Some of us stopped listening to music subscribers because we noticed a very audible downgrade in sound quality. At first, our favorite songs sounded just like they did on the CDs. A few years later, they sounded bad. I can only guess that subscriber sites have finite storage on their servers and had to crush the song file size to make room for, wait for it… podcasts. You know, those “programs” in which we are blessed with the elongated musings of those who deem themselves important.
There’s an obvious problem with the subscription business model. While most people will listen to a song they like an untold number of times, people may listen to a podcast episode once; maybe twice? And then all it does is take up space. Not exactly a good use of valuable and expensive storage space and now the geniuses at these businesses are taking notice.
Apple has quietly tightened its reporting of how many people listen to podcasts, sending shock waves through an embattled audio industry still reeling from the end of the COVID-era production bubble. The shift, Apple wrote in a blog post, was technical: The dominant podcasting platform had begun switching off automatic downloads for users who haven’t listened to five episodes of a show in the last two weeks.
But while few users noticed the shift, some of the biggest podcasts in the world saw their official listener numbers drop dramatically. Long-running shows that publish frequently were hit particularly hard. A user who listened to a show like The New York Times’ The Daily a few times, subscribed, but stopped listening would continue to count as a download indefinitely.
— Semafor, 1/14/24
I’ve commented on, what I consider, the failed subscription business model because while you pay for certain things you like, you’re also forced to pay for many more things you don’t. In this case, you may have a person you enjoy hearing from but you’re also paying for the likes of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Meghan Markle, and almost every cable news personality and it’s doubtful anything you hear makes you want to hear it over and over again.
Even podcast executives believe the changes are part of a necessary shakeout in an industry whose bubbly inflation helped create the industry’s recent boom and bust.
But privately, reactions to the change have ranged from mild annoyance to legitimate alarm. Some advertising deals were inked under the assumption that shows had audiences they no longer have. The update also means that some shows could struggle to meet minimum download agreements. The fact that no major podcasts would talk about how much they lost is a sign that many big shows aren’t ready to admit how much their audiences have shrunk.
This could create some real problems in an industry that, in some cases, paid hefty up-front money to “personalities” and at some point will have to have awkward discussions with narcissists involving pay restructure because few are really rushing to hear what they say.
But even if it is not responsible for a sudden drop, podcast publishers are bracing themselves for a decline. “From our detailed analysis, these adjustments will largely impact download numbers on back catalog episodes, which are typically categorized as content older than 7 days,” Acast CEO Ross Adams wrote in a blog post on Thursday. “However, it’s important to note that these adjustments do not reflect a change in the unique audience a podcast has, simply the number of downloads per user. On the whole, this will mean more accurate measurement and a more efficient depiction of a podcast’s total listens.”
You know who loves accuracy? Advertisers. And you know who doesn’t love paying for impressions that aren’t really impressions? Yeah, you get the drift. As this plays out, I will be interested to see how advertisers react to these changes.
— The Verge, 10/17/23
I can’t imagine how much a publisher pays on a monthly basis for storage, or if they own their own servers, how much it’s going to cost to expand, but if you’re having trouble getting advertisers or can’t tell them accurately what the reach to consumers is, that could be a problem.
It appears it now is.
Granted, a lot of the discussion centers around their reach to a smartphone, which nowadays also connects and sends content to automobiles (that strategically stopped putting CD players in them a few years ago). When phone manufacturers upgrade, it creates havoc downwind and that’s part of the problem.
Again, the subscription business model was ripe for those who wanted to take a website public, make a gob of money off screwed content creators, hire hundreds of employees, meanwhile forcing their consumers to pay for programming they like and programming they never consume. That is a model doomed for failure and it’s only a matter of time, especially when consumers revolt.
The geniuses as NBC decided to buck tradition, screw over the millions of football fans who already paid for cable subscriptions, and made the Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs playoff game available only to those who bought a subscription to Peacock, and went as far as openly bragging about it. Yet another act of public relations arrogance, thus stupidity.
And if it’s any consolation….
Sadly, those losses have pretty much become par for the course. The NBCUniversal streaming platform lost $704 million in the prior quarter (and $467 million in Q2 2022). The company expects to post “peak” losses from streaming — to the tune of $3 billion — in 2023. Good thing Comcast is soon to come into about $9 billion in streaming bucks through the sale of its Hulu stake to Disney.
— Yahoo! Entertainment, 7/27/23
Chances are very good that once their tech-challenged, NFL playoff broadcasts are over, Peacock subscription will be cancelled en masse and they have it coming.
It’s no surprise the podcast industry is cratering. Most of those, who deem themselves important, aren’t creative enough to find new ways to talk about the same thing. They seem to believe an audience will be perpetually enamored simply because they said it. But they are still a part of what we used to refer to as the “entertainment business”. With few exceptions, people talking isn’t really all that entertaining.
Especially when it comes to people who have nothing else of value to give the world.