Am I too late to the podcast party?

After interviewing the amazing Cath Moore the other day, our conversation got me thinking more about the creative potential of podcasting. Although we chatted about this, due to time restraints this part of our convo didn’t make the final cut of Pod Chats, so I’ve decided to expand on it here.

Cath pointed out several benefits to podcasting as a storytelling medium that I’ve never considered before. Being a screenwriter, Cath has an interesting take on the particular affordances of podcasting as compared to the film and TV industry. For example, podcasting is COVID-19 lockdown-proof (unlike film and TV), it’s an affordable way to trial an idea with an audience (hello Hollywood!) and it’s an amazingly equitable platform that encourages a diversity of storytellers. Here’s some of what she said:

We’ve seen quite recently, a preoccupation with producers to look at stories in podcasts and see this as a really viable way of transitioning content to the screen. Primarily because there’s less investment you have to do upfront because most of the development has already been done. It’s kind of like a litmus test as you can see the podcast play out and understand the nature of the story; how it unfolds in a serial form. And if it’s successful, then you’ve already got an audience base that you can utilise when you adapt it into screen format. So I think that’s really interesting and it seems to be a win-win kind of scenario. In a risk averse industry that’s really promising.

Wowee! So all I need to do is make a podcast, get a following and Hollywood will come knocking on my door, right? Right?!

Well maybe not but this article sounds promising. According to Peter White:

There are essentially two worlds within podcasting right now. There’s the daily or weekly interview and chat shows, the likes of The Joe Rogan Experience and Pod Save America, as well as limited-run, narrative-driven shows in both the fiction and nonfiction space. While the latter tend not to make as much money as the former due to less reliable sources of advertising, these are the shows that are being picked up by Hollywood.

But hang on. Celebrities are making their own podcasts too? I have no chance! As Fiona Sturges reports:

While much of the entertainment industry has been devastated by the pandemic, podcasting has proved largely virus-proof, making it an attractive proposition to those who, a year earlier, might not have given it a second look. As a result, the celebrity podcast has become the bindweed of the audio industry, hoovering up budgets, threatening to smother the competition and, in some cases, heralding a dispiriting drop in quality.

Ah okay. So the celebrity podcasts are crap. Tell me why Fiona:

Among the many afflictions of the celebrity interview series is a reluctance to tackle difficult subjects, or to curtail dreary small talk. To listen to Kate Hudson’s podcast Sibling Revelry, in which she talks to famous siblings alongside her brother Oliver, is to hear the Hudsons chuntering on about themselves, talking over their guests and generally treating the whole enterprise like a private cocktail party.

I agree, there’s nothing worse than celebrities chuntering 😉 Yes I had to google its meaning! But seriously, it is heartening to know that most audiences are savvy enough to know what makes a podcast special is its authenticity, regardless of the genre. If well-worn podcast tropes like exploring niche topics, listening to ‘ordinary’ people chatting and opening up true crime cold cases through relentless pursuit of the truth aren’t being delivered to audiences, they may well tune off celebrity podcasts.

So does this mean people want ‘real’ stories? Is the appetite for gossip and celebrity finally waning? Or is it just the particular nuances of the podcast platform that command this integrity and authenticity? I mean people are still reading Women’s Weekly aren’t they? Yes according to ABC News but advertisers are going elsewhere to spruik their products, causing the magazine industry to flail. Perhaps those same advertisers are moving to cheaper platforms like podcasting?

And there’s no time like the present. With the COVID-19 pandemic halting film and TV production, audiences are flocking to audio stories like never before, making the industry a lot more attractive to advertisers. The digital media ecosystem is evolving under all these external pressures. So considering the increasing competition in a saturated marketplace, why am I still excited? I think Cath summed this up really nicely in our chat:

Anybody could make a podcast; it’s a whole kind of bedroom storyteller phenomenon. You used to see that with GarageBand where people were less beholden to a studio system. And now I think it’s the same with podcasting, there’s a shift in terms of those industrial hierarchies and power imbalances. And I think that podcasting is a really interesting and novel pathway that promotes this idea that stories can sit in different spaces and accordingly find different audiences to. There’s such a scope of genre and genre hybridity, that we’re seeing emerge within podcasts, but also again because it’s a more democratized space, there’s less onus on technology, which means that we have a greater diversity of storytellers and storytelling within the landscape of podcasts.

Thanks Cath – I think I’ll persevere with podcasting after all. I mean, as long as I don’t chunter I’ll be fine, right? 😉

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