All Hail The New Podcasters (Again x 10)

It seems every few years someone comes along and claims that not only did they and only they fashion podcasting in their own image, but that the revolution is finally here, and the money will fall from heaven shortly.

The latest is this hyperbolic Verge article and video called hopefully ‘The Future Is Podcasts’ – something you’d expect in 2005, not 2014. Sorry, you’re a bit late. Or very very early. My money is on the former, after doing podcasts for ten years.

It’s funny this video even mentions failures such as Odeo (mostly remembered now as the springboard for Twitter), but conveniently forgets Podshow/Mevio (probably just as well, many people with not so great memories about them) and all the other attempts to do this. They are correct that iTunes in my favourite American phrase ‘screwed the pooch’ and that it came in and just smothered the creativity. But it wasn’t alone in doing so, you need to add BBC, NPR, PRI and a few other corporations to that list…they just lazily dragged and dropped their content into MP3 files and called them podcasts.

It took quite a few years before they actually started making decent podcasts though, for them to ‘get’ that it wasn’t just some iPlayer/play again extension, but by then they’d saturated the iTunes chart via mainstream promotion. It was too late, people thought podcasting was people with a $20,000+ studio and not as it was originally intended, a disruptive technology with a little mic, a laptop, iRiver or iPod yet some good ideas, content you wouldn’t hear from the majors. The soul of podcasting had fled.

What’s horrifying is ESPN claiming that they were somehow a podcasting innovator (uhh…I was there at the start, back in November 2004, pretty sure they weren’t? Wasn’t really aware of any of their podcasts til now…I’m guessing second wave well after iTunes integration, or third) and that ‘two blokes with a mic’ is on the way out and chillingly it’s all about the shiny overproduced content that radio trainspotters know, love and have wet dreams about. Completely missing the point, re-purposing radio into an MP3 file, that’s not podcasting…sorry.

One of the reasons I fought to keep Radio Clash Podcast going for a decade but eventually stopped it is this, that podcasting was supposed to be revolutionary, but people chose the radio production level content already pushed to them as ‘podcasting’, that these major corporations moved to make sure their managers were kept happy and fed, to make sure that eventually nothing really changed. That ladder was pulled up, and not many people managed to clamber on board before those big guys muscled in.


A podcasting CEO manically grinning at a chair, last week.

I’m not dissing American Life (interestingly just split from PRI. So they are becoming truly indie?) and Serial, I love those shows, they are great radio (NOT really podcasting)…but not everything needs an editorial team of 10-20 or a corporate budget? In fact I’d argue podcasting like most creative endeavours is better the more personal it is, more DIY it is, the more connection you’ll have with listeners, rather than CorporatePodBot #2466754 talking via expensive mic to ListenerBot #3553252 about buying more shit on Purple Wednesday.

This was the original intention, and it’s strength – lack of regulation, lack of control, personal feel and freedom to connect to listeners directly, in ways the mainstream media never has really managed (looking at you, BBC Radio 3 with your clunky SMS/Twitter interaction!). It can’t, it’s too much of a faceless behemoth, it’s too Big Brother, it’s not agile enoough, it can’t even understand or risk any of this, weighed down with advertisers, accountants, investors, licenses or charters. But emulating the same old arguments and metrics over ‘money’ and ‘listener numbers’ then you never create innovative art, you’ll just weigh yourself down too, and create more of the same radioslop.

This was the point of podcasting circa 2004-6, but it seems the heart of podcasting is still being devoured by those who think monetising is not a dirty word…the money-men and marketers that killed it the first, second and countless times around? But you’ll still get a lacklustre response until they stop ignoring these facts, that people want stuff they can’t hear anywhere else, rather than repeated refried radio? But that very stuff doesn’t play well with advertisers, and so podcasting stays niche…unless it emulates the bland boring polished sound that advertisers think they love so much, in which case no-one really cares since you can get that same shit many other places, like on your radio dial?

It could work with a subscriber model…maybe. Again, has been tried many times before, and again people still emulate the same old tired content because otherwise it’s not ‘professional’ or ‘what people expect’, and so it fails.

So yes, this has been done before, good luck, you’ll need it. And if a bloke with long blonde hair or another with a leather jacket turns up, just say no…

Plastic Cup – Low (video)

What’s with the black and white & glitter early cinema feel in music videos? Here’s another one!

Still love this song and album, but now with a great video, with Alan’s sarcastic Thunderbirds motions (for a while I was wondering if it was some effect then realised it was his performance) and the odd post-apocalyptic creatures…seems to be a theme, what with the previous video having Mimi sing ‘Just make it stop’ and then the plants take over:

Sounds like they are back in November for ATP (that must be the last one surely? Tempting although probably sold out…) and some more intimate shows. After the excellent but strangely bloodless Barbican show (really, rock gigs and tiers of seats and people that don’t even breathe don’t mix, it was strange – also felt too young to be there, even at 40, like this was a bit too scarily reverent, a bit too Radio 2…) so tempted to see them in a more closer setting…

Apple ‘amateur hour’ – old media vs new media

When Apple launched podcasting as part of iTunes in February 2005 (creating the second wave of podcasters, fact fans) it seemed a victory for user-generated content, the new media vs gatekeeper approved old media – Hollywood and the big broadcasters. Soon though it became clear as independent podcasts got shoved off the homepage and then the chart for NPR, BBC and major media players that despite the Ghandi ‘you too can be a creative!’ spiel that Apple was in thrall with the old media and not the new.

Now with the (re?)launch of AppleTV* Steve Jobs calls such non-Hollywood content ‘amateur hour’ - this doesn’t surprise me given the level of Hollywood cocksucking Apple has been doing, from DRM to podcasts and iTunes programming – but it might be to those older guard that bought the message that Apple was the 1984-style revolution, rather than the same-old same-old. RCA rather than FRB, as history has proved.

This is partly what killed podcasting, stopped it being a true revolution with real voices and ended up with pseudo-‘real’ vox pop shows, stealth subvertising and sublebrity gossip pap. The voices were there, the content was there, and the old guard who had the fire – and still do – are still going, but really as a force to threaten the monopoly of old media it is dead. The other part of this was the terrible and inept attempt to ‘monetize’ podcasting before it ever had a chance to mature – a goldrush which also took the wind out of it’s sails. Interesting that most of the podcasters or people who made a big thing of this are either no longer podcasting or part of their companies (like Adam Curry who has left Mevio, formerly BT Podshow, formerly Podshow…) or not carrying advertising or co-pro deals anymore.

The ones left do it for the love of it…and mostly were the original old guard. They didn’t jump on it as a money making scheme, and so thus when the sponsors and PR-puff has evaporated they’ve kept going. We never needed Apple, nor BT Podshow/Mevio or NPR or BBC…but it’s sad to think what might have been, a real revolution in user generated content actually threatening the mainstream, rather than podcasting now seen as a rather quaint adjunct to blogging, and a passing fad, or as another output dumping channel for pre-done broadcast shows, a marketing option ticklist along with RSS and email lists…

As has been pointed out with the iPhone and now iTunes Ping Apple likes it’s closed systems, walled gardens, control. I suspect this is the reason for the push of gatekeeper approved old media – it’s reliable, inoffensive, bland, readymade and easily repackaged and keeps the advertisers and sponsors happy.

What it lacks is independence, creativity, new ideas and truly new content – and this is surprising for a company that used to pride itself in having those values. Apple really has become a mainstream media whore, from DRM, iTunes and iPod sucking up to the music industry to Apple TV and iTunes video now doing same to Hollywood and TV companies. But how sustainable is it to serve up the same old slop – how can Apple really differentiate itself by repackaging content like that – especially when unlike the novelty of new devices like iPod watching video on a computer screen is well out the gate – see YouTube, iPlayer, Hulu et al for that. I do think in the near future we’ll see the walled garden approach as quaint and rather old-fashioned.

So maybe Apple shouldn’t be so sniffy about ‘amateur’ content – because independent producers can and will produce all those, if Apple lets them, rather than sidelining them as a freakshow. Seems strange to be simultaneously associated with podcasting because of early adoption and support, then , or keep them off the podcasting page in preference for repackaged old media shows you can get elsewhere? I’d have thought having unique content was a priority, maybe I was wrong…

* a product that will probably go the way of iTunes Ping because really, non-techy people do not associate computers with televisions, even after 20 years of trying to ‘synergise’ them into one device. The wins that Apple and others have made putting a computer in nearly every home, that separation still exists despite Microsoft and it’s media centre and AppleTV’s lack of takeup. I’m not surprised, it’s similar to HiFi – yes you can get a combined system to do everything, but why settle for a device that does everything but at a price of limited quality or features – when existing and more socially acceptable separate devices do so much more at higher quality? Consumers are not dumb…

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