a 'What is the definition of the word podcast? Does it have to include an RSS feed?' Michael Grover Blog

What is a podcast?

Is there a definition?

Posted by Michael Grover on Oct 27, 2022

Is there a definition for podcast?

That’s a question that has been nagging me. What is a podcast? Is it talking heads? Is it an audio story? Is it a media that involves headphones? Is it the modern equivalent of olde-time radio?

A few weeks back, on his Six Pixels of Separation podcast, Mitch Joel spoke with Tom Webster from Sound Profitable about “The Future of Podcasting.”

Six Pixels of Separation, from Mitch Joel.

Tom points out that there’s a technical definition (an audio enclosure distributed through an rss feed) but he says that the space has moved beyond that, that now a “podcast” has grown into the “next tiers of audience who don’t care about rss feeds…they just like ‘the show’.”

“We’re in this weird zone,” says Tom, “where a podcast is a podcast if someone says it’s a podcast.”

“For much of the newer audience, a podcast is a man or a woman with a microphone and an opinion,” Tom says.

Is podcasting an editorial format?

They might not be wrong about that. Having an opinion does seem to be a common denominator of this category of show that we are calling podcasts. What’s being suggested here is that “podcast” is not a technical format but rather an editorial format.

If you listen to Joe Rogan, there’s lots of bluster and opinion. It’s not a news program but rather a fairly articulate man with lots of opinions.

But, give a listen to Joe Rogan’s 5+ hour interview with Edward Snowden and you’ll see another element of how this editorial format is unique. One could hardly expect a mainstream outlet to give Snowden more than five minutes but the podcast format allows for a five hour conversation.

The first of two interviews that total over 5 hours.

To be fair, MSNBC gave Snowden a 54 minute interview, although it’s not clear how much of it was on-air vs on the web. And the difference in tone between the commentator Brian Williams and the opinionator Joe Rogan is remarkable.

At one point in the interview, Snowden apologizes for going off topic, to which Rogan replies “There’s no such thing as off-topic. We can talk about whatever we want.”

And there you have another characteristic of a podcast: freed from the constraints of corporate overlords, there’s not a topic in the world that a podcast can’t tackle. A podcaster can take as much time and dig as deep as they want (or can).

Is Joe Rogan a podcast?

Spotify reportedly paid more than $200 million for the Joe Rogan podcast and then walled the show off in an effort to drive more users to their own platform. Sort of like the billions that Netflix has invested in original content to drive subscriptions.

One of the basic tenets of the technical definition of a podcast is that it is distributed and playable on a variety of platforms. This is how the vast majority of podcasts get their listeners and it’s what’s behind the ambiguous command “wherever you get your podcasts.”

But there’s only one place to listen to Joe Rogan. (Prior to the acquisition, it was available on Youtube. Since the acquisition, Youtube is used only for promotional purposes.

How has lack of distribution worked out?

According to The Verge in an August 2021 article, it “stunted” Rogan’s influence. Since Spotify isn’t talking, they looked to a secondary metric, what kind of social boost a guest could see from being on the show. Before the acquisition, their research says, a guest could expect to see a boost of around 4,000 followers. That number was halved since the acquisition.

Earlier this month, Spotify cancelled 11 of their exclusive shows and laid off staff. According to reporting in Podnews, the layoffs and cancellations were “because [they] didn’t build a big enough audience…” A statement released on Twitter by the Writers Guild of America, East said that, when Spotify took the shows exclusive, they suffered a steep drop in listeners. “As high as three-quarters of the audience for some shows,” the statement reads.

While exclusivity seems to work for streaming companies like Netflix, the audio space seems to have a need for this distribution. That’s what drove the Obamas Higher Ground media company to terminate their contract with Spotify. According to an article in TechCrunch, the Obamas “wanted an agreement that would see their content distributed widely across various platforms.

Let’s wrap this up.

I’ve discovered a lot in writing this article. Going into it, I thought I was going to excoriate the masses with a diatribe that would leave us all chanting about rss feeds.

But, here’s how I’d define podcasts now: A podcast is an episodic, audio-first editorial format that features an opinion-based narrative that is distributed* online and can be played on many platforms.

*yay, I got rss feeds in there!

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