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July 6, 2017, 9:41 a.m.
Aggregation & Discovery

Podchaser, an “IMDb for podcasts,” is building a big tags-based database to help people discover shows

“One of our big advantages is we’re trying to build this bottom-up, feature-wise, and talking to a hundred different podcasts and tons of listeners and asking exactly what they want.”

One of the most common gripes about Apple among podcasters, particularly those with smaller audiences, is that the company hasn’t done enough to solve the industry’s discovery problem. While podcast listening continues to climb, it does so unevenly: Apple’s top podcasts charts are perpetually dominated by a shuffling, but largely identical, list of shows, all from established media brands: This American Life, Planet Money, How Stuff Works, Serial, etc. For smaller shows, it’s hard to break through.

The “podcast discovery is broken” maxim, now frustratingly familiar, has spawned no shortage of efforts looking to solve it. A new podcast database and discovery site, Podchaser, which is billing itself as the “IMDb of podcasts,” is also taking a swing at the issue with what it says is a new spin: a focus on podcast episodes rather than entire shows, as well user-generated tagging and episode-level reviews.

Podchaser, which is still somewhat barebones in its beta stage (it’s planning a public launch for October), will let users find popular and trending episodes among both smaller and established shows, offering an alternative to other discovery options. Other features in the product roadmap include the ability to follow specific hosts, producers, and even guests, IMDb-style, across shows. A tagging system will let users find shows through tags that describe a show’s topic (“indie gaming”), format (“casual conversation”), and other, more subjective criteria.

One of Podchaser’s primary goals is to help people discover more shows in the long tail of podcasts. “The biggest complaint you hear from podcasters is that the majority of them are only getting 1,000 listens per episode. They’re in iTunes, but the shows are in these super broad categories where people can’t find them,” said Bradley Davis, Podchaser’s CEO. He pointed to Saving The Game, a podcast that covers tabletop roleplaying games from a Christian perspective and that is listed in iTunes’ culture section. In Podchaser’s database, on the other hand, users would be able to discover it through multiple tags, including “Christianity” and “roleplaying games.” “It sucks to get buried under culture. You’re just never going to be found,” Davis said. (On the business side, Podchaser plans to make at least some of its cash by selling sponsored results in its rankings. It’s also considering some kind of paid analytics product.)

Podchaser is far from the first attempt to solve the podcast discovery problem, and it’s unlikely to be the last. Various attempts have tried the issue from different angles. There’s the app Breaker, for example, which lets people view other users’ listening history to find new shows. OMNY takes a personalized approach, using users’ tastes to make recommendations. Overcast has a feature that lets users find trending podcasts among their Twitter friends. And then there’s the recently launched podcast directory site Podsearch, which lets people search for shows by keywords.

Other efforts have quietly disappeared, such as ProductHunt’s influential podcast page, which the site shut down earlier this year. Pod.echo and Podcat, the latter of which also billed itself as an IMDb for podcasts, have also failed to make an impact so far. (It’s worth mentioning that Nick Quah, our resident podcasting expert and the brains behind the newsletter Hot Pod, isn’t convinced that the discovery problem is as significant as all of these products make it out to be.)

These attempts have proliferated largely because Apple, despite its outsize command and influence over the direction of the podcasting industry, has been historically blasé about addressing many of the more persistent challenges in podcasting, particularly around discovery, analytics, and advertising. That’s changing, albeit in small increments. Last month, Apple announced it would finally offer podcast producers in-episode analytics, giving them (and, just as importantly, their advertisers) much more insight into their listeners’ habits.

Podchaser says that its value proposition is unchanged in the wake of Apple’s announcement. The site anticipates that it will be able to build Apple’s data into its own analytics product, which will also include episode-level reviews, listener data, and other information that it thinks podcast hosts will use to improve their shows and build their audiences.

Despite discovery’s checkered past, Podchaser thinks it has staying power, thanks in large part to how it’s rolled out its product. The initial idea for the site emerged last year, when Davis asked members of the /r/podcasts subreddit  why it was still so hard to find new podcast episodes. Many users agreed, and chimed in with their own ideas about what features such a platform should include. Some users even offered to help develop the product. Podchaser has taken much of that early input to heart, using many of those early contributions to develop the site’s current and future features.

“One of our big advantages is we’re trying to build this bottom-up, feature-wise, and talking to a hundred different podcasts and tons of listeners and asking exactly what they want,” Davis said. At the same time, he said, Podchaser is consciously trying to keep the product small in an effort to avoid the feature creep that has bogged down previous similar efforts. “We’re not trying to be the next big podcast player. We’re a podcast database, first and foremost.”

Photo of earpods by marthinshl used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     July 6, 2017, 9:41 a.m.
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