Disruption to Happen at Level of Content
Almost everyone I spoke to in the course of this research agreed that the one thing they are most excited to see in the future—before improved metrics, or business models, or new platforms—is further innovation and diversity of content.
Of course, for editorial experimentation to occur, (1) more diverse voices will need to enter podcasting (not just public radio alumni) and (2) podcast networks/media companies will need sustainable business models that can support experimentation. Both the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation have funds in place that allow them to publish experimental podcast runs. As discussed in the case study above, BuzzFeed’s audio team was given a year’s grace period to create successful content without monetary pressure (a grace period it didn’t need in the end).148 Audible, which can draw from a stable subscriber base, has been recruiting high-quality producers with the promise that they will make innovative content.
Further experimentation with content—from fiction podcasts, to new formats, to the inclusion of a greater diversity of voices—has the potential to broaden podcast audiences (and advertisers) and make podcasting a medium that can compete in a saturated media market. In the words of Seth Lind, “The barrier is creativity, who has the next idea for something truly new. [...] I think someone’s going to make The Breaking Bad of audio, and you’re going to realize: this is as good as TV, but I’m listening in my commute, and it’s free!”149 Caitlin Thompson agreed that creativity and diversity will be key: “I want to really really see a profusion of different types of voices and formats. Podcasting can and should be a rejection of what came before it, or a reconstituting in a way that’s suitable for the medium.”150 PRX COO Kerri Hoffman has no doubt that, in this regard, podcasting’s future is bright:
In the early days of PRX our tag line was “making public radio more public.” I’ve thought about that a lot over the years, and it actually feels like we’re at this moment where we can actually do that, because things are so disaggregated. We really hear from new voices, new communities. The costs have gone down for production; the distribution models are pretty inexpensive. I think that these are really exciting times. [...] We’re in this transitional phase right now, where old rules don’t really apply, but the new rules haven’t yet been created.151