If you click into any podcast app you’ll see long lists of genres, with everything from ‘Family’ to ‘True Crime’ all appearing in one form or another. Podcast producer sites talk as well about formats, styles, and genres and not everyone agrees on how to classify podcasts; making it hard to know where to find shows. As an open medium, there’s no single standard; although the recent changes to Apple’s categories have forced adoption for anyone using their API.
We can see in the Ofcom graphic above that they talk about genre, where they think about the substance or the content of the podcast. Across these we might also talk about format, where we might experienced panel discussions, documentary, comedy, or even drama.
In this Medium article, the authors suggests there are seven formats and offers some excellent examples of each:
- The One-to-one interview
- Solo Commentary
- Nonfiction narrative story-telling
- Fictional story-telling
- Repurposed Content
It’s easy to see how these all fit into our experiences of listening to podcasts. The long-from interview (Maron et al) has become a podcast staple and one that really makes the most of the medium as an open-ended audio experience. Often these shows run well over an hour and whilst editing can take place, it often doesn’t. There are lots of solo shows, from fictional outputs like Lore to carefully researched factual storytelling shows like Cautionary Tales. These shows only have one voice, and if you counted all podcasts probably account for the majority shows – at least historically. There are loads of panel shows, from comedies and news, through to popular culture and sport. In effect, My Dad Wrote a Porno is a panel show of sorts; as is the BBC’s Newscast or shows like That Peter Crouch Podcast.
As an Academic I feel a need to classify and identify typologies and we can see these emerge in podcasting. There are highly polished narrative podcasts, such as Serial or those produced and written about by Siobhan McHugh and others. There’s a growing catalogue of drama too, such as Passenger List. These formats or genres are ever-expanding and do tell us what’s inside. But, I began to wonder if we can boil these down a bit further. After all, we can pretty much do this broadcast media. In radio, we know there are stations that play music, stations that talk, and those that might feature a bit more range. Equally, there are public, commercial, and non-commercial (or community) services; but each have formats (pop, sports, etc) that might stripe across them. So, can we do the same for podcasting?
Much like my attempt to map podcasts, where discussed this idea a bit I’ve still work through the theory behind this. These are working thoughts, so I’d welcome any feedback.
Let me explain. Panel shows and long form interviews are just different ways of having a conversation. These could be free flowing and sound like like the conversations we all have around the dinner table or in the pub; but could equally be a very directed in-depth interview on a topic. Are two or more people talking to each other? It’s a conversation. Many podcasts use a narrative structure, whether this is a multiple-episode documentary, a news podcast that explores a topic, or a single voice telling a story. if it’s structured and planned out, it’s a narrative. Conversations could have other elements inserted into them (such as another piece of audio) but if this is done in a scripted way, then this probably means it’s a piece of a narrative work. In some ways, this finally header could be dispensed with as surely all drama is narrative? But it could be useful to frame fictional work as separate so we can note it’s differences and its relevance.
To some extent what I am trying to do here is think about what podcasts sound like, rather than what’s in them. The mapping exercise I’ve already posited begins that conversation. But that begged the question for more is ‘how small can we go?’ and can we start to explore what podcast DNA looks like? Should we talk about sound? Voice? Structure? or do these place traditional ‘professional practices’ onto an emergent, and often amateur, medium? I’m conscious that whilst we can (and should) talk about these things do they help? In building the smallest possible framework, we can think about what’s really going on. Are we having a conversation? (between people on tape or between listener and podcaster) Are we telling a story and leading the listener through a narrative? or are we in a fictional world?
I’d welcome your thoughts in the comments. This will, where possible become a dynamic page that I will update.