This podcast lark is by no means new, having first raised its voice back in the noughties when Internet was what it was and audio distribution became less the stuff of experts with the arrival on the scene of the slick, young, and compressed .mp3 format, coupled with some really simple syndication (RSS: allows users to access updates to content without having to surf web by web using news aggregators like Feedly).
This was the watershed moment for blogs, information was plentiful, we were up to our ears in written content and breathing audio life into them became an ever-increasingly attractive option. Everything was going just dandy, even Internet connection speed was growing like the megapixels of your camera and ‘video is king’ became the benchmark, and consequently, if you weren’t doing video, you were a nobody. Video platforms such as Vimeo, Dailymotion, Metacafe and YouTube jumped the ropes, took the ring, and straight from the shoulder, delivered a blinding right hook to the jaw … and audio hit the canvas.
For years, the video reigns supreme, master and commander of net-based information and entertainment. From the ultra-polished and professional to the bog-standard, home-baked product, it mattered not. Almost simultaneously, mobile screens expand like a middle-aged man’s waistline, smartphones gatecrash the party and video consumption and creation begin multiplying like bunnies. Making and sharing a video is duck soup once you remember the golden rule; always try to divulge something with what you do, but really, diving in headfirst; a simple carousel of holiday snaps from that family trip to Egypt rendered in video, even without soundtrack, appeared to us to be explaining much more than some rambling voice sprouting nonsense. (How things have changed, and if you don’t believe me, just try telling it to Andreu Buenafuente and his list of ‘Animales para dormir’).
Father Time marches (strolls) on and Mother Earth gives birth to social media, pushing the podcast out of the cradle as this new baby flourishes. Social media allows you to post text, add a pic and eventually, even a video, but zilch for voice . Blogs and podcasts —I like to draw the parallel— tread hand in hand along the shoulder of the information highway, endeavoring to hitch a ride, but nobody seems willing to pick them up as the ever-increasing volume of zeros and ones require more and more lanes to absorb the traffic. Speed limits go through the roof, and the faster cars go, the more we demand of them. But hang on, aren’t we supposed to be heading somewhere? Do we need a point B or don’t we? Nah… just hit the gas and torch that rubber ‘til you hit burnout. An information overload, content saturation, Justice League level of visual overdrive… in short, the excess noise has the brain screaming for silence. And if you don’t jam on those breaks, then, like the watchful driving instructor, a pandemic will do that for you.
Sometime earlier, in 2017, we began to detect the gentle fragrance of podcast once again in the air at EL TERRAT (The Mediapro Studio). ‘Late Motiv’ had recently gone on air and we were setting our sights set on the major leagues. If we can watch radio, then we can listen to television. We began uploading Andreu Buenafuente’s monologues, then progressed to the entire show. We then added David Broncano’s ‘La Resistencia’ and ‘LocoMundo’ by Quequé. We even upped the stakes wishing everyone a happy new year in 2018 with our yuletide podcast. And suddenly, we’re whacking all the moles. All three TV shows made their way into the 2018 Top 10 most popular on iTunes (rebaptized Apple Podcast) and we were popping corks and singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ with the year’s most popular podcast on iTunes under our belts for ‘La Resistencia’.
The podcast was back.
Nowadays, it’s just as easy (or complex, depending how you look at it) to make a video as it is a podcast. Video had lost all respect for the decor, the gift-wrapping. We no longer care whether the backdrop looks like an episode of ‘Hoarders’ with all that domestic squalor. We only ask that the sound be clearly audible, or at least that you haven’t gone into a tunnel and then hit record. If it’s a more ambitious production you’re after, then with a sprinkling of imagination and a pinch of sound effects, you can recreate any scenario with one hand tied behind your back. Paltry data usage and downloading to later enjoy so you can listen at grandma’s ranch without having to climb a tree, are just some of the tech upsides.
But the podcast has one mighty foe… the podcast itself. By design it’s made for distribution and to reach as many platforms as possible. Take for example an audio published on iVoox —the vital role it played went underrated for years— ends up replicated on Spreaker, Podimo, Google Podcast, Apple Podcast, Castbox, TuneIn, Podchaser… and in many cases, on a host of other platforms we’ve never even heard of. As such, monetization is rendered a galling task, and overall profitability is still a far-off beacon in the distance. The YouTube (pay per view) model doesn’t cut the mustard either. Imbedded ads, either on the platform or within the podcast itself, don’t generate sufficient ad revenue to cover the mortgage, despite this being the ideal moment to strike while the iron’s hot and fill the near void of advertisers who wouldn’t have to jostle for space to catch the eye.
In 2020, something in the wind suggests a resurgence of the medium thanks to a visual content overload and the endless noise produced by social media. iVoox had long been toiling away on their original digital content, only accessible to folk willing to disburse the subscription fee; Audible (Amazon) followed suit making inroads along the same path so they wouldn’t be left with a shop full of audiobooks on their hands; Spotify spot a chance to capitalize on the whole musical nest egg as well as the free catalog out there and published openly in podcast form to begin creating their own content; Podimo touches down in Spain on a mission to plant their flag and become the benchmark for exclusive digital content; Cadena SER — merely to mention one conventional radio station— continue going to bat for their own platform Podium and content they either cannot, or don’t fancy including in their radio programming schedule; meanwhile at EL TERRAT, we definitively establish a division dedicated exclusively to podcast production after testing the water came up trumps with the launch of ‘BobCast’ by Bob Pop, ‘Te Lo Tengo Dicho’ and producing exclusive content for platforms scheduled to see the light of day in 2021.
So, that’s what we were up to when the pandemic comes knocking, with shelter-in-place and sending predictions through the roof, but well through the roof. Podcast consumption undergoes a seismic shift with up 94% increase in listenership, countless hours of lockdown at home, watching-paint-dry levels of tedium coupled with teleworking gives for plenty of time to enjoy endless hours of content. Series, movies, Internet videos… all snowball, but podcast intake doesn’t require as much dedication. It’s perfect for listening to, in the background and haaaah!, manna from heaven for hours we’re let loose to circle the block or go running, earphones in. With a podcast in my ears, I can gaze upon the sea while listening to Andreu Buenafuente and Berto Romero in ‘Nadie Sabe Nada’. Piece of cake, but that’s the way it is.
All that jabber but I’m still asking, what’s a podcast?
Podcast: the vessel. Episode or chapter: content. In a nutshell, we could refer to any content distributed in audio format as a podcast, whether it be a radio show or TV program, voice notes (long or short), talks, conferences, fiction, documentaries, audiobooks… I’d refer to them as ‘formats. The same goes for video —as a medium—, in that you have movies and documentaries and they’re not the same thing. Then, from here we can discuss the ‘genres’: interviews, comedy, true crime, personal growth, meditation, cooking, horror… or the ever-growing ASMR (little noises, voices, sounds and other paraphernalia to help you unwind or sleep). To boot, for the hardcore podcast vet, program length is neither here nor there. Despite the average length falling somewhere between 25 to 40 minutes, we also have the extremes of ‘I wouldn’t even get out of bed for a 10-minuter’ to the ‘Two hours you say? Bring it on!’.
The case of ‘El Grupo’ by Sílvia Abril and Toni Acosta, a show we produce for SER radio, is out on its own. The show goes out at 3:30 am for graveyard shift workers and those of us who are insomniacs. Podcast format distribution is vital for easy listening at a later time, or on a Saturday morning over breakfast, but not just for that. As a result of the first lockdown back in 2020 and a demand for longer shows, we reinvented the program adding content to the initial 25-minute and achieving a distinct podcast stretching to between 40 and 45 minutes. The additional content consists of a prologue and epilogue to the radio broadcast which now wrap the main content of this podcast that started out life on Telegram from conversations and contributions from a group of over 7,000 participants and a channel with nigh on 4,000 subscribers.
Each podcast platform has its very own app for devices with greater or lesser success in terms of how attractive and easy to use they are, where you can follow podcasts and episode updates, add them to lists, download to enjoy later without chewing into your data allowance, and so on…
If you recall how easy it is to gain the technical know-how within our reach, today we can illustrate podcast recordings using video files and subsequently upload these to YouTube, thereby even further enhancing the potential for dissemination. But then of course, podcast platforms won’t be banging your door down to sign you up because after all, it’d be like making a movie for Netflix and then uploading it to YouTube for free.
Forecasts predict that in the coming years podcasting will gain traction reaching 35% of the quota of what’s consumed in the content jungle, not too shabby at all. That said, we still have plenty of ground to cover; making it profitable for creators; getting our heads around paying for exclusive content (with Movistar, Netflix, and HBO that’s already ‘in the bag’) and adopting podcasting as a definitive medium of entertainment and information. The most portable on demand of all formats.