Steve Goldstein: Who’s going to listen to all of this stuff?

Steve Goldstein’s Amplifi Media works with media companies and podcasters in developing audio content strategies. Goldsteing writes frequently at Blogstein, the Amplifi blog.

Are you feeling overwhelmed with all of the choice you have in media? Scrolling through movies and originals on Netflix wondering what to watch, and when to watch. Do you find yourself making decisions based on whether it is a single episode or multi-season series?

Last year 495 TV shows were introduced. In 2002 that number was 182.

Somehow that feels quaint when comparing to the 200,000 new podcasts introduced last year. And to borrow Jeff Bezo’s term, that “complexifier” increases by roughly 2,000 each week. Titles. Not episodes.

Customers With Too Much Choice, In Virtually Any Category – Dresses, Toothpaste, Cereal – Frequently Have A Paralysis Of Indecision And Thus Resort To The Familiar

This past week, Erich Schwartzel wrote an interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal about Entertainment Overload and laments about something which often happens in our house; scrolling through Netflix for a while “only to settle, finally, on an old episode of “Friends.”

How can that be with so many great shows available?

New streaming services from Disney and others are on their way to compound the problem of infinite TV. To gain a better understanding of how consumers select content, Warner Bros. called in Brian Schwartz, a psychologist who nearly 20 years ago, wrote a popular book “The Paradox of Choice.” His job was to unlock the behavioral factors of overwhelmed viewers. In his work, Schwartz focused on striking the balance of enough choice to excite versus overwhelm. Customers with too much choice, in virtually any category – dresses, toothpaste, cereal – frequently have a paralysis of indecision and thus resort to the familiar.

Amazon Studio Chief Jennifer Salke worries about the “endless scroll.” “You’re, programming for an audience… not in the volume game.”

Imagine what is happening in podcasting with over 750,000 show titles and who knows how many episodes. The top complaint of newbie podcast listeners is the overwhelming choice, “endless scroll” and inability to determine what is worth listening to.

The sheer volume of podcasts should frighten anyone set to upload a new podcast title. How will the content be discovered? How will it distinguish itself from the other 120 wrestling podcasts out there?

Netflix Chief Reed Hastings wrote to investors “there are thousands of competitors in this highly fragmented market vying to entertain consumers and low barriers of entry for those great experiences.”

That applies to audio as well.

“The Paradox of Choice” is largely about people selecting the familiar when too many options present themselves. The unfair advantage goes to the incumbents who have established an image or notoriety in a sector.

One might argue that podcasting is too new to have an issue with familiarity but we already see the critical importance of brand names such as NPR, Wondery or Gimlet and their promotional megaphones to drive audience.

Last year’s podcast study from Edison research indicated that an average podcast listener will listen to 7 podcasts per week. 7 podcasts vs 770,000 titles. Those aren’t great odds.

As a good friend from commercial radio has said to me on many occasions, “choice kills.”

How many podcasts are in your cue that will likely not be listened to?

So, even with the long tail theory of podcasts serving niches, it begs the question, who is going to listen to all of this stuff?


Steve Goldstein