Podcasting fights the hype

“2016 is going to be the year when the professionalizing podcast industry finds out if it’s able to earn its place in the media big leagues.”

If there’s anybody in this predictions series who should be unambiguously bullish on podcasting’s prospects in 2016, it should be me: some dude who works for a podcasting company by day and writes a newsletter about podcasts at night. But my optimism, if you can call it that, is less bullish than it is guarded, skeptical, focused.

nicholas-quahThat’s because I’m deathly certain of one thing: Despite all the renewed buzz around the medium, the future of podcasting is not guaranteed. Not in a digital media environment where opt-in experiences, which are increasingly becoming the status quo, are themselves becoming more determined by algorithms (via feed or playlist).

2016 is going to be the year when the professionalizing podcast industry finds out if it’s able to earn its place in the media big leagues, not only as the true successor to broadcast radio, but also as a formidable and dynamic media channel able to hold its own against music, video, games, and, soon, virtual reality.

To do any of that, the medium needs to prove three things:

  • Whether it can truly grow the overall audience pie, challenge entrenched audio distribution structures, and develop a creative ecosystem that’s more robust, inclusive, and aesthetically innovative than the existing commercial and public radio systems;
  • Whether it can justify and sustain its high CPMs, or whether it can successfully adapt its business models if CPMs end up falling once its novelty wears off, analytics catch up, and/or dynamic ad insertion technology kicks in at scale and reconstructs how value is created for advertisers.
  • Whether it can effectively cultivate productive relationships with distribution platforms — social, streaming, and/or whatever comes after — in order to establish its identity as a key media unit on mobile.

And how does the medium prove these things? Well, if I knew the answer, I’d probably be making a lot more than I do now. That said, I know that this young industry can do it, but only if it remembers two things:

  • The listener — the user, the audience member, the human being — should be at the heart of all choices. (Duh.)
  • Spoken audio is not immune to the decentralization that the rest of digital media is facing. (Not so duh.)

To reiterate: A future in podcasting is not inevitable. The onus is on us, the producers, companies, and technologists that love and believe in the medium, to make it so. And I know we can do it.

Nicholas Quah heads audience development at Panoply and writes the weekly Hot Pod column.