18// Are There Too Many Podcasts?
On the perception of sameness and the need to be unique
Back with another post on podcasts.
When i asked Finn about what he saw as the challenges to the industry he cited the number of podcasters interviewing the same people and coming out with a similar sounding interview.
Content pollution, as he called it.
So today, we’re talking challenges, primarily the perception of their being too many podcasts and content pollution.
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The cliche that “everyone has a podcast” has now become “there are too many podcasts”. In running, it’s easy to see why people think that.
It’s hard to quantify the number of podcasts there are about running – Apple’s charts stop at 250, and some podcasts don’t even have a variant on ‘running’ in their title or bio. But if you live long enough on running Twitter, the volume and frequency of posts about ‘new podcasts dropped’ is quite jarring.
Across the format, COVID catalysed podcast growth with over a million new podcasts created and almost 30m new episodes in 2020 alone. This has started to decelerate to 2019 levels, but already industry execs state that their revenue per podcasts is declining.
Without knowing how many trail running podcasts there are and the listener numbers to each and every one of them, it’s hard to say that the market for podcasts is saturated and there are ‘too many podcasts’. It can be said that it certainly feels like there are too many – and that perception is the problem. For me, it’s not that there are too many, it’s that they feel the same.
Finn touched upon this in my recent post on the state of trail running podcasts, that one thing he is concerned about is content pollution. A combination of multiple podcasts with the same one-to-one interview structure and the same guests saying the same thing makes this a noxious contaminant of sameness that bores the audience and holds the industry back. These same podcasters are all competing for similar audiences (and that prized long run listen spot), and further up the charts, competing for a similar pool of sponsors.
Whilst imitation in most markets is a race to the bottom, Interviews are the bread and butter of podcasting and are central to their appeal. For the host, you do your research, set some points of discussion, press record and away you go. For the audience, the intimate nature of hearing people talking directly into your ear makes it feel as if you’re in the room. You hear the laughter, sense the tension in their intonation and thought in their pauses. It’s a shared experience thats unique to audio. It’s one of the main reasons podcasts are so popular with runners: hearing from the invisible community of runners makes you feel like you're part of a tribe, you learn from the best and it raises your enjoyment of the sport.
That shared enjoyment in podcasts is evident in the data, where the overall audience of runners who listen to podcasts is growing, and at a faster rate than the average. Between October 2021 and September 2022, the percentage of runners in Western Europe and North America who listened to podcasts increased 1.6%, which in absolute terms is a growth of almost 6 million more listeners1. On top of this, runners are 23% more likely than the average person to listen to podcast on a weekly basis. Whilst we have may have more trail running podcasts now, the audience for podcasts is also growing.
Where does the onus lie then to solve our sameness situation, the host of the interview or the guest? For Finn the solution to content pollution must come from the host. Firstly, they need to be more aware of spotting guests executing podcast tours and recycling the same interview regardless of the show. And secondly, hosts must work harder to differentiate their conversation with these types of guest.
The key here is to be unique. When all podcasters strive for uniqueness, thats when innovation happens. Podcasting is not a zero sum game, multiple podcasts can thrive and coexist. The contest for podcasts is closer to a positive sum game than zero sum, or in other words more like the performing arts than war. Multiple singers, artists or acts can each thrive in the same genre of art. The more differentiated and unique the performers are, the more that genre flourishes.
The same is true for podcasts. There is plenty of room for interview-style podcasts in trail running, as long as each host strives to bring something unique to the mic.
GWI, 2021 Q4-Q3 2022 - Access to syndicated surveys are one of the perks of a media job
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