Company News · August 20, 2008

Podcasting: The Curse of Convenience

By Edison Research

Edison recently gave a talk at the New Media Expo on the efficacy of podcast advertising and some additional data on the makeup of the audience for downloadable media. I concluded that talk with three points for my audience to ponder (and if you were there on that Friday afternoon, I’m honored and grateful you came.) The last point generated more talkabout than the first two, so I thought I would expand a bit here on what I meant by the curse of convenience:

Lots of folks came up to me afterwards to chat about this one! Here was my point: Downloadable media represents a solution for consumers who want to control their media and be the programmers of their own personal media experience. It’s one of the reasons I am so bullish on the space: regardless of the penetration and uptake of the word “podcasting” (which we currently have at 37%), the desire to listen to what you want, when you want and on whatever device you want will soon be ubiquitous. The “convenience” of podcasts is clearly a big selling point–why be tethered to a television set or a radio at a specific time and place when I can take content with me and consume it when I want? Kind of a no-brainer.

So, yes, the “convenience” of your podcast is a feature–even a benefit–but my point here is that it isn’t the feature you should lead with. What you should lead with is how incredible your content is, and why, even though it is available to be listened to at anytime, it should be listened to now, or at least on the day it is released. There are two very compelling reasons why:

If your content can be consumed any old time, then it is easy to put off until later–or never. In other words, given a choice between something that is time-sensitive or has some kind of urgency attached to it, and something that doesn’t, the squeaky wheel gets the grease every time. I find that there are a lot of podcasts in my iTunes repository that simply go unlistened to or unwatched because they get bumped to the back of the line behind more topical content. If there is no need to listen to a given podcast now, then it can often fall victim to the urgent.

Note that this “need” doesn’t have to be tied to a date or time, but to a context: if you train your audience that your lawn-care podcast is meant to be listened to when you mow your lawn, then you can begin to habituate your audience to strapping on their iPod every time they fire up the Lawnmaster 5000–and be assured of a consistent weekly reach.

Closely related to that issue is the hard fact that currently a typical podcast ad or sponsorship campaign can take longer to show results than campaigns across other media. With money, you can do anything–and I know that with money I can ensure that a radio listener or tv viewer will see my message at least 3x within a given, short window. With podcasts, because they are consumed asynchronously and over varying lengths of time, I have no control over reach and frequency within a given time window. A typical audience member might hear my message three times in a week and a half, or three times over six weeks. When you are competing for ad and sponsorship dollars with media that have a firmer grip on that reality, you start behind the eight-ball.

Now, here is the part I needed to do a better job elaborating upon at the NME, so let’s cover it here. None of this means that you can’t have evergreen content (indeed, you should) or that you need to “live stream” everything–nonsense. You keep doing that content voodoo you do, edited and produced to the level you see fit, and containing whatever content makes you passionate. Ultimately, selling that passion across to your audience (and transferring it, where appropriate, to relevant advertisers and sponsors) is what successfully monetizing your content is all about. I am merely suggesting that podcasters take a tip from broadcast radio and do everything in your power to create true appointment media–content that you could consume tomorrow or next week if you want to, but at some opportunity cost.

Think about how broadcast radio (especially music radio) does this every day. Theoretically there is no difference between a classic rock station at 10 AM and one at 10 PM–you could hear the same music at any time (and there’s a topic for a future column…) So the best broadcast radio stations build appointments for listeners to check in at, say, “9”, “2” and “5” (get it? 9-2-5?) to get clues for a contest, or give away concert tickets at 4 PM, or feature big benchmarks or promotions on the day when most listeners get and begin to fill out their Arbitron diaries (for the diary markets) in order to be fresh and top-of-mind when the ratings process begins. Gaming the system? Sure–but it is all about being indispensable. If your content can be listened to any old time, then what’s the rush?

Luckily, podcasters–especially independent subject matter experts who bring unsurpassed passion, commitment and focus to their programs–have one up on traditional media–the engagement of their audience, and their trust in you and the choices you make. For many of you, all you may have to do is “ask for the order” by reminding people to download your next show “next Friday at noon!” For podcasts that have a contextual or lifestyle hook, continually educate your viewers and listeners about how to use your show. Got a podcast about what is going on in your local market this weekend? Insist that it be listened to Friday on the way home. A fitness podcast? Take it with you every day to the gym. A meditation podcast? Call it “Lunchtime Meditation.”

The other advantage most new media producers have is a compelling web presence and a tightly integrated online community. If you give that community reasons to make a weekly (or semi-weekly, or bi-weekly) appointment with your show, and continually reinforce that with your community through a variety of social media outlets, they will come. Broadcasting your show live with an integrated chat or voice interaction component is certainly one way to drive appointment-based listening or viewing of a podcast that will be available for “convenient” consumption later, but not the only way. Even for highly edited or produced shows, there could be a time-sensitive interaction (download the show at noon and respond by five to hear your question on the very next show, for example–c’mon, y’all are more creative than I am!) Again, your ace in the hole here is the fact that podcasters are capable of maintaining deeper relationships and levels of trust with their audience than are most forms of media–never abuse that, but don’t hesitate to use it to your advantage by asking your audience to move your show a couple of notches up their consideration set.

Of course, the best way to be unmissable is to create unmissable content. I used my TiVo a lot this past year, but I watched American Idol and Lost on the nights they aired. From some of the new media stars I heard from and spoke with at the New Media Expo, I can tell you that it’s out there! But it never hurts to ask for the order, educate your audience, and make it inconvenient to put off your show for one day longer.

Thanks for reading.


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