Tech Trying to Do Radio & Consistency
Why consistency is audio's superpower
I mentioned a few weeks ago my frustration about big tech’s inability to work out what radio is, and their lack of success in making it better.
The short version of that is that they seem driven by their own knowledge and seem unable to do research into what audiences want and they also fail to bring in people who’ve been successful in that medium, for any of the 100 years that it’s been around.
The piece took to task Amazon’s new Amp service, but the same arguments work for many of the others too. Oh, on Amp, there are currently 82 jobs available, my quick tallying made that 70 roles in tech, 3 in marketing, 3 in monetisation, 2 in customer service and just 4 focused on content/creators.
Over at Spotify they’ve moved their stand-alone app Greenroom, previously called Locker Room, into the main Spotify, re-branded as Live on Spotify. This is the evolution of their version of Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces (as well as all of the similar copycats).
The purpose of these was ‘anyone can do a live show!’ Unsurprisingly the UGC nirvana never came. Clubhouse has disappeared off everyone's radar, Twitter Spaces limps on and, probably sensibly, Live at Spotify is now (mainly) Spotify podcast talent doing livestreams.
The Spotify audio talent, including people from companies like The Ringer, which they acquired, are now spread around doing Podcasts, Video-enabled Podcasts, Music+Talk Shows and now Live at Spotify. No matter how good the content is, this output is hard to find, and doesn’t link very well to each other.
For example, Nate Duncan’s podcast - Dunc’d on Basketball, doesn’t have any obvious connection to Duncan and Leroux Live. I couldn’t hear any cross-promo (though it might have been in the middle somewhere). Also content-wise, the material touches on similar topics and as ‘Lives’ are available on-demand as basically unedited podcasts, I’m not sure what I should really be listening to?
Additionally the pre-roll explainers of these older Lives all refer to the service as a different name, and a different way to get it.
Meanwhile many of the Music+Talk shows produced by Spotify have fizzled out. Key Notes (from the Dissect podcast and Spotify Studios) ran for 7 eps, Soundtrip with Jugs and Teddy did 14, No Skips with Jinx and Shea stopped last month, as did the LATAM show La Cima and The Ringer’s 60 Songs That Explain the 90s completed its 60-ep run. There are some things that are still going like Bandsplain and Black Girl Songbook which have been running weekly from launch.
I point at this, not to point fun, but to point out that content is hard. And that’s both the creation of the content - the shows - as well as devising the right packaging and messaging for it.
Facebook was going to become the home of podcasts, but barely a year on they’ve moved their team to work on metaverse initiatives. Spotify, themselves has closed its Live creator fund, before it gave out any money.
The idea to “move fast and break things” in the app world may be the way to go, well at least initially, but in content it’s all about consistency.
The vast majority of radio’s success comes from consistency and I’d argue that most successful podcasts are consistent too. If you take out the short-run documentary series, the vast majority of podcasts at the top of the Apple Podcast charts are long-running shows (and that’s with an algorithm that focuses on new).
In radio, the most successful shows are the ones that have been on air forever. Ken Bruce on Radio 2 is the best performing show on the network - he’s been there since January 1992 - 30 years! The mid-morning current affairs show has been running since 1973 (nearly 50 years), and has only had two presenters in that time - Jimmy Young and Jeremy Vine.
Now, of course, you need to know when to move things on, but most listeners are habitual ones. They find media that they integrate into their life. Appointment to listen content (either live or on-demand) aligns with someone’s routine. Whether that’s arranging getting up and showering around a benchmark feature of a breakfast show, or always listening to a particular set of podcasts when walking the dog, the best audio becomes a fixture of people’s lives.
Whilst the content needs to be good, it also needs to be there! Always there, doing similar sorts of things. If your favourite breakfast DJ wasn’t on, on random days, or their playlist suddenly replaced pop with jazz, it’s something you would notice - and annoy! Consistency is as much the little things, as the big things. As Dick Stone says, the boring is important.
Alongside appointment-to-listens, there’s some media that becomes the top choices for background accompaniment. A music-intensive radio station or even an updated streaming playlist. These can become the go-to in people’s lives because they constantly, and consistently, deliver on a promise to listeners. Of what they are, when they are and why they are.
In amongst all of consumers’ consumption of course there’s room for ‘new’, for searching out new ways to scratch an itch, but for most listeners that occupies the smallest part of their consumption, otherwise it’s the regular, the consistent that they return to.
If you’re trying to establish a new audio product, on whatever platform, yes it has to be interesting, and attractive. New and shiny is also fine. But to get any repeat use, to get people to fall in love with it, to allow it become part of people’s lives, well, it needs to be consistent.
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