I recently had the opportunity to express my interest in a field I’ve never officially worked in, for a company I’d never worked for, in an industry I’ve been out of for over a decade: audio, more specifically, audio on-demand, or as we’ve called it for twenty years, podcasting.

I didn’t make it past expressing interest for the position but my application - in the form of audio on demand - was “one of the most creative submissions I’ve seen/heard” said an ABC executive, which I sincerely appreciate, but my fire and passion for podcasting/audio on-demand has now been given oxygen - after over a decade of self-employment I applied for the job intending to get it.

So, I wanted to at least document my thoughts here on my blog, and then open source them, release my thoughts to the greater podcasting public.

May these gathered thoughts help or inspire you to succeed in the field, even if you got the job as Head of Audio on Demand for the ABC ;)

What I would do if I was the ABC’s Head of Audio on Demand

  • Create a role of tastemaker for the network. They’re the evangelist for the entire network of shows large and small. They themselves release a regular podcast but are also actively blogging and social media creating about episodes and shows. They’re the network’s number one fan and advocate.
  • Serve the niches to an extreme. Look for the small, weird, wonderful communities and interests. Niche passions are infectious, interesting, and lead to great audiences. Think Francis Bourgeois.
  • Serve local extremely well. The ABC already does this so well on every other medium, but the town of Esperance deserves a local daily podcast, as much as the region of Greater Sydney does along with Penrith. Every Australian should have a local podcast they MUST listen to, like it’s the gospel.
  • Up the metadata game. In radio we called the 1% of ultra-mad fans P1 fans, I was told it was because they had our station on preset one. P1 fans love the metadata that makes podcasts so more enjoyable, things like chapters for skipping to topics, unique and captivating album art per episode, and also album art to visually explain chapters. Like if a chart is mentioned, the chart is that album’s artwork. Metadata includes utilising all of the podcast specifications like categories, episode and season numbers, trailer identifiers, podcast:person tags, and show notes with links to things and people mentioned. Look at Podnews' How-To articles and podcasting2.org and get your CMS or software developers to build support for all the apps.
  • Album art like Mr Beast. YouTuber Mr Beast knows that the thumbnail of a video is almost more important than the content, it’s what brings people into the episode. Album art is a neglected wasteland in podcasting, up your game.
  • Unearthed for podcasting. I can still remember when Triple J Unearthed came to Mackay - my friend Leah even has video of me at the event {screen grab of the video to prove I was young once}. Over the past thirty years Unearthed has provided an amazing platform for the up and coming musical acts of Australia. I’m dreaming of a similar program for podcasters. An on ramping exercise to the wider network, developing talent, encouraging it, providing resources and assistance.
  • Success, how do we measure it? The Triton Digital Australian Podcast Ranker provides a nice big list of podcast success, but I would sincerely ask all stakeholders whether that listing defines our success or not. I just think of my own podcasting efforts as a wedding celebrant. I would have one of the least successful podcasts in the universe but I’m probably a top 1% earner because everyone that listens to my podcast books me to be their celebrant. No podcaster is getting that kind of return from each listener.
  • Expanding what audio on demand means. We all know what a podcast is supposed to look like today. A regular release, either daily, weekly, monthly, of a drop of audio. But if we look at audio like we do video, there’s feature films, short films, miniseries, documentaries, anthology series, reality TV, ‘straight to home video’ films. How can some of those storytelling mediums be transposed to audio, and could they be released from the “release date” that immediately dates a podcast when released?
  • Embracing the open web and our own platform. Anil Dash recently wrote this great piece, “Wherever you get your podcasts” is a radical statement, and I agree, and will wholeheartedly fight for the open web. The simple fact that you or I can publish a website or a podcast without needing permission from Zuckerberg, whoever is running Spotify, or Tim Cook. But then it also makes a lot of sense for a publisher to own its platform, like the ABC does with ABC Listen. So find the balance between the two.
  • Drop introductions for audio logos. Think of the Netflix Tudum or the Apple Macintosh or Windows XP startup sound. Instead of wasting precious seconds at the start and end of a podcast, employ an audio logo. The first seconds of a podcast are where the decisions to keep on listening are made, don’t waste it with lots of fancy talk about how we’re listening to another ABC Podcast.
  • Debate what we’re calling this. Before Ben Hammersly mashed together the words iPod and broadcast it was called audioblogging. Today we’re playing with the term “audio on-demand” but it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. My gripe is that people call videos on Youtube a podcast. The terminology is messy, and potentially there’s no fix, but somehow everyone agreed on what radio meant. Maybe the same can happen with recorded audio delivered on RSS or the web at your leisure?
  • Spread it far and wide with the wheel of content. I’m not going to make out like this is a Josh original, but I’ve been banging on about this since I worked at Southern Cross Austereo, 96five, 4BC and Fairfax radio, and everyone there looked at me like I was crazy. It’s my “Wheel of Content” idea. The simple idea is that a story enters the wheel at the hub (the middle), and then it works itself out through the different channels, audio, video, text, short form, longform, infographics, social media posts, all of it. Record the podcast, break it out into a number of blog posts, into smaller podcast episodes, into videos, tweets, posts, toots, whatever. Make that content work not just double time but 10x its usability. Get the story out of the mp3 file and run it far and wide.
  • Cross-guest. Introduce hosts and personalities from across the network as guests on other podcasts. Pretend like you’re not the only podcast in the network.
  • A big head with a long tail. This is my final thought that encapsulates all of them. Any one network can most likely only afford the social capital to market ten shows a year well. We’re talking large-scale marketing campaigns. But that same network should have 10x (at least) that number shows it is actively producing. This is not a new idea, Netflix and many streaming apps work the same way. Evangelism is a costly exercise, so evangelise the hits, and let the rest of the network ride off that network-effect of getting listeners interested in the rest of the shows. Build a big fat visible head of up to ten shows, and let that tail grow as long as you can resource.

So much credit to friends for hearing me talk about podcasts and this job in particular so much, but also credit to industry leaders I’ve either been lucky enough to call friend, or have watched esnrestly from afar, like Cameron Reilly, James Cridland, and Scotty McDonald, and then Marco Arment with Overcast and ATP, plus Myke and Stephen of Relay FM who have been doing lots of this for a while already.