It’s Not “Netflix for Podcasts,” It’s More Like “This Site Only Works in IE6”

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 3 min read

Fast Company has a good summery of some of the changes going on in the world of podcasts recently; specifically, premium podcasts. This whole concept of service-exclusive podcasts makes my blood boil a bit, but I’m trying to understand if that’s because it’s actually a bad thing or if I’m just being a dinosaur.

Why Podcasts Already Rock

Podcasts have grown up over the past 15 years in no small part due to the “everyone can podcast” mentality that the industry has fostered. If you have a computer, you can podcast, and people have used this freedom to start talking to the world. Some of these shows have brought voices to the world we didn’t even know existed before, and probably would not have heard of if they didn’t have this outlet.

From a user’s perspective, podcasts have always been like websites: you can listen to them in whatever app on whatever operating system you’d like. Whether you’re on iOS, Android, macOS, Windows, or Linux, there is a selection of podcast apps you can try out to see what works best for you. This means users have plenty of choice in how they consume their podcasts. This is a core benefit of podcasts in the eyes of many people who have listened to podcasts for more than a few years and we don’t want to let that go.

On the financial front, popular podcasts have proven to be very profitable for their creators. Even in the tech scene, ATP and The Talk Show sell 3 ads per episode, each ad costing at least $5,000. Even split 3 ways for ATP, that’s more money than most of us make per week at our 9-5 jobs1. Smaller shows are still able to earn sponsors and make some decent money as well, all the while larger shows like Pod Save America are big enough to create entire companies around. Revenue doesn’t seem to be that hard to come by if you have a popular show.

Finally, podcast listeners just seem to be pretty darn happy overall already. No one has said, “ugh, I need to pay for so many podcast services,” like they do when it comes to TV and movie streaming. No one says “there just aren’t enough podcasts right now, I wish there was more content.” This model seems to make happy users.

Why I Might be a Grumpy Old Man

On the other hand, maybe I’m being too drawn in by the “how it’s always been” perspective. Maybe I’m underestimating how much money is being left on the table. Maybe Pod Save America could be making 2x as much money per episode of they were a Stitcher Premium exclusive show.

Maybe small shows would have an easier time getting revenue on a more Hulu-type service instead of having to go out and find sponsors themselves.

Maybe it would be easier to tell people how to subscribe to a show if it was only in one app and you didn’t have to say, “open this link in the podcast app of your choice.” Maybe this would grow the podcast listening market in ways we have never seen before.

Takeaway: I’m as Skeptical as Ever

All of these “maybes” are really shots in the dark, as far as I’m concerned. Maybe podcasting has been hampered all these years by the way things have always worked, but it’s also possible that the nature of podcasts has helped make them what they are today. People love podcasts, and it’s scary to mess with that.

I believe the “Netflix of podcasts” nomenclature is misleading. Netflix disrupted the video market by making it cheaper and easier to watch the movies and TV shows that you love, and to do it all form a unified interface. It’s already cheap to listen to the shows you love in the unified interface of your choice, and it’s pretty darn easy to find the shows you want. The types of services suggested by Stitcher and CastBox would make listening to podcasts less unified, cost more, and Mayne, just maybe be a little easier to subscribe to. You know, how Google Meet only works in Chrome for some stupid reason, or how many sites only worked in IE6 years ago.

Color me skeptical.

  1. Unless my readership is surprisingly wealthy.