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”.

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”

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.


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.


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

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.



10 thoughts on “The Least Worst Name for ‘Podcasts’ is ‘Podcasts’”

  1. I completely agree Matt.

    If we were starting today, as with most things, we’d probably adopt a completely different system. We wouldn’t use off-putting words like “subscribe” which carries with it the connotation of payments (That said, I’d love the ability to monetise podcasts in whichever way I choose, including payments).

    But we are where we are.

    It’s clear that the BBC has been forced to adopt the word “download” in place of “podcast” in spite of the fact that the main piece of software that listeners use, should they not be downloading programmes direct (or streaming them) very much uses the word “podcast”.

    Entertainingly, Simon Mayo touched briefly upon this very subject at the start of this weeks Kermode and Mayo podcast. He says that he hasn’t signed up to the memo, and continues to call it a podcast. Saying “download a podcast” on air is absolutely fine. But people who use podcasts call them podcasts.

    In a piece I wrote at the beginning of the year, I cited a number of changes I would make if we starting afresh today. But we’re not.

    I loathe and detest iTunes as much as anyone alive, but I use it. It does handle podcasts pretty well, albeit with some arcane functionality and usability. And it does ensure that someone who signs up to a podcast continues to receive them, not relying on them proactively seeking out every single episode.

    If there’s one thing that newspapers and magazines can teach us that still holds true in the 21st century, it’s that the inherent laziness of subscribers in cancelling their subscriptions ensure that their products continue to be received. And that can only be a good thing for podcast providers, not least radio stations.

  2. Adam: You have confused paid-for mag & newspaper subscription with free podcast subscription. There is no significant benefit for broadcasters to deliver podcasts that go unconsumed.

    Matt: Audiences can be retrained easily, especially with online distribution. Let ‘podcasts’ go.

  3. Bam: I disagree. Yes there’s a bandwidth cost. But asking listeners to remember to download or listen to new episodes rather than having them automatically delivered is not good. The publishing analogy doesn’t fully work, but it’s closer than you suggest.

    Oh, and while the major podcast distribution network -iTunes/iOs – still calls them “podcasts”, you’d be mad to rename them.

  4. Adam…

    I did not intend to suggest that auto-delivery was a bad thing.

    Maybe I read you wrong.

    It seemed to me in the final paragraph of your first comment that you state there is some benefit to delivering podcast content to subscribers who no longer engage it.

    Those who have ‘lazily omitted’ to ‘cancel their subscriptions’ ensuring that ‘products continue to be received’

    That’s like me rejoicing that the radio waves I transmit every morning physically travel through the bodies of each and every individual in JACKfm’s tsa.

    No good if they’re not consuming properly.

    The word ‘podcast’ is jingoistic that still confuses some.

  5. One of thing that I quite like about iTunes (as a podcast producer) is that it unsubscribes you if you haven’t listened to any ‘cast for a number of episodes.

  6. Although I find this incredibly annoying if it’s a frequently delivered podcast – e.g. a daily one. If you haven’t listened for three episodes then your unsubscribed. Fine if you listen and dock your iPhone/iPod very regularly, but not if you don’t. And there’s no option to change this setting. So you have to manually update each feed via a right-hand click.

  7. Although I find this incredibly annoying if it’s a frequently delivered podcast – e.g. a daily one. If you haven’t listened for three episodes then you’re unsubscribed. Fine if you listen and dock your iPhone/iPod very regularly, but not if you don’t. And there’s no option to change this setting. So you have to manually update each feed via a right-hand click.

  8. I cannot stand itunes. That aside I know many people who listen to hardly any live radio, but are avid consumers of ‘podcasts’ The BBC are mad if it aint broke and other clichés. The US is leading the way. look at shows like Radiolab. They are monetizing their podcasts successfully and using services like which unlike itunes actually helps market and promote podcasts.

    Great post Matt. This has been an active conversation amongst my radio geek friends.

  9. Great post Matt. I agree I think the BBC have made a mistake here, not least because the community created the word, which Apple grudingly accepted. There is (in my mind) a key difference between “Podcasts” and “Downloads” in that you can have an ongoing relationship with a Podcast, where (semantically) I’m not sure you can with a download.
    Personally, as an Android user I don’t use iTunes for the podcasts I listen to, although I do on my office Mac to build up an archive. For me a mix of Google Reader and Listen does the trick.
    It could be that the BBC wants the audience to see what everyone calls Podcasts and content delivered via the iplayer for consumption offline as one and the same. Whilst I can see the logic in that, it’s a bit The Times saying they want to rename their print edition, because some people read it on an iPad.
    Podcast is a crap word and I never really liked it but it explains nicely what it is and (as you say) the audience understands it and it is universal.

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