The new direction for online audio content

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Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

The Amazon Echo and similar devices will create new applications for audio content

2019 will see the end of baked-in, generic podcast ads | Mumbrella

My Comments

Previously there were the radio shows which were a packaged item of audio content that was broadcast by one or more stations at one or more known times. These effectively drove radio along before television came to the fore but still exist mainly in an informative manner.

This can happen in the form of talk shows primarily run on stations that run informative content to music documentaries and Top-40 countdown shows run on the commercial music stations. In some cases, scripted radio drama still exists, especially with the BBC or some community radio stations who syndicate drama series. This is in conjunction with some radio stations doing book readings, mostly for vision-impaired people but also appealing to other users like drivers.

Often what would happen if other stations are interested in the same radio show is that they would “syndicate” the show by buying rights to broadcast the show themselves. In most cases, each episode of the show would be delivered as a recording that would be played at a scheduled time that is part of the agreement. A live show prepared by an originating station may simply be streamed out to local stations who are syndicating it thanks to satellite or similar communications technologies.

But this concept is still being pushed onwards in the form of the podcast which is today’s equivalent of these radio shows. Here, these shows are available for download and can be followed using a podcast manager that you run on your regular computer or mobile device. The podcast manager, typically part of a media management program, would check for and download the latest podcasts on to your equipment and, in some cases, synchronise them to MP3 players or similar devices.

Increasingly, streaming-audio-content services like Internet-radio or music-on-demand services are becoming podcast-delivery platforms themselves. Here, the content is streamed out via the service rather than being made available for download to your computer’s local storage, but the service may offer a download option for offline listening.

Infact the podcast is being valued by radio stations in a few different ways. For example, a radio station who runs a regular radio show will offer past and current episodes of this show for download as a podcast. This can come in handy for people new to a show, who have missed episodes of that show or like to hear it at their own time and pace.

Similarly, radio stations may syndicate a podcast that their network or someone else has created. This may be used to fill a programming void that may exist while one or more of the regular shows is on hiatus.

An issue that is affecting podcasts today is how they can work with an advertising context especially if people are moving away from advertising-driven radio. Typically the podcaster who wanted to sell advertising time would have to run the same approach as a syndicated radio show that is sponsored by one or more companies.  Here, the sponsored show will have “baked in” advertising offered by the show’s sponsors that is recorded as part of the show, which is different from the “spot” approach with ads that are inserted by the broadcaster airing the show.

This arrangement will lead to situations where advertising isn’t relevant to the listener due to such factors as the advertiser not in the listener’s location. The fact that an advertisement “baked in” to a podcast can be listened to ant any time can affect material that is time-sensitive due to campaign or jurisdiction issues.

What is being looked at now with various podcast infrastructures like Spotify, Apple or Google is the ability to provide dynamically-inserted content for podcasts. This will initially be investigated with news and current-affairs shows that have up-to-date content, including the idea of using local up-to-date newsbreaks. For advertising, this can also be about the introduction of localised spot advertising in to podcasts just like what a local radio broadcaster does to a syndicated show when they air it.

Listening to podcasts will be a similar experience to listening to syndicated radio shows

The problem I see with this kind of setup as far as how podcasters are paid is that it will follow the same rules as the syndicated content aired on commercial radio and TV. If the show has sponsorship with the “baked-in” advertising, the show’s producers and talent will be paid while the localised “spot” advertising simply pays the broadcaster. They may pay the show’s producers a “cut” of that advertising revenue as part of the syndication agreement.

But with this application, it will lead to an emphasis towards addressable advertising focused on narrow factors such as age, gender or detailed location like one’s neighbourhood. There will also be some influence based on the kind of podcasts or audiobooks you play through the podcast platform.

Here, it may require podcast formats to support the addition of standard metadata in order to identify logical breaks where advertising or other content can be inserted. Then the various podcast apps and platforms that run their own ad platforms will end up inserting the localised content in to the break. This may affect approaches like downloading for offline use, where it may be about downloading a collection of files that are joined by a podcast-specific playlist or creating a single concatenated audio file representing the main and supplementary content.

The above-mentioned logical breaks will also be of importance to the radio station who wants to syndicate that podcast. This may be to allow them to fulfil their obligations whether just to call the time and identify themselves on air, or to insert other content like news flashes, advertising / sponsorship and the like.

It will also apply to how you can listen to podcast content so you can, for example, recap parts of these shows that you were distracted from. This will be of importance for those of us who listen to podcasts in areas where we can be distracted easily like in the home or office in the same manner as listening to radio there.

There is also the idea of taking audio content further. For example, BBC and Amazon tried out the idea of an old-time radio play that works in a similar manner to a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. This is with you talking to Alexa to steer yourself through the adventure very much in a similar form to interacting with those text-based computer adventure games on an old home computer.

Other ideas being looked at include driving or walking tours with rich audio commentary that plays when you are approach each point of interest.  This would be augmented through the use of GPS or similar navigation technology in order to play audio content relevant to the location. Similarly, you would be able to use the navigation software to lead you towards other waypoints that are part of the tour.

There are also the possibility of creating games that are augmented with the various pieces of audio content. This application would be driven by voice-driven assistants, perhaps in conjunction with sensors for various board and card games. It is a similar practice to some “Name That Tune” and similar board games which are based on a regular audio CD that has audio content essential to game play.

What is happening now is audio-focused content is gaining a stronger role in our lives and there are efforts to introduce flexibility in to how this content is presented. This is more so as we listen to this kind of content on many different device types.

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