Tag: podcasts

The Spotify disinformation podcast saga could give other music streaming services a chance

Articles

Spotify Windows 10 Store port

Spotify dabbling in podcasts and strengthening its ties with podcasters is placing it at risk of carrying anti-vaxx and similar disinformation

Joni Mitchell joins Neil Young’s Spotify protest over anti-vax content | Joni Mitchell | The Guardian

Nils Lofgren Pulls Music From Spotify – Billboard

My Comments

Spotify has over the last two years jumping on the podcast-hosting wagon even though they were originally providing music on demand.

But just lately they were hosting the podcast output of Joe Rogan who is known for disinformation about COVID vaccines. They even strengthened their business relationship with Joe Rogan using the various content monetisation options they offer and giving it platform-exclusive treatment.

There has been social disdain about Spotify’s business relationship with Joe Rogan due to social responsibility issues relating to disinformation about essential issues such as vaccination. Neil Young and Joni Mitchell had pulled their music from this online music service and an increasing number of their fans are discontinuing business with Spotify. Now Nils Lofgren, the guitarist from the E Street Band associated with Bruce Springsteen is intending to pull music he has “clout” over from Spotify and encourages more musicians to do so.

Tim Burrowes, who founded Mumbrella, even said in his Unmade blog about the possibility of Spotify being subject to what happened with Sky News and Radio 2GB during the Alan Jones days. That was where one or more collective actions took place to drive advertisers to remove their business from these stations. This could be more so where companies have to be aware of brand safety and social responsibility when they advertise their wares.

In some cases, Apple, Google and Amazon could gain traction with their music-on-demand services. But on the other hand, Deezer, Qobuz and Tidal could gain an increased subscriber base especially where there is a desire to focus towards European business or to deal with music-focused media-on-demand services rather than someone who is running video or podcast services in addition.

There are questions about whether a music-streaming service like Spotify should be dabbling in podcasts and spoken-word content. That includes any form of “personalised-radio” services where music, advertising and spoken-word content presented in a manner akin to a local radio station’s output.

Then the other question that will come about is the expectation for online-audio-playback devices like network speakers, hi-fi network streamers and Internet radios. This would extend to other online-media devices like smart TVs or set-top boxes. Here, it is about allowing different audio-streaming services to be associated with these devices and assuring a simplified consistent user experience out of these services for the duration of the device’s lifespan.

That includes operation-by-reference setups like Spotify Connect where you can manage the music from the online music service via your mobile device, regular computer or similar device. But the music plays through your preferred set of speakers or audio device and isn’t interrupted if you make or take a call, receive a message or play games on your mobile device.

What has come about is the content hosted on an online-media platform or the content creators that the platform gives special treatment to may end up affecting that platform’s reputation. This is especially where the content creator is involved in fake news or disinformation.

Chapter marking within podcasts

Android main interactive lock screen

Smartphones are facilitating our listenership to podcasts

As we listen to more spoken-word audio content in the form of podcasts and the like, we may want to see this kind of audio content easily delineated in a logical manner. For that matter, such content is being listened to as we drive or walk thanks to the existence of car and personal audio equipment including, nowadays, the “do-it-all” smartphones being connected to headphones or car stereos.

This may be to return to the start of a segment if we were interrupted so we really know where we are contextually. Or it could be to go to a particular “article” in a magazine-style podcast if we are after just that article.

Prior attempts to delineate spoken-word content

In-band cue marking on cassette

Some people who distributed cassette-based magazine-style audio content, typically to vision-impaired people, used mixed-in audio marking recorded at high speed to allow a user to find articles on a tape.

This worked with tape players equipped with cue and review functionality, something that was inconsistently available. Such functionality, typically activated when you held down the fast-forward or rewind buttons while the tape player was in play mode, allowed the tape to be ran forward or backward at high speed while you were able to hear what’s recorded but in a high-pitch warbling tone.

With this indexing approach, you would hear a reference tone that delineated the start of the segment in either direction. But if you used the “cue” button to seek through the tape, you would also hear an intelligible phrase that identified the segment so you knew where you were.

Here, this function was dependent on whether the tape player had cue and review operation and required the user to hold down the fast-wind buttons for it to be effective. This ruled out use within car-audio setups that required the use of locking fast-wind controls for safe operation.

Index Marking on CDs

The original CD Audio standard had inherent support for index marking that was subordinate to the track markers typically used to delineate the different songs or pieces. This was to delineate segments within a track such as variations within a classical piece.

Most 1980s-era CD players of the type that connected to your hi-fi system supported this functionality. This was more so with premium-level models and how they treated this function was markedly different. The most basic implementation of this feature was to show the index number on the display after the track number. CD players with eight-digit displays showed the index number as a smaller-sized number after the track number while those with a four or six-digit display had you press the display button to show the track number and index number.

Better implementations had the ability to step between the index marks with this capability typically represented by an extra pair of buttons on the player’s control surface labelled “INDEX”. Some more sophisticated CD players even had direct access to particular index numbers within a track or could allow you to program an index number within a track as part of a user-programmed playlist.

As well, some CDs, usually classical-music discs which feature long instrumental works that are best directly referenced at significant points made use of this feature. Support for this feature died out by the 1990s with this feature focused on marking the proper start of a song. It was considered of importance with live recordings or concept albums where a song or instrumental piece would segue in to another one. This was of importance for the proper implementation of repeat, random (shuffle) play or programmed-play modes so that the song or piece comes in at the proper start.

There was an interest in spoken-word material on CD through the late 1990s with the increase in the number of car CD players installed in cars. This was typically in the form of popular audiobooks or foreign-language courseware and car trips were considered a favourite location for listening to such content. But these spoken-word CDs were limited to using tracks to delineate chapters in a book or lessons within a foreign-language course.

But CD-R with the ability to support on-site short-run replication of limited-appeal content opened the door for content like religious sermons or talks to appear on the CD format. This technology effectively “missed the boat” when it came to support for index marking and most CD-burning software didn’t allow you to place index marks within a track.

The podcast revolution

File-based digital audio and the Internet opened the door to regularly-delivered spoken-word audio content in the form of podcasts. These are effectively a radio show that is in an audio file available to download. They even use RSS Webfeeds to allow listeners to follow podcasts for newer episodes.

Here, podcast-management or media-management software automatically downloads or enqueues podcast episodes for subsequent listening, marking what is listened to as “listened”. Some NAS-based DLNA servers can be set up to follow podcasts and download them to the NAS hard disk as new content, creating a UPnP-AV/DLNA content tree out of these podcasts available to any DLNA-compliant media playback device.

The podcast has gained a strong appeal with small-time content creators who want to create what is effectively their own radio shows without being encumbered by the rules and regulations of broadcasting or having to see radio stations as content gatekeepers.

The podcast has also appealed to radio stations in two different ways. Firstly, it has allowed the station’s talent to have their spoken-word content they broadcast previously available for listeners to hear again at a later time.

It also meant that the station’s talent could create supplementary audio content that isn’t normally broadcast but available for their audience, thus pushing their brand and that of the station further. This includes the creation of frequently-published short-form “snack-sized” content that may allow for listening during short journeys for example.

Secondly a talk-based radio station could approach a podcaster and offer to syndicate their podcast. That is to pay for the right to broadcast the podcast on their radio station in to the station’s market. It would appeal to radio stations having programming that fills in schedule gaps like the overnight “graveyard shift”, weekends or summer holidays while their regular talent base isn’t available. But it can also be used as a way to put a rising podcast star “on the map” before considering whether to have them behind the station’s microphone.

Why chapter marking within podcasts?

A lot of podcast authors typically ran their shows in a magazine form, perhaps with multiple articles or segments within the same podcast. As well, whenever one gave a talk or sermon, they would typically break it down in to points to make it clear to their audience to know where they are. But the idea of delineating within an audio file hasn’t been properly worked out.

This can benefit listeners who are after a particular segment especially within a magazine-style podcast. Or a listener could head back to the start of a logical point in the podcast when they resume listening so they effectively know where they are at contextually.

This can also appeal to ad-supported podcast directories like Spotify who use radio-style audio advertising and want to insert ads between articles or sections of a podcast. The same applies to radio stations who wish to syndicate podcasts. Here they would need to pause podcasts to insert local time and station-identity calls and, in some cases, local advertising spots or news bulletins.

Is this feasible?

The ID3 2 standard which carries metadata for most audio file formats including MP3, AAC and FLAC supports chapter marking within the audio file. It is based around a file-level “table of contents” which determine each audio chapter and can even have textual and graphical descriptions for each chapter.

There is also support for hierarchical table of contents like a list of “points” within each content segment as well as an overall list of content segments. Each of the “table of contents” has a bit that can indicate whether to have each chapter in that “table of contents” played in order or whether they can be played individually. That could be used by an ad-supported podcast directory or broadcast playout program to insert local advertising between entries or not.

What is holding it back?

The main problem with utilising the chapter markers supported within ID3.2 is the lack of proper software support both at the authoring and playback ends of the equation.

Authoring software available to the average podcaster provides inconsistent and non-intuitive support for placing chapter markers within a podcast. This opens up room for errors when authoring that podcast and enabling chapter marking therein.

As well, very few podcast manager and media player programs recognise these chapter markers and provide the necessary navigation functionality. This could be offered at least by having chapter locations visible as tick marks on the seek-bar in the software’s user interface and, perhaps allowing you to hold-down the cue and review buttons to search at the previous or next chapter.

Better user interfaces could list out chapters within a podcast so users can know “what they are up to” while listening or to be able to head to the segment that matters in that magazine-style podcast.

Similarly, the podcast scene needs to know the benefits of chapter-marking a podcast. In an elementary form, marking out a TED Talk, church sermon or similar speech at each key point can be beneficial. For example, a listener could simply recap a point they missed due to being distracted thus getting more value out of that talk. If the podcast has a “magazine” approach with multiple segments, the listener may choose to head to a particular segment that interests them.

Conclusion

The use of chapter marking within podcasts and other spoken-word audio content could make this kind of content easier to deal with for most listeners. Here, it is more about searching for a particular segment within the podcast or beading back to the start of a significant point therein if you were interrupted so you can hear that point in context.

The new direction for online audio content

Article

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.

Audio–Video Newscasts On Demand–Could this be real

Kogan Internet table radio

Traditional radio and TV broadcasters could augment their newscasts by having them on-demand

A question that can be raised in the online era is whether radio and TV broadcasters need to place their latest newscasts “on demand” alongside running them at the appointed times.

This is to encourage us to find relevance for traditional broadcast media in an age where the preferred source for information and entertainment is from online media services including social media. It is also about finding ways where traditional public-service and commercial broadcast media can maintain their influence in an age where Silicon Valley is obtaining more clout.

The typical newscast situation as it stands

What typically happens with radio is that most stations will ordinarily run a short-form newscast of up to five minutes long on the hour. Some of them even run an additional newscast on the half-hour during the breakfast programme as people are getting ready for work. It doesn’t matter whether the radio station serves as an informer like the talk-based stations or as an entertainer like music-based stations. Some stations who don’t have their own news-gathering team usually syndicate another station’s short-form newscasts to keep their listeners up to date with the news.

For TV, the traditional broadcasters, especially free-to-air broadcasters, frequently run regular short-form news updates, commonly known as “newsbreaks”, inserted between programmes or during commercial breaks. They are typically used to announce breaking news or updated news items or provide a succinct overview of what’s going on. This is in addition to the main long-form half-hour news bulletins run during breakfast, midday, early afternoon, early evening (which is TV’s prime time) and late evening.

Some of these stations may run dedicated newsbreaks focused on particular themes like local weather or financial / business news. The TV stations who advertise on local radio during the afternoon drive-time programme are more likely to run an audio equivalent of a newsbreak as their commercial for that daypart in order to create public interest for their main evening news bulletin.

Let’s not forget that all these broadcasters will run newsflashes, even interrupting regular programming, when there is significant breaking news.

The current way we consume media

But we are living in an environment where we rely on on-demand entertainment like Spotify, podcasts, Netflix and catch-up TV services. We even end up in an environment where sports is the only reason for watching or listening to linear real-time broadcast content. Similarly, some of us use PVRs to record TV shows and may find ourselves with “banked up” TV-show collections on these devices especially if we travel or not watch any TV for a while.

But most radio and TV stations’ Websites provide news clips for each of the news items that occur through the day, more as a way to allow people to learn more about particular events or share them on blogs or the Social Web. This is based on the “portal” idea that was started when the Web cam in to the mainstream and these broadcasters wanted to augment their daily broadcasts with a Web-based newspaper.

How can radio and TV news fit in with today’s media habits?

Amazon Echo, Google Home or similar platforms could be used to summon the latest news

But having the latest radio and TV news available in an on-demand context can earn its keep with a significant number of use cases.

For example, a short-form newscast like a radio news bulletin or TV “newsbreak” could earn its keep with a voice-driven home assistant where you could ask for the latest news. In this case, you could say “Hi Alexa, what is the latest news from the ABC?” and you would hear the latest local ABC Radio newscast together with the ABC’s newscast signature tune we have loved. If you are dealing with a voice-driven home-assistant device equipped with a screen like Amazon Echo Home, you could ask the voice assistant for the latest news from a TV station like the Seven Network whereupon you would see the latest newsbreak. In those situations where you have separate short-form newscasts for finance, sport, weather and other topics, it could be feasible to ask the voice assistant for one of these newscasts.

Amazon Echo Show in kitchen press picture courtesy of Amazon

Even a device like Amazon Echo Show could run the latest TV “newsbreak”

Similarly, a podcast or music player app could support the insertion of short-form news bulletins between podcasts or between tracks after a certain time has passed. A TV network having the latest newsbreaks online through their catch-up TV services or through YouTube can allow users to “pull up” short-form news content as required.

There could be the ability to draw down that long-form prime-time TV news bulletin via a “catch-up” TV service so one can catch up with the day’s news at a time they see fit. Even offering an audio-only version of one of these bulletins could earn its keep with a range of users like vision-impaired people or drivers.

What can broadcasters do?

Most broadcasters and networks don’t have to do anything with the news content that they make available through their channels. They simply have to keep the recordings of short-form and long-form news bulletins available and indexed according to time of publication.

Radio stations can even record the bulletins that are not normally recorded like traffic bulletins to provide an experience similar to what Blaupunkt achieved with their Traffic Information Memo feature on some of their 1990s-era car radios. This was where the car radio would operate in a standby mode for three hours when the car is parked and record traffic bulletins as they come through from the last-tuned radio source. It relied upon established standards commonplace in Europe for providing machine-to-machine signalling for these broadcasts, namely the RDS system. Then the driver would be able to press a blue “TIM” button to hear the last four traffic bulletins that were recorded.

This can be facilitated in a manner similar to what happens with podcasts where the latest content is available through an RSS Webfeed. Most talk stations would be familiar with this practice when they make their shows available as podcasts or for syndication to other stations. But they also need to keep their “branding” alive with these newscasts like maintaining the use of their news signature tunes at the start of each bulletin so people know they are dealing with their favourite broadcasters. Let’s not forget that a single URL should then be used to provide a Weblink to the latest news bulletin for the various voice-driven-home-assistant skills, mobile apps and the like to locate that resource.

The idea could be augmented by having a standard metadata flag for RSS Webfeeds containing audio or video content like podcasts that represents the fact that the feeds are news bulletins. Here, it could allow “podcatcher” and similar software to treat them as a news bulletin then retain and play just the latest newscast. As well, if the software has always-live Internet access, it could make sure it’s always up to date with the latest news bulletins that the user wants.

As well, broadcasters and allied organisations can create “skills” for voice-driven home assistants along with “channels” for on-demand video services. It can extend to linking them to standard application-programming interfaces to facilitate “news-on-demand” apps and services.

There has been some investigation by online media providers, especially those who have advertising in their business model to permit free or freemium access like Spotify or YouTube to allow the insertion of newscasts in online-advertising spaces. Similarly, providing it as an optional service or “channel” on a streaming service is being seen as a way to add value to these services.

But this kind of application especially where newscasts are inserted in to a playlist could be seen as heretical by the Millennial generation who want to break away from traditional broadcast media and the methods they use. This is although having the latest radio and TV newscasts on demand through various mechanisms is really about mass customisation.

Conclusion

What will be required of traditional radio and TV broadcasters who maintain a strong profile with their newscasts is to “think outside the box” with how they are used. This means being able to take them further and integrate them with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant & co; or effectively have them as part of “custom-content” strategies.