Fire alarms and bleeding audio at Podcast Movement 2023

This story originally ran in Hot Pod InsiderThe Verge’s newsletter about podcasting and the audio industry. Sign up here for more.

Hope everyone who attended Podcast Movement is replenished and recovered! Last week, I sent a special recap of the conference to Insider subscribers of Hot Pod — which we’re now making available to everyone for free.

Tomorrow, I’ll be back with more in-depth news, analysis, and goodies related to the conference and more. 

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Podcast Movement 2023: the good, the bad, the uneventful

What does being a “podcaster” mean in 2023? It’s a descriptor that covers YouTube-native creators like Ethan and Hila Klein of the H3 Podcast. It applies to the creator of a little-known Patreon-backed true crime show or an obscure film rewatch podcast with roughly 1,000 downloads per month. Will Arnett, Jason Bateman, and Sean Hayes of Smartless are podcasters, though perhaps not in the same way that Ashleigh Kelley and Alaina Urquhart of Morbid are podcasters.

If you ask The Hollywood Reporter, the most powerful voices in podcasting this year include the likes of Julia Louis-Dreyfus (who launched her very first podcast Wiser Than Me back in February), Audie Cornish, Rachel Maddow, and Ben Shapiro. N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN of the hip-hop podcast Drink Champs are included, as are Emma Chamberlain, Alex Cooper, and of course, Joe Rogan. 

The questions of who is a podcaster and what is a podcast are becoming tougher to answer

The questions of who is a podcaster and what is a podcast are becoming tougher to answer, as became evident during this week’s Podcast Movement conference in Denver, Colorado. The four-day affair drew podcasters of all stripes as well as the hosting platforms, ad networks, software vendors, and other companies seeking to court them. All the big players in the podcast and audio space were in attendance at the conference — including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, SiriusXM, Libsyn, Acast, and iHeart. The “booth” for Disney’s audio division was styled like a castle. 

The conference had a warm, high-energy vibe to it that seemed hilariously at odds with its choice of venue — the Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center in Aurora (not Denver), Colorado. A few confessed that the hotel resembled the one in The Shining (which is also in Colorado). On the way to the venue from the airport, my Uber driver informed me of an incident last winter when the HVAC system collapsed into the Gaylord’s indoor pool, injuring six people. The pool, coincidentally, was closed during Podcast Movement “due to the weather.” Adding to the weirdness, many Podcast Movement attendees were abruptly woken up around 4AM on Tuesday morning when a fire alarm went off. Attendees who were guests of the hotel told Hot Pod they were stirred awake by the din.

There were many major and minor announcements this week, which Hot Pod will cover in more detail in future issues. These included: 

YouTube will support RSS for podcasters in 2023: YouTube’s Steve McLendon announced the platform would be rolling out RSS for podcasters by the end of the year. YouTube spokesperson Jessica Gibby also confirmed to Hot Pod that podcasts will be rolling out to YouTube Music by the end of 2023. Within YouTube Music, users will have the ability to add RSS feeds to their library — private feeds included.

For podcasters picky about their YouTube thumbnails, they’ll still have the ability to select thumbnails if they upload episodes via RSS feed. “Upon RSS initial upload, creators will not have the ability to customize thumbnails, however, once they are in YouTube Studio, they’ll be able to edit the video just as they would any other,” Gibby wrote in an email to Hot Pod

Podcasters are about to learn a lot more about their audiences on Spotify and Apple Podcasts: Spotify and Apple Podcasts both announced creator-focused updates this week aimed at giving podcasters more information to help grow their audiences. 

There’s never been a podcast app equivalent of a “page view”

I spoke to Bumper’s Dan Misener about both changes. He believes Apple’s and Spotify’s updates will be useful to podcasters by giving them more insights beyond mere downloads. In the case of Spotify’s impressions data, Misener believes it will be useful for creators when combined with listening data. Podcasters can understand the conversion rate from someone seeing their podcast’s show page versus someone listening to their podcast.

Podcasters can then test and tweak their show’s packaging — everything from episode titles to show art and descriptions. 

“Up until now, creators haven’t been able to measure the number of people who looked at their show but never ended up listening,” Misener said. “In other words, there’s never been a podcast app equivalent of a ‘page view.’”

Monetization and video were the year’s big topics of discussion: There were numerous panels on how to be more effective at podcasting or monetizing or marketing your podcast. A few attendees remarked that much of the knowledge doled out seemed very old hat and basic, with one person telling Hot Pod they were disappointed given the price of the conference and caliber of talent in attendance. The acoustics of the main conference hall — which held six different stages only several feet across from each — weren’t the best. Many attendees reported that they struggled to hear speakers, as many panels coincided (note the obvious irony of bleeding audio at a podcast conference).

Such missteps didn’t distract other attendees who enjoyed the event. “I always have a great time at Podcast Movement. It feels like summer camp; running into old friends, meeting new creators, and learning about new tech,” Arielle Nissenblatt, SquadCast’s head of community and content, wrote Hot Pod in a message. 

One podcast producer at a major university — who has regularly attended Podcast Movement conferences since 2016 — was less forgiving. In their view, the podcast industry has been struggling with the same monetization and growth challenges since 2016, and the conversation has not evolved since then. “Yeah, I’m not planning on coming back next year.”

Another attendee who had been to past Podcast Movement conferences noted that, unlike in years prior, 2023’s conference didn’t have any surprises. 

“There are no real disrupters in the space this year,” they said. 

The closest thing to a disrupter in the podcasting space may be YouTube, but there seemed to be no consensus on what to do about it. 

At one panel, Libsyn’s Rob Walch warned listeners not to be too quick to drink the YouTube Kool-Aid. Producing a video podcast takes a lot of time and money, he accurately pointed out. Not every audio-only podcast needs a video counterpart. 

Walch also noted that audiences weren’t tuning in to YouTube to watch “people who look like me.”

But Walch’s advice clashed with a handful of panels on how to get better at video podcasting, including a presentation by Amplifi Media and Coleman Insights on “The New Rules of YouTube.” Amplifi’s Steven Goldstein and Coleman Insights’ Jay Nachlis presented the results of a study that indicated that audiences preferred YouTube over every other podcast player. Among audiences who use both Spotify and YouTube to consume podcasts, 70 percent found it more enjoyable to consume podcasts on YouTube and 67 percent found it easier to use. And among those who use both YouTube and Apple Podcasts, roughly 76 percent found YouTube easier to use and 71 percent found it more enjoyable for consuming podcasts. 

While these findings may sound like a convincing case for audio-only podcasts to transition to YouTube, I’m not so sure. YouTube is a completely different animal than audio-only podcasts. Podcasters won’t merely be uploading a “video version” of their audio-only podcast — they’ll be creating an entirely different show that could require a completely different approach.

YouTube’s McLendon noted at a panel that podcasters need to treat their YouTube audience differently than their RSS audience. Nissenblatt interpreted this to mean that audiences behave differently when watching a podcast on YouTube. Therefore, YouTube audiences need to be nurtured and marketed to differently. “There are still going to be people out there who only want to listen to your show — people who have zero desire to watch your podcast,” wrote Nissenblatt.

Conservative media outlet The Daily Wire was back at Podcast Movement this year, much to the chagrin of many attendees. The conference last year apologized for selling The Daily Wire booth space after attendees on social media complained about Ben Shapiro’s presence at the Dallas event. This led to Cumulus Media disassociating with the conference, which later led to Podcast Movement again apologizing. Can’t please everybody, I guess. 

Dan Franks, president of Podcast Movement, had this to say on Friday about the right-wing media outlet’s involvement in this year’s conference. “Leading up to the event they inquired about being an exhibitor, and our sales team worked with them to pick out a booth, as they do with all of our sponsors. Podcast Movement brings the entire podcast ecosystem under one roof, from creators to services to networks, and everything in between. We’re thrilled with the success of this year’s event, we think it was the best one yet!” wrote Franks in an email to Hot Pod. 

Either way, attendees at Podcast Movement seemed to be avoiding The Daily Wire booth like the plague. I made the rounds through the expo hall’s booths several times over the course of the week. Each time, The Daily Wire booth was completely unattended. 

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