Apple’s New Podcasts iOS App

Apple have just released their new Podcasts app.

Following in the wake of iBooks and Video, Podcasts are the latest thing to be disaggregated into its own app.

A quick install and the app recognises the Podcasts you’ve downloaded onto your device and tidies up the imagery. It doesn’t sync (iCloud-stylee) with the iTunes desktop app (probably because subscriptions live within the client and not the Store).

What’s quite nice is that a tap of the podcast brings up some options to convert a downloaded file into a subscription.

And that’s the big upgrade, for the first time Podcasts are available for subscription in App. We know from Fun Kids that mobile Podcast use is becoming the dominant form, allowing inline subscription to increase the volume of downloads and listeners connected to your content is a good thing.

On the app footer are three options – Catalog (hmm – UK language pack needed!), Podcasts (which is the default) and Top Stations.

Catalog pops you into the traditional podcast store look, allowing you to navigate around Featured and Top Charts – providing the cut down versions of what you see in the iTunes desktop version. The key benefit here, again, is the introduction of the ‘Subscribe’ button.

Back to the Footer – the other addition is the ‘Top Stations’ section. This is a little odd. It brings up a radio type tuning interface that runs across the categories. Selecting a vertical means that  you can scroll down 4 of the top podcasts from that channel. The data is the same from the Podcasts chart list of a Category in the desktop version of the iTunes Store. Clearly this has driven the demand for the 1400×1400 channel artwork that Apple now ask for.

It just seems a really weird feature. Scrolling through the categories is quite annoying and then you might be disappointed by the small selection of channels shown (why four?). It also re-enforces the dominance of the chart.

This is all from an iPad point of view. A quick look on an iPhone and the smaller form factor makes it seem a little more sensible.

The player gets a bit of an upgrade as well. Some additional visuals of a Reel to Reel player (sigh) and improved  navigation of chapterised podcasts.

Overall, any slight issues with design and new functionality is outweighed by the addition of subscriptions to the App and Store. There’s also some great opportunities to add more options to the App in future releases.

The Least Worst Name for ‘Podcasts’ is ‘Podcasts’

Two podcast-related things came to my attention this week.

The first is that iTunes are looking to split out the Podcast section from its mobile iTunes into its own app. This follows what it’s done with Video, Music and iBooks.

When I mentioned this on Twitter there was a hopeful rumble that this would mean Apple would instigate the ability to charge for audio content. Sadly, I think this is wishful thinking. Adding pay-casts would mean a new CMS for lots of publishers – something I’m not sure Apple would really want to embark upon. Free content in the store – through Podcasts – drags people in so they can buy the premium stuff.

Some also remarked that they hoped it might mean people can subscribe to content through a mobile device (which you can’t do at the moment). More on that later.

The second bit of news, pieced together tweets, suggests that the BBC is about to stop referring to Podcasts as that, and instead just call them ‘downloads’.

I don’t think this is a good idea.

Podcasting has evolved in a strange way. Its roots come from RSS – website feeds that you subscribe to, so you get the content in a feed reader – like Google Reader or Netvibes, without having to visit the website each day. Dave Winer and Adam Curry (and some others), around 2003, thought it would be quite good if you could add audio enclosures (attachments) to these and do the same thing for audio. Plus – wouldn’t it be great if your MP3 player could receive these too!

This evolved relatively quickly with podcatching software syncing the podcasts to devices. The mainstreaming of Podcasts probably started with Evan Williams (inventor of Blogger) leaving the company after selling it to Google and embarking on a Podcasting start-up – Odeo. They abandoned that project (partly because of the emergence of iTunes) and decided to put their effort into a silly thing called Twitter. Whatever happened to that?

It was Apple’s relatively quick move into Podcasting – adding it to the iTunes Music Store in June 2005 that both legitmised the medium as well as pretty quickly killing off  other podcatching software and other podcast portals (like Odeo).

This mainstreaming also meant that the medium’s dominance by amateurs was gradually replaced by the invasion of traditional broadcasters – particularly radio stations. And, in general, that hasn’t changed.

One of the problems with the Media is they get obsessed with things that are important to them. This is why, for example, newspaper media sections mainly write about other newspapers – forgetting that 1. their readers don’t care and 2. that they read this newspaper and not any of the others.

Anyway… same with podcasts – radio stations embarked upon telling people about podcasts for breakfast shows and suchlike without realising that:

1. Subscribe meant to most people ‘paying’ (even though their ‘casts were free)

2. Most people haven’t got iPods

3. Commercial radio listeners aren’t used to thinking of connecting speech and their favourite music station

4.  The execution on radio websites is poor, and different. Links to feeds (what are they?), links to iTunes, sometimes inline players, sometimes not.

5. No strategy for what they wanted to achieve – subscriptions, downloads, engagement etc.

6. Often they ran out of steam (ending as abruptly as those presenter blogs that appear on a station website relaunch)

After 2006 podcasting burned quite brightly, but then began (in the minds of radio stations) to be less interesting from around 2010 as media started to get a little obsessed with Apps and such. However, what they ignored was that the rise of iOS based devices (phones and iPads) also meant that more and more people were exposed to Podcasts.

However, how consumers thought about them, had changed.

In radio-land we were trying to teach people about ‘subscribing’ but in an iOS world what they were used to was browsing and grazing on content.

In 2012 there are two ways to get podcasts ‘brand websites’ and ‘iTunes’. Radio stations have historically not been great about engaging with listeners on their websites. Live listening, comps and webcams are the main reasons that people come to station websites. Trying to get them to do anything else is tough. Let alone (like with podcasting) we then don’t necessarily give them a great user experience to find and consume content.

What to call them?

That pre-amble was to get to the point that the BBC will now be referring to podcasts  as ‘downloads’.

I think this is a mistake as a large number of users have been trained that free audio and video content comes from that section marked ‘Podcasts’ in iTunes.

It’s also not something that they particularly subscribe to (especially as you can’t ‘subscribe’ to podcasts on mobile devices – you can only get new episodes).

User mainly graze content to fill time. As radio broadcasters we know this isn’t a surprise as on our own podcast web pages users like hitting ‘play’ and sometimes ‘save as’ .

As broadcasters we are lucky there’s just one piece of ubiquitous software that our listeners can get our video and audio content from. We’re also lucky that it’s available on both computers and mobile devices. And we’re lucky that a large proportion of our listeners have it and use it. It may be buggy and a pain – but we’re lucky we have iTunes.

For most people on-demand audio and video equals iTunes. And they call it Podcasts.

It may no longer describe it properly – but it’s a brand and we should all use it.

We need to be making it easier for our listeners to get into and consume our content

“Get our free breakfast show podcast from iTunes or stationfm.com”.

Listeners know how to search, let’s just tell them how to get it and ideally why they should get it.

“Find out what happened when Crazy Bob fell down a Well, download our free breakfast show podcast  from iTunes or stationfm.com”

Websites & Product Placement

The main argument against all of this is that we should be sending our listeners to our websites or it’s difficult (in BBC land) to promote one product. Cough, Twitter.

Historically I would have agreed that we should send our listeners to our websites. But the fact is we’ve, generally, not persuaded listeners to make our websites part of their daily lives. I would rather people consumed my content somewhere, than not get it because they have to remember, find, and navigate through my station website.

I want to make it easy for listeners to consume my stuff. Yes, I like selling banners on my website and need traffic to support it. But, I’m also pragmatic to know that I can’t base my internet business model on that.

Station Aims

The other thing, we often forget, is that more people don’t listen to my radio station than actually listen to it.

In the traditional way of promoting podcasts, there’s a funnel, you need:

1. People to listen to your station

2. Then those listeners to hear a call to action

3. Then those listeners to find/remember to find the website

4. Then they need to find the content,.

5. Then they need to listen to it.

Alternatively:

1. Listeners have to follow me on Facebook or Twitter

2. They see a link to the podcast

3. They then click and then listen.

So, in other words, I make this great content and then only a subset of my existing listeners get to hear it? Well, whoopy do. Oh, they might see/click some banners too. Great.

With our children’s radio station – Fun Kids – we concentrate on doing things that:

1. Make money

2. Drive awareness

Of course we look after listeners when we have them to get them coming back, but our primary filter on doing things is to ensure we do things that make money or drive awareness.

Our audio and video material is a key element to drive awareness of our station. We have 44 podcast channels (in the UK, the most outside of the BBC and Absolute) and we use search and charts in iTunes to bring that content to people who’ve never heard of us. Each podcast has pre-rolls that explain we’re a children’s radio station and website, so hopefully encouraging them to seek us out on our other platforms.

However, a download’s also something that’s directly monetisable (and whilst you can reach it through our website) i’m more than happy with people just listening in iTunes too.

Last month, for the first time, we had more podcast downloads for Fun Kids than we had page impressions on the Fun Kids website. Our page impressions are increasing all the time, but i’m now very happy to have a large audio armoury that’s driving awareness and revenue too.

Finally

We need to be user-focused. The ‘Podcast’ word is fine, it’s dominant, we can use the radio to refocus to listeners elements of what it means. Do users want to ‘get a download’ of our content by visiting our website? Have they done this before? If not, why would they want to do it now?

I watch TV shows on iPlayer, I don’t stream a television programme from www.bbc.co.uk/bbcone.

I’m used to downloading content through iTunes, we should just remind our listeners that next time they’re there they can get our stuff too.