Shooting podcasts in a barrel

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There’s long been this tension between audio and video. To use the cliche, video did (almost) kill the radio star. The advent of TV shifted the audience and the smartphone is doing it again. As I’ve already written about, the radio industry has been using cameras to add different levels of visuals to radio for years. More and more new radio studios will have had visualisation worked into the design brief from an early, making sure the studio has good sight lines, decent lighting, an attractive design, and a camera system. This kit could be used to grab a section from a live show for social media, to offer the chance to run a live stream, or even to put the whole thing on TV. But in podcasting, I feel the trend is different.

The BBC’s Rhodri Talfan Davies talking to Spark presenter Ben Moore. (my photo).

When we refitted our main broadcast studio in Sunderland this visual dyanmic was key and will be key when we come to refit the other 4 spaces. This is about recognising that in social spaces the screen reigns supreme and a link to a bit of audio just doesn’t cut it. This could be an audiogram (an animation) but to have impact a video clip can sometimes just be more effective.

Although video podcasts were a thing back at the start, they kind of got replaced by YouTube because it was just a nicer environment and demanded a bit less from the user, in that you didn’t need to use iTunes or an iPod. But those same pressures are now pushing podcasting into a visual space. Many of top shows on Spotify are now videos. If you’re not a Joe Rogan listener you’ve probably seen clips of him and his guests as videos. The whole show is filmed. Steven Bartlett’s The Diary of a CEO is filmed too and you can find them as easily on YouTube as you could Apple Podcasts, Pocketscasts etc.

For their part, YouTube have made a big splash about adding podcasts to their platform. Actually, what they’ve done is a little more interesting perhaps. When most other platforms have added podcasts it’s been via the RSS feeds that podcasts generate via their hosting service. It’s an open tool and means the podcaster pops up one file and it appears all over. Easy. But this isn’t what YouTube have done. It’s probably more of a tag based tab; where podcasts upload a video file to YouTube but tell the platform that this show is (also) a podcast and so can find podcasts (that are also videos) on their platform. But why do this? Watch this section below from the (visualised) Media Podcast

The key point is that this is all about attention. How different forms of media fight for our attention. If Spotify can make you watch a video, there’s not else you can do with your eyes. You won’t be seeing other forms of content and so you spend more time on their platform. I’m sure they have data about whether viewers or listeners spend more time and how that might differ across the age groups. It might also be about money and whether adding YouTube to the mix lets you reach different (or more) people and put ads in front of them. The general sense seems to be that podcasts are YouTube is a good thing but the numbers aren’t quite there and this not be the future….yet. But it raisies some questions.

In chatting with some students about making a podcast one of them was dead keen to get some cameras out and film it. This is something we did (above) for an applicant taster. I wasn’t really looking for visuals and so asked why he was so keen and he said he felt the need for images, otherwise he’d be off doing other things. This is a point they might on the Media Podcast, that younger consumers might not see the old delineations that we do and that a “podcast” might be a group of sat in front of microphones having a chat.

This works well for all the chat based shows that lend themselves to this format. Many of them invest in sets to make them look more stylish but since any show that has been produced over the internet they may well have video files of the chat that can easily edited. Although, as anyone who’s done any video editing knows it has more limitations compared to audio. Your edits can be much more obvious. It demands a great looking studio and someone who knows how to light a room properly… although you could just use Zoom, or one of the many other conference calling platforms now pitching themselves less at business folks and more towards content creators.

For some consumers then, a podcast is not a medium but a format: A chat between at least two people that gets recorded. There’s a risk here that just as with a recent Jon Stewart video mentioned that the microphones become props and really it’s a YouTube video pretending to be a podcast. A video with the audio taken off to put on audio platforms to get attention there. YouTube for the eyes, podcasts for the ears. For this younger audience that all seems to make sense, since mediums seem to matter much less, since everything is on their ‘phone. For them, podcasts might be more of a look, a vibe, or a mode of communication. It’s a chat between mates and many of the shows in the video tab in Spotify are just that, chats between friends that often veer off into the (very) personal. This takes the idea of podcasts as an intimate medium to a whole new level, one where all the brakes are taken off.

The problem is that podcasting is much more than chatcasts. Although shows like Serial did post to YouTube, they didn’t shoot and edit the whole thing as a film. Daily news podcasts are not (currently) videos either and doing so could limit their strength as targeted content for commuters. The UK show The News Agents do use an incredible studio but use video strategically to promote the show and engage listeners. All of this means that podcasts might have a brand problem, with it meaning different things to different people. Over time, this might mean less and less as either we worry less about labels or the video wave passes and podcasters can stop worrying about their studio looks like and think more about the best ways to engage their audience.

image from Pacific Content on Medium

An always good source of research on this stuff is the Candian production agency Pacific Content, who are profilific writers about the medium. They have a great post about these different types of podcast related videos, concluding that podcasters should using YouTube but “A “podcast on YouTube” can mean lots of different things”, emphasing the point above the video helps drive attention but might make audiences come away with the wrong idea of what a podcast is. Ultimately, it’s all about attention. How do you keep someone from going off into other apps and how do you get them looking at (or listening to) you in the first place? A lot of the shows I’ve seen do little to make use of the additional features of video. I can see facial expressions and keep my eyes busy but that’s about it. There are some exceptions.

Black Curriculum Podcast

The academic take here is how video feeds debates around podcast specificities. Is video a distraction, an augmentation to an otherwise audio-centric process, or cause to suggest that podcasts are either just a form of conversational content, or whatever people say it is in any gven moment? A lot of the focus here might be about attention and how it’s captured to shuffle people off to listen in other places, or use pictures to grab and hold attention and so these framings might matter much less as video is acting as a window dressing to the main (audio) event. The word “podcast” for some might just be a recorded conversation, so that could be a single video on a website (look guys we did a podcast) thus ignoring the things that made podcasts work in the first place. There’s no seriality, no craft, and no ability to do other things.

Having won the argument that podcasts are not (just) radio, do we know need to argue that they’re not (just) a video?