What I learned at The Podcast Show 2023

Podcasts are becoming more than just an audio delivery channel

I don't think I've ever been as grateful for a bank holiday as I am this week. May was hands down the busiest month we've ever had here at PodPod, and I definitely needed the chance to rest my poor, fried brain after an absolutely mammoth run of content and events.

Not only did we announce the winners of PodPod’s inaugural Faces To Watch scheme at the start of this month, we also had Campaign’s Media 360 conference in Brighton, at which I hosted a panel discussion on measuring ROI for podcast advertising. Finally, to cap all of that off, last week was our first ever appearance at The Podcast Show - a two-and-a-half day whirlwind of meetings, talks and interviews in which what felt like the whole of the podcast industry descended on Islington to share and learn.

10,000 delegates attended the show at Islington’s Business Design Centre, where dozens of companies such as Amazon, BBC Sounds, Fresh Air and more all had exhibition stands. As one of the key media partners for the event (alongside Campaign), PodPod also had its own stand on the show floor, and hosted seven panel sessions over the course of the event. 

Most of my time at the show was spent moderating these sessions (including two fantastic panels with a selection of our Faces To Watch winners), as well as doing multiple audio recordings - including tomorrow’s podcast, live from Spiritland Productions’ rather plush studio space at the venue. I did manage to catch two sessions: a panel discussion on BrewDog’s newly-renewed partnership with That Peter Crouch Podcast, expertly moderated by PodPod’s Reem Makari, and Global’s panel announcing The News Agents: USA

If you want to know more about the major themes and trends that emerged from this year’s show, you can read Reem’s excellent feature on the subject, but I did glean one insight in particular that I’d like to share with you. One of the things that struck me was the number of people throughout the show who referred to ‘watching podcasts’, often using this terminology interchangeably with ‘listening’. It indicates to me that, particularly for newer podcasts, incorporating a video element into your show is edging closer and closer to becoming standard practice.

As an example of this, Sky News set up a mini-studio TV in the centre of the exhibition space to record a series of shows about different aspects of podcasting (such as the impact on coverage of the next general election) in front of a live audience of delegates, including a special edition of The Ian King Business Podcast looking at the future of the sector.

In addition, there was a lot of conversation around the importance of spreading podcast video content across multiple channels, notably social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok. At the same time, however, there’s a consensus that there’s really no good way to directly convert audiences on these platforms into listeners, and limited ways to monetise them on-platform. 

Instead, many podcasters - and some forward-thinking brands - are looking at podcasts as multi-channel media brands, rather than as an isolated audio content stream. This allows podcasters to aggregate the audiences they have across social, video platforms and the podcast’s RSS feed, and lends itself to the deeper partnership-based campaigns which are slowly starting to gain traction among advertisers. 

Multiple brand marketers told me at the show that they’re looking to either introduce or increase the role of video within their podcast partnerships, often with the explicit goal of growing their reach by capturing audiences on other platforms that don’t listen to traditional audio-only podcasts. 

Ben Kerr, managing director of Somethin:Else Creative Studio said that the Dish podcast - a branded show produced on behalf of Waitrose - was always envisioned as a wider multimedia franchise, and this attitude is becoming increasingly commonplace. It reinforces something that PodPod editorial director and Campaign editor-in-chief Gideon Spanier touched on in a previous column (and at the panel session he hosted during the show): podcasts are now brands in their own right, with their own identity, voice and media mix. 

However, this raises the question of what defines a podcast. Purists may argue that a recorded conversation and a filmed conversation offer different experiences for the audience, but when it’s the same conversation with no changes to the format, I feel it’s difficult to claim that they’re totally distinct entities. If the visuals aren't adding anything in terms of extra information or content, then what's the real difference between a filmed podcast and an audio-only one? 

One possible solution is to reevaluate the way we categorise speech audio content entirely. Maybe a narrative fiction podcast and an audiobook aren't really all that different; maybe a narrative non-fiction podcast is just an audio documentary. And maybe a 'podcast' is just the name that we give to conversational interview or chat-based entertainment, regardless of whether it's on YouTube, TikTok or Apple Podcasts.

On the other hand, this isn't a can of worms that we need to open just yet. Right now, the industry's priority should be working out how to leverage the power of its burgeoning multi-channel platform. Podcasts have evolved from the days of relying on just a microphone and an RSS feed, and while expanding the footprint of your brand to channels like video and social may seem a little intimidating for those yet to take the leap, exploiting the existing pull of these formats can help elevate your podcasting - however you care to define it - to the lofty heights that events like The Podcast Show demonstate it can reach.