Happy Birthday Earshot!
Exactly a year ago my professional offspring was born. Earshot Strategies was conceived in passion and in the midst of a love affair…..with podcasting! In the past twelve months, I have proudly witnessed it develop from a fledgling to a lively and growing business.
Casting aside the metaphor, the seed of the idea for Earshot Strategies grew from hours of listening to the range of new, inventive and exciting programmes being produced in the US. Alongside others, I discovered the magic of podcasts from hearing exceptional programmes including, ‘Serial’, ‘Start-Up’ ‘Invisiblia’, ‘S-Town’ and many more. These programmes brought new life into the old medium of radio. They allowed mass audiences to hear original programmes on demand – whenever and wherever convenient.
Podcasts captured my imagination, as I also considered their further possibilities. They enable producers to make programmes on subjects and for audiences that had not previously been served. Liberated from the constraints of transmission masts and broadcasting licenses, podcasts give a voice to the voiceless. They are the ‘audio campfire’ around which groups of listeners with common professional or personal interests can gather to hear and share ideas.
And so I decided to combine my years working in radio along with my experience in strategic communications to found a ‘podcast consultancy’, to help organizations make original, informative and entertaining programmes for niche audiences.
In the ensuing twelve months since Earshot was established I’ve seen the business develop and the world of podcasting continue its dizzying growth. I’ve been immersed in the world of online audio, as a producer, consultant, trainer and promoter. I’ve spoken to established programme makers, would-be producers, and a multitude of others who – like myself – are drawn to dynamic and creative world of podcasting.
In no particular order here are some of developments during which have caught my eye in the past year:
- For the fewer, not the many. Mass audience podcasts may get the attention (and the big numbers), but niche interest podcasts (on issues ranging from fertility to farming) are emerging in ever greater number and winning ever larger audiences.
- The ‘micro-niche podcast’ – how small is beautiful for some podcasters. Some programme makers are deliberately focusing on a small and tightly focused audience, rather than worrying about the absolute number of listeners. They are often commercially inclined and aimed at high level or specialized listeners – for example, ‘The Csuite Podcast’.
- A broadcasting tool for non-broadcasters. ‘Thought leaders’ who hadn’t previously ventured into broadcasting, have begun to get on board the podcasting bandwagon. Non-commercial organizations are investing time and resources in producing informative and original podcasts, highlighting their knowledge and perspectives (e.g. ‘A Dictionary of Finance’ from the European Investment Bank, and ‘The Jobs and Technology Podcast’ from the Asian Development Bank).
- The US still reigns supreme. Despite the emergence of some great British podcasts (‘My Dad Wrote A Porno’, ‘Answer Me This’ ), American producers (e.g. Gimlet Media, Crooked Media) lead the way by inventively making and monetizing podcasts (more of which will be explained and discussed in a future blog). Increasing numbers are also creating branded podcasts, e.g. Gimlet Creative.
- Getting a step up – the rise of podcast hosting platforms. Acast, Libsyn, Blubrry and other similar sites have been significant in helping novice broadcasters establish their ouput, and giving listeners an easily accessible venue for programmes.
- Catch (some of them) while you can. The profusion of podcasts is good news in producing some great listening. But some (many?) of these new programmes are likely to wither on the vine amid increasing competition, and insufficient audiences. The rules of natural selection apply in the world of podcasting, and many of today’s offerings are unlikely to be around in the future.
- Looking ahead and looking within. We’re likely to see podcasts increasingly deployed in internal communications by large organizations. Most programmes are currently aimed at general or niche audiences, but podcasts are under-exploited in generating connections and conversations within large companies, governmental and non-governmental organizations.
Beyond the points above, the main conclusion that I draw from the past twelve months of frenetic immersion in podcasts, is that they aren’t a fad and are here to stay as a major feature of the new media landscape.
Technology – both for the listener and the producer – means that they are easier than ever to access and to make. Unlike other media – blogs, videos etc. – they can be consumed on the go and don’t require our undivided attention. At the same time, audio is able to engage the brain unlike those other forms of communication, generating a strong bond between broadcaster and listener. This in turn translates into receptive and loyal audiences.
For Earshot Strategies this means a full year ahead of producing, listening, educating and learning. Twelve months from now, I hope to see the business developing further from its infancy so that it can stand even more firmly on its own two feet in the brave new world of podcasting.