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CBS Radio Proves Me Wrong with its Play.It Podcast Network

Getting into the prediction game is always risky. Sure, hundreds of political pundits make their living forecasting elections, seemingly blithe to actual outcomes. But I’d prefer not to be wrong this quickly.

Early this morning I published this week’s Podcast Survivor feature, focused on my predictions for podcasting in 2015. Quite confidently, and without much additional discussion, I asserted, “I don’t hold out much hope that the commercial radio industry will make any meaningful investment in podcasting.”

Then, when I woke up I found a press release in my inbox from CBS Radio touting the company’s new Play.It podcast network. While the site features plenty of existing broadcast shows, from 60 Minutes to The Danny Bonaduce Show, there are also a bunch of new born-digital podcasts. For instance, there are shows like the @Sreee Show hosted by the Chief Digital Officer of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Top Talk with L.A.-based chef Pace Webb and Define Your Life with fitness trainer Shaun T.

CBS has also brought over some existing podcasts to the play.it platform, including The Meister Piece with Susie Meister and the marketing-centric UnPodcast. In fact, back in November the UnPodcast hosts discussed their deal with CBS on episode 49, noting that they hope to bring on some advertisers as a result.

There will also be shows created in partnership with outlets like Gawker’s Deadspin, Foursquare and Vox. Only one of these shows has been announced, the Vox Podcast with Ezra Klein, though the first episode has not yet debuted. While none of the new Play.It shows is particularly innovative, the approach represents solidly proven podcast strategy and is sufficiently different from the typical commercial radio offering.

Taking a page from public broadcasting, CBS seems to be using its new podcasts as a way to try out potential terrestrial programming. The company says that in the coming months Play.It programming will be available on some of its stations’ HD2 channels in some major markets. While HD-only channels have a limited audience, the adaptation to commercial broadcast is still significant (and means eligible podcasts have to keep it clean).

Although I predicted otherwise, I’m glad to be wrong. My prediction that commercial radio wouldn’t invest in podcasting isn’t because I want the industry to miss yet another digital lifeboat slowly passing by its sinking ship. It’s because for the last decade and a half I’ve watched the industry weigh itself down with debt while tossing overboard talent and anything resembling an innovative idea. I’m also not saying that Play.It is an innovative move. But it is a timely one, that shows some hope that CBS Radio has some clue about podcasting.

The test, of course, is how well Play.It can attract audience and advertisers. Like iHeartRadio, the platform benefits from its parent company’s network of stations to promote it. That’s not a guarantee of success, but it’s a leg up.

The real hurdle is for Play.It to learn the podcast market and not only use pages from the broadcast playbook. Just looking at today’s debut, CBS could have made a bigger splash with such a big announcement. So far I’ve only seen coverage of Play.It in the radio industry press; nothing even in the tech press. Aside from the popular podcast of the 60 Minutes audio, there’s not a hint of the Play.It shows in the iTunes charts. While I’m certain CBS plans to attract new listeners from terrestrial to its podcasts, it’s also a good idea to entice some podcast fans, too, with some promotion directed their way.

Having a big brand media name doesn’t hurt, but is not sufficient in and of itself in the podcasting world. It will be interesting to see if some of the new shows draw in enough audience to push their way into the charts. Even more interesting will be watching to see if any other big radio player follows CBS’s lead.


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