In defence of podcasts and other ‘messy’ media labels

In defence of podcasts and other ‘messy’ media labels

No, the label ‘podcast’ doesn’t lend itself to a targeted advertising business model. But despite that, it works.

I was excited to see the headline of the editor’s latest column “Let’s ditch ‘Podcast; and other messy media labels” — but I think his argument is 100% nonsense.

As lots of people who take the Tube or drive through areas with a bad mobile signal will know (not to mention the older ones who remember iPods), the whole point of the podcast format is that you can download them in advance and listen to them offline.

No, it doesn’t lend itself to a targeted advertising business model. But despite that, it works. And not just not for the adtech industry.

Fundamentally different media

Yes, you can stream (some) podcasts. But the fact you can take content from the medium of broadcast television and publish it through a streaming, on-demand service doesn’t mean that we should refer to all video as “streaming, on-demand video”. Nor does it mean we stop labelling some of it with that appallingly obsolete “television” label.

I mean, do we really need that weird mashup of Greek and Latin in the 21st century? Perhaps not…

But I think Barb, the broadcasters, advertisers, and Ofcom would all agree that its actually a very useful distinction.

Similarly, The Economist (whether you choose call it a “magazine” or a “newspaper”) and Spider-Man comics might all use the same technology to produce, but are still fundamentally different media, and certainly shouldn’t be lumped together (along with books and all the other magazines/newspapers) under the simple but meaningless “printed material” label.

As the apocryphal Einstein quote goes, “Simple as possible – but no simpler”.

Bad incentives, not bad labels

What we should absolutely do is stop referring to things like streaming audio (particularly distributed via ‘closed’ platforms that don’t work with most podcast players) or (worse) things like a series of YouTube videos as “podcasts”.

As for the point on “quality”: the fact that there are a lot of crappy WordPress blogs out there because anyone can start one doesn’t make good quality content being published on a WordPress website any worse — as I’m fairly sure the editor would agree.

The problem is that a lot of people have been incentivised to make bad websites full of cheap, crappy content because the technology make it relatively easy to monetise them with cheap or bad ads.

I strongly suspect that turning podcasts into ‘streaming audio’ simply so that the advertising can be made ‘better’ by providing a data feed for adtech companies would lead to similar outcomes.

Scott Thompson is associate insights director at Publicis Media.

This article is a (very lightly) edited version of a reader comment posted in response to the editor’s column on Monday.

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