The Download on Podcasts is a weekly feature sponsored by PodcastOne.
Two recent innovations indicate that podcasting is entering the realm of lean-back Internet radio.
This column has complained about the persistence of a download mentality in podcast apps, making it difficult for users to stream programs, or even to be aware that streaming is available without downloading shows onto local devices.
There is also a core problem with podcast analytics, in which the download is the currency of listening metrics, even though downloading might not remotely correspond to whole-show or part-show listening.
These two issues combine to keep podcasting mired in its legacy as an audio category which is consumed via downloading — a holdover from a time when consumer bandwidth was too narrow for universal media streaming, especially in mobile. (When podcasting was invented, over a decade ago, “mobile” meant laptops for the most part.)
Things are starting to change now, in an unexpected way. Podcasting shows signs of migrating to streaming radio, where it can be exposed to different monetization mechanisms. On the consumer side, streaming podcast shows in passive listening environments changes it from on-demand audio to lean-back audio.
The most prominent example of this trend (if a trend it turns out to be) is the placement of Serial in Pandora. This deal is called an “exclusive,” largely because podcast streaming is unrecognized by the market generally, despite streaming availability in Apple’s Podcasts app and most other podcast apps. But there are differences. Pandora is the exclusive distributor among Internet radio platforms, for one thing. For another, Pandora has developed a unique presentation which slices up each Serial episode into five-minute audio bites. Doing that makes a long-form, on-demand audio show more like music tracks in a radio stream.
Along with that usability on the front end, Pandora can inject ads into the listening stream as it does between music tracks, which fully changes the nature of the podcast listening experience. As of now, Pandora is selling sponsorships that resemble public radio sponsor announcements, rather than injecting standard inventory. Warner Brothers has placed a movie campaign, and Esurance in on board for a campaign in Serial.
Live365 has an upcoming product rollout called Podcast2Radio, a platform for program creators and distributors which ingests podcast feeds and converts them to Internet radio streams. Those streams are then placed onto the Live365 platform alongside Internet radio music stations, as well as in TuneIn, Roku, Sonos, and many other listening avenues. Details are not available during this pre-launch period, but Live365 seems to be acting similarly to digital music distributors like TuneCore, which place music albums into Spotify, Rhapsody, and hundreds of other music services. Podcast2Radio aspires to provide instant distribution to podcasters, on platforms not usually associated with on-demand talk programming.
These innovations — if successful, adopted, and imitated — could make podcasts more discoverable and easy to hear. Discoverability and ease-of-use are two lingering problems with the category, which is still rather geeky for mainstream consumers. In theory, opening up podcasting to the lean-back market would weave the genre more tightly into the audio ecosystem, and increase its share of ear. (Although research companies might be challenged to separate Serial on Pandora from music on Pandora.)