With interest in podcasting at an unprecedented high, the medium needs to hang onto that momentum in 2015. That means new listeners attracted by Serial–or attracted by all the hype–need to find other shows to tide them over until season two comes out, and they need to be able to find and listen to those podcasts without enduring too much hassle.
Yet, if there is one big lesson to be learned from the Serial phenomenon it’s that podcasts really aren’t that difficult to listen to. Untold thousands–if not millions–of new podcast listeners managed to figure it out. So, it may not be that podcasts are such a pain to use, so much as folks need a compelling reason to seek them out. I would be very surprised if we don’t see an influx of new, interesting and innovative podcasts this coming year.
Nevertheless, anything that puts podcasts right in front of people’s faces–and in their ears–will encourage more people to try them out and potentially get hooked. That’s something I’m hoping for in 2015.
Wireless Speakers Take Podcasts Everywhere
A year ago I argued that in 2014 “podcasting must enter every room in the house,” and now podcasting is finding its way around.
For that I think we can thank the proliferation of Bluetooth speakers and car stereos, as well as other wireless speakers, which have made it very simple to untether smartphones from headphones. It’s not like Bluetooth devices and smartphone speakers haven’t been around for years. Rather, there are now so many options, and at the low end prices have come down so much that they’re becoming nearly ubiquitous commodities.
The old download-and-sync routine for loading podcasts on your smartphone is now, thankfully, a thing of the past. As a result you can quickly look up a new podcast, start playing it on your phone and then send that audio to headphones or speakers with little effort. This might even trigger more listening parties, like those which sprouted up around the final episode of Serial.
What Will Result from 2014’s Acquisitions?
Apple’s decision to make its Podcasts app a pre-installed part of iOS 8 certainly helped spur along Serial mania because it meant that millions of iPhone users didn’t even have to install a new app to start listening. The lack of a similar app as part of Android, then, is glaring, and represents a tiny, yet persistent speed bump in the road to wider adoption. It’s certainly no big deal for most users to install a new app, but having to do so introduces just a bit more friction into the system.
Indeed, Deezer’s acquisition of Stitcher and Apple’s purchase of Swell may very well bring us closer to having a new platform for podcasts. I see real potential in the combination of on-demand music and on-demand talk programming in one interface. Using just one app to access all on-demand audio simplifies things for the user.
Particularly in the car, having a single unified app puts on-demand audio more on a par with broadcast radio. The fact that Stitcher has dashboard integrations with major auto makers like Ford and GM was likely another factor that made the platform attractive to Deezer. If Apple integrates podcast functions from Swell with iTunes Radio and Beats Music, the company will have a route into the dashboard with CarPlay.
Since people don’t replace cars as often as smartphones, apps and operating systems, podcasting’s incursion into the smart dashboard will take longer than the next twelve months. But there’s still a good chance we’ll see the products of the Deezer/Stitcher and Apple/Swell combinations in 2015.
Growing Production, Growing the Business
It doesn’t take any special psychic powers to predict that more money and talent will pour into podcasting in 2015. While public radio producers will continue to use the medium as a proving ground for new shows and innovative approaches, I don’t hold out much hope that the commercial radio industry will make any meaningful investment in podcasting. And by investment, I mean in cultivating talent and producing new programs, not just redistributing terrestrial shows.
The low cost and complexity for production combined with greater public interest likely will attract more celebrities and public figures to podcasting, alongside people new to media production altogether. In turn, that should increase demand for producers who can take care of both the technical side of recording and distribution, as well as assist with development. I also think it this will catalyze the formation of more podcast networks to provide these services.
In 2015 we may also see the development of something more like a podcast studio. While a studio would provide production services like a network, it wouldn’t necessarily brand shows under a single banner. It might, like a film studio, record label or publishing house, simply fund and facilitate the development of new podcasts in exchange for a share of revenue.
While some film studios and record labels do have a recognizable character, such that audiences will seek out their products, this isn’t true across the board. When was the last time you heard someone say she is a fan of all Paramount movies or all Reprise records releases? In those examples the actual movie, artist or album is what people most identify with. The studio or labels’ brand can be nearly irrelevant.
Commensurate with an all-around increase in demand, I think we’ll see more full-service production services. Unlike a studio, a production company would provide services simply on a paid basis, not putting its name on the end product at all.
For the year ahead opportunities abound for podcasting, and in podcasting. Listen in.
We cover podcasting news and analysis every Wednesday in our Podcast Survivor feature.