio networks and producers not already affiliated with NPR will require building that identity–or brand, if you will–that rests upon the public radio foundation but is able to grow beyond the confines of preconceived notions and the organizational turgidness inherent in an affiliation of hundreds of non-commercial stations.
It will be interesting to see if new public radio podcast networks, like Infinite Guest, are successful in forging the next generation of public radio.