Spotify Podcasts Are Podcasts

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 3 min read

Disclaimer: this is new thinking on my part, and I could be wrong here, but I wanted to make the case while it's fresh in my mind. I'm aware this is not the currently accepted feeling among a lot of people in our niche.

Recently, Stephen Spielberg took a stand against films released on Netflix:

Spielberg firmly believes that Netflix and other companies that release their movies on streaming platforms at the same time they show in theaters should be barred from Academy Awards consideration.

“Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie,” Spielberg said during an interview with ITV last March. “You certainly, if it’s a good show, deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar. I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination.”

I love Spielberg, and would consider him one of my favorite film directors of all time, but this position makes him seem like a dinosaur. And I wasn't alone in that, the odds are good that you thought that same thing! This is gatekeeping, and I think it's an example of trying to hold onto the past when the future, a future people enjoy, is coming up.

But at least Spielberg's distinction at least calls Netflix films "TV movies" and doesn't deny that they are in fact "movies". The same can not be said for how the tech corner of the internet reacts to podcasts that are distributed via Spotify, Stitcher Premium, or any other proprietary platform. The attitiude from some is that "podcast" is reserved for audio shows that re distributed via RSS feeds that can be used in any app.

Making the defining characteristic of an art form the minutia of its technical distribution feels…off to me.

If I release a movie in theaters through a major stuido, it's a movie. If I release it on Netflix, it's a movie. If I release it on TV, it's a movie. If I release it on Vimeo or YouTube, it's a movie.

If I release a book through a publisher in all book stores around the world, it's a book. If I self-publish on Amazon, it's a book too.

If I release a TV show on braodcast TV (ex. ABC) then it's a TV show. If I release it on cable, it's a TV show. If I release it on a premium cable channel, Hulu, Neflix, or Peacock, it's a TV Show.

If I record an audio show on a regular basis and let people subscribe to it in Apple Podcasts, then it's a podcast. If I record that same show and let people subscribe through Spotify…what is it then? Asked another way, Joe Rogan is currently recording a podcast, and we can all agree that's what it is. When he switches over to Spotify and he keeps doing the same thing, but uploads the file to a different back end, does his art change?

We can argue about how bad form it is for shows to go exclusive to one platform, and we can argue about how we distinguish shows that are available in all apps vs those who are available in specific apps, but to refuse to call these shows "podcasts" at all I feel is blatant gatekeeping that sounds very much like Spielberg's stance, except people taking this stance would probably be calling films on Netflix "long TV shows".

"I prefer podcasts that are distributed via RSS so I can listen in the app of my choice," is a totally valid statement, but what I tend to hear is, "it's not a podcast if I can't subscribe to it from Overcast/Castro/Pocket Casts," which is really starting to rub me the wrong way.

"Open podcasts" and "exclusive podcasts" might make sense as a distintion, but I think that claiming ownership of the word "podcast" is a level of gatekeeping I am finding it hard to stand by.

For what it's worth, I listen to all my podcasts in Castro and don't pay for any premium podcast platforms, nor do I like the idea of shows using these platforms. That said, I'm not currently comfortable banishing these shows from the world of podcasts because they are distributed in a way I don't like.