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Let’s ditch ‘Podcast’ and other messy media labels

Let’s ditch ‘Podcast’ and other messy media labels
Opinion: 100% Media 0% Nonsense.

Linear, connected TV, radio, podcasts, addressable audio… isn’t it time to get back to simplicity in media, asks the editor-in-chief.

Is it time to dispense with labels altogether for media channels?

Sometimes I think it’d be just a lot easier if we scrapped the whole taxonomy of what is “media” and move to a much flatter, simpler and dualistic structure of “content” versus “commercial”.

Because clinging to old media labels is starting to make this industry look silly.

I was reminded of this again during last week’s IAB Podcast Upfronts, comprehensively reported by our audio reporter Ella Sagar. During a half-day of panels and interviews, the industry audience was informed that:

  • video is “the future” of podcasting;


  • podcast hosts are “influencers” (not just hosts);


  • podcast creators and production companies are increasingly discussing licensing deals for adapting their IP into film and TV.


On the one hand, this is exciting and a huge positive for media in the internet age, as it has given rise to a new way of doing “content” and is creating new stars, new jobs, and new opportunities.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves — the “content” itself is hardly novel: talk shows, interviews, documentaries and comedy formats.

‘Podcast’ is a stupid brand

The very branding of “podcasts” is stupid and out-of-date: it was coined over two decades ago by a journalist (journalists being the usual culprits for stupid branding) as a lazy neologism that combines “iPod” (that thing you used before smartphones were a thing) and “broadcast” (that thing you used to watch before streaming was a thing).

The word should never have been invented. It’s streaming, on-demand audio. There’s nothing inherently different except that there are simply too many of them. Just as social media removed the barriers to entry for publishing, podcasts have unleashed a long-tail sewer of crap audio production thanks to the now widespread availability of high-speed internet and affordable microphones for purchase on Amazon.

Of course, whenever the IAB Upfronts come around, the likes of Audioboom, Acast and Global will wheel out celebrity talent, just as any big media owner would do at an upfronts.

New labels for old rope

The distribution has changed from radio waves to internet, but the essential pillars of creating content are the same.

But the reason why we create labels for old rope is more than our 21st century culture being faddy. The sell-side is guilty of this jazz-hands rebadging game, too.

“New” media channels imply “new” audiences, “new” opportunities, and “new” things to talk to advertisers about.

For media agencies, it means a new way to deliver insight and add complexity to a client’s media plan (more complexity = more advertisers that need agencies).

For advertisers, it’s a comfort blanket when you read reports in Ofcom and elsewhere that fewer people are consuming traditional broadcast TV and radio; it’s not that audiences are disappearing, they’re just moving elsewhere and we need to work a bit harder to reach them.

But here’s the thing: £718.7m was spent on UK radio ads in 2021, but just £71.3m of that money went to online channels. Despite growing 58% that year, digital audio advertising currently only makes up less than 1% of total UK digital adspend.

That’s because where digital audio sits in the trading system is often unclear, according to News UK Broadcasting director of digital Russell Pedrick. Is connected audio a broadcast medium, or is it a digital one? Should the audio-visual (AV) team be in control of spending, or should it be the digital team?

”Digital audio is in the same place that video was about a decade ago,” Pedrick wrote in The Media Leader last year. “Video was being bought by the AV team; it was being bought by the digital team; there wasn’t any central point of control within agencies… Moreover, the team which has control also currently differs by agency.”

Wouldn’t it just be easier if we simplified these labels into “video” and “audio”?

Success in simplicity

And do audiences actually care? If all content is increasingly being viewed on mobile devices and television screens, shouldn’t the planning and buying reflect that and become simpler too?

Don’t get me wrong — I love listening to podcasts and making podcasts. I’d like to think our own The Media Leader Podcast is a cut above other B2B podcasts about what’s going on in media and advertising. But it’s essentially a talk show; it doesn’t really deserve its own nomenclature.

I do wonder more generally if this industry likes to over-complicate things as a masochistic hobby. The internet has changed distribution and barriers to entry, but audiences still want great content and advertisers still want quality media against which to tell audiences about their products and services.

Isn’t the world complicated enough? As the latest horror of Israel-Palestine reminds us, some things in life are extremely serious and difficult to sort out. An industry which is built on entertainment, information and selling stuff needn’t be part of the complication game.

Media and advertising should always aim, above all, to keep it simple.

Omar Oakes is editor-in-chief of The Media Leader and leads the publication’s TV coverage.

100% Media 0% Nonsense’ is a weekly column about the state of media and advertising. Make sure you sign up to our daily newsletter to get this column in your inbox every Monday. 

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Scott Thompson, Associate Insight Director, Publicis Media, on 23 Oct 2023
“I was excited to see the headline - but I think your argument here 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. Just not for the adtech industry... 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" and 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". 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 you'd 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/bad adverts. 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.”

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