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Podcast Survivor

Podcast Survivor: Podcast Networks, Part Trois

Generally speaking I don’t cover the debut of many new podcasts, or new podcast networks, for that matter. In part it’s due to practicality–it’s tough to keep up. More importantly, it’s because I’m interested in the underlying structure of podcasting. When I do write about a new show or network it’s spurred by an interesting or unique aspect in that enterprise that says something about the progress of the medium.

This week there was an announcement of a new tech podcast network. The reason why this particular new network is notable is that its debut comes on the heels of a debate in the technology podcast community about the value of networks, and because of the personalities behind it.

The new network is called Relay FM, co-founded by podcasters Myke Hurley and Stephen Hackett. One might call Hurley a podcast network veteran. He founded the 70Decibels network in 2011, which he then merged with the bigger, more established 5by5 network in 2013.

Thirteen months after that merger Hurley has moved on from 5by5 to Relay FM, which will release the first episodes of its five shows this coming Monday, August 18. Hurley explains on his blog that leaving 5by5 is motivated by the fact that, “I have new goals that I want to tackle, and to be able to do this I need to be independent again.” There’s no indication that the parting is anything but amicable. Only Hurley’s Pen Addict podcast seems to be making the jump with him to Relay FM. His other 5by5 shows appear to have ended.

In announcing his new network Hurley references the podcast network debate. One of the new shows on Relay, Analog(ue) is even co-hosted by Casey Liss, one of the hosts of the Accidental Tech Podcast with Marco Arment, the guy who touched off that network debate in the first place.

Hurley says that his principal reason for starting network is,

“I host six shows. Working on one show is a simple enough affair, but once you start to grow from there, it becomes a lot more tricky to scale. I don’t want to set up separate webpages for all of the shows that I do. For me, it makes most sense to put all my shows in one place that I can point people too. It’s as simple as that.”

Even though it has only one established podcast, Relay FM should benefit from the reputation and fan base of its hosts and principals within the tech community–a fan base that was built up on other networks, one must note. That arguably gives it a head start compared to a network started by comparative unknowns.

Of course, we’ll have to see how the network fairs in the longer run. However Relay FM works out in the next year or two, it’s important to keep in mind that the fortunes of any one podcast network don’t easily generalize to all podcast networks.

Let’s not forget that television and radio networks come and go, as do movie studios, publishing houses and record labels. Yet today there are more of each of those entities than there were twenty years ago, despite grand proclamations that the days of the network, studio, label or publisher are over. That’s not a statement of philosophy or teleology, just a simple observation of historical fact.

Sustaining any media making enterprise is hard work, and success often requires luck as much it does good strategy and perspiration. Success is also relative. While one podcaster might be happy getting by on a trickle of donations from grateful listeners, others want to create prosperous businesses that let them quit their day jobs or employ a team. That means failure, too, is relative. Like Mule, a network might decide to downsize or shut down when it becomes less fun and more hassle, while another podcaster might decide to call it a day on even a popular show simply because its run its course.

I certainly wish Relay FM success, by their own standards.

As I said before: networked and unaffiliated, may a billion podcasts bloom.

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