I was scheduled to speak at four sessions at Radiodays Europe this year in Prague.
In the second session, I was one of four speakers each given 7 minutes to predict how a topic will change over the next 12 months. Eric Nuzum chose to say that market saturation was a red herring. I chose to speak about open podcasting instead, and the benefit of keeping it open. Bear in mind that many of the audience were from broadcast radio stations. The following is a lightly-edited version.
Hello - or g’day to my fellow Australians in the audience. I’ve been living in Australia for almost eight years now. I haven’t picked up the accent. But I have been learning about my new country, in order to get my Australian passport.
Like Czech Radio, Australia is also celebrating 100 years of radio this year - at least, commercial radio.
On November 23rd 1923, the first commercial radio station started broadcasting in Australia. It was called 2SB. If you wanted to listen, you needed to buy a special radio receiver. It was called a sealed set, and it JUST picked up 2SB, and money from it went to fund the programmes. So when another radio station called 2FC started broadcasting a month later, you couldn’t pick it up on your 2SB radio receiver. You needed buy another sealed set, which only picked up 2FC.
Of course, that was a resounding failure. In the first six months, less than 1,500 sealed sets were sold. In less than a year, the radio industry dropped the idea of sealed sets entirely.
These days, in almost every country on earth, you buy a radio receiver and it will just work. Buy an FM radio receiver here in Prague, and it picks up all the stations on FM. Buy a DAB radio here, and it’ll get all the DAB stations available. You don’t need a specific thing to enjoy all the content that’s out there.
When podcasting started, it was open. Very open. You didn’t need to submit your podcast to Apple: Apple wasn’t even involved in podcasting for the first year or so. You just told people where your RSS feed was, and people would listen. Just as anyone can put up a website, so anyone can put up an RSS feed for a podcast. Open podcasting means any podcast can be enjoyed on any podcast app. Just like any FM radio station can be enjoyed on any FM radio receiver.
The last few years, though, have seen some changes to that. Spotify uses RSS feeds, but also has its own exclusive shows, from Joe Rogan to Gemischtes Hack, from Dick and Doof to Vad? to La Poudre. Those are only available on the Spotify app.
The new sealed sets of podcasting don’t stop with Spotify. Apple Podcasts has quietly put into place exclusive podcast subscriptions, only available on the Apple Podcasts app. Amazon Music has its own exclusive shows, as does Podimo, and Luminary. And YouTube is to get into this space soon, too - making podcasts available on YouTube, and circumventing the entire podcast ecosystem while it does it.
Worse - we’ve seen broadcasters also making their own sealed sets for podcasting. Some private radio stations have produced exclusive content only available in their own apps. And some public service broadcasters have got bored with serving the public, and instead bully audiences into downloading their apps, in the quest for more data.
And in the next 12 months, I see this getting worse, not better. Podcasting is open: anyone can produce a podcast and appear in the same place as podcasts from anyone else. But for how much longer?
I see open podcasting seeing renewed interest in the next twelve months, as the industry wakes up to the threat of an end to the open podcast ecosystem.
Indeed, open podcasting is seeing renewed interest today. Podnews comes out in an hour or so - but I know what’s gone in today - and I can announce this morning the formation of a new industry group, called the Podcast Standards Project. The Podcast Standards Project is dedicated to evangelising and evolving open, standards-based podcasting. Participating are major podcast hosting companies including Buzzsprout, RSS.com, Transistor, Acast and Captivate; and major podcast players, including Pocket Casts and Podverse.
The Podcast Standards Project will work on enhanced features for open podcasting, including transcripts and captions, and simpler ways to connect audiences to support their favourite show.
This grassroots industry coalition is just one example of how open podcasting can unlock innovation and improve podcasting for audiences and creators alike. More details in the newsletter at podnews.net
So, what next for podcasting in the next twelve months? I think everything revolves around keeping podcasting open. Open podcasting is a reason for podcasting’s success so far: and its success to come.
Sealed sets - or closed, walled gardens - do still have their place in this world. Indeed, there is still one country where the only radio receivers you can buy are sealed sets - tuned in to one frequency. That country is North Korea.
I think things are better when they’re open. Let’s keep them that way. Thank you, and keep listening.