Podcasting Concerns (first of a series) – PodcastAwards

I really appreciate the late-night instant messaging conversations with my friend Matt, especially when they turn into enlightening discussions. Tonight we had an excellent discussion on the current state of affair in Podcasts, the second conversation of it’s kind in less than a month. It was a pretty random conversation, but I felt it would be helpful to reflect on a few of the points that were brought up.

Matt and I started getting into Podcasts around the same time, the beginning of 2006. Throughout this time we’ve both been enthusiastic listeners, both subscribing to about 30 podcasts each and doing a decent job of keeping up-to-date. We both prefer the anonymity of simply listening (I’ve submitted audio comments twice before, and both of us have sent rare emails in feedback). Both being tech enthusiasts, we’re extremely excited about this new broadcast medium. However, 7 months later we find ourselves growing frustrated with the increasing gap between the Podcasters and their current/potential listeners.

Our conversations have been quite complex and detailed, which forces me to break down our thoughts into different sections. In the interests of time and screen-space, I will break down our analysis of this issue into a few different postings over the next few days. Also please note that these postings reflect my opinions and may not necessarily be shared by Matt. Hopefully when Matt survives his summer sessions he’ll be able to offer his thoughts on these matters.

Latest Example: the current Podcast Awards: the nomination process and the final ballot. A few weeks ago, the web site solicited nominations from their users in the form of individual submissions. Like many, Matt and I participated in the nomination process and were eager to see the final ballot. After seeing the finalists unveiled, we were both definitely disappointed with the nominees – not because our favorites weren’t nominated – but by some of the glaring omissions and inconsistencies on the ballot. A good representation of this is the Technology / Science Category, where some big-name tech podcasts, namely This Week in Tech (statistically-speaking, one of the most popular Podcasts on the Internet). Furthermore, the nominations don’t do a good job of sync’ing up with the rankings of some of the larger Podcast directories: Podcast Alley (#X) and iTunes (#Y):

  • Absolute Science (#10), (#39 in Science)
  • Diggnation (#9), (#3)
  • Mike Tech Show (#4), (Not listed)
  • Security Now (#19), (#16)
  • The Naked Scientist (#12), (#17)

I recognize that 50% of the nomination process was handled by a quantitative nominations, and I am not advocating that PodCastAwards simply take the top 5 listed in a category and place it on a ballot – but I think evidence confirms that there is no way to accurately gauge a Podcast’s popularity.

I struggle with the inconsistency of the Podcasts nominated. When I wear my tin-foil hat, part of me believes there was a deliberate disregard for the larger "corporate" podcasts, shows sponsored by bigger media outlets. After removing my hat, I am concerned that PodcastAwards didn’t create avenues to recognize shows that are not actively participating in the nomination process. I listened to many of the "finalist" casts before and during the nomination process, and many of them were appealing to their subscribers to nominate their show. It’s great to see the active participation rewarded, but does that invalidate the Podcast (and especially their audience) that didn’t hear about the awards? I have a lot of appreciation for the efforts of PodCastAwards, and I don’t suggest that this exercise is invalid. However, if the awards want to live up to their slogan of "The People’s Choice", further tweaks to the nomination process are needed. Right now I think the more appropriate term for these awards are the "Independent Podcaster Awards".

This leads me to my struggle between Listeners and Podcasters, and the advocacy the Podcasters (including those running the awards) need to meet listeners where they are and not where they’d like them to be. iTunes is a big reason why Podcasting has grown immensely – maybe there’s opportunity to incorporate the iTunes ranking into the nomination process. There needs to be some way to engage the casual listener to participate, even if in a detached capacity. I’ve found that Podcasters are really good at "preaching to the choir", but are still challenged by evangelizing outside the comforts of their subscription-base.