Traditionally, this is the time of year when people take some time to reflect on the year just gone, as well as thinking about their hopes and ambitions for the one to come. It’s also when people start putting together their Christmas lists, so if anyone’s out shopping for me, in addition to some new socks and a crate of jammy dodgers, there are a few more aspirational things I’d like to find under my metaphorical tree.
I believe in a sustainable audio industry that values creativity and passion, where brands invest in deep and collaborative advertising partnerships with podcasters - and since we’re talking about fairy tales, I may as well ask Santa to check a few of these items off my list.
With this in mind, I’ve decided to publish my letter to Santa Claus this year as an open letter.
I’ve been a very good boy this year - I always look both ways before crossing the road, and I never skip the ads. Admittedly, I haven’t been as diligent at checking out new shoes as I could be, and I don’t find the time to leave five-star reviews on my favourite shows that often, but I’m sure you can overlook that.
I’m sure that, even as most of us are winding down, your busy period is only really starting to kick in now. You’ve got plenty on your plate - besides milk and cookies, I mean - so I’ll cut to the chase. Forget about Scalextric or a new bike; these are the things that I really want for Christmas.
When it comes to stocking-fillers, I know chocolate coins are traditional, but I’ve never liked them much. Instead, I’d much prefer if you could persuade the industry to spend just a little less time focusing on short-form video channels like TikTok. It’s a great format, don’t get me wrong - the potential reach it offers is substantial, and there are some organisations using it very effectively. However, putting too much emphasis on it can lure podcasters into thinking that they need to be filming with a full studio setup or there’s no point doing it at all.
Audio-only podcasting is still perfectly viable, and in fact, it’s often deceptively difficult to convert a social audience into podcast listeners, and TikTok’s recent decision to shutter its podcast features suggests it’s not going to get easier any time soon. The key is to focus on producing great content, in the medium that best suits it, rather than rushing to video for its own sake.
An overreliance on social video with no clear concept of how it was going to translate to increased revenue was what scuppered the first generation of online content, with internet comedy brands like Cracked and The Onion going all-in on video because it was the next big thing. This proved unsustainable, and I worry that podcasting could be at risk of starting down the same path, if left unchecked.
Part of the reason behind the video content crisis of the late 2000s was that Facebook - the hottest content distribution channel in the world at the time - had already put most of its eggs in the video basket, in an attempt to counteract YouTube’s growing popularity. Accordingly, it encouraged brands and creators to produce more and more video, disincentivising other kinds of posts on the platform and emphasising the huge view counts being racked up by creators.
Manipulating your algorithm to artificially incentivise the production of a certain kind of content is already enough to earn you a few lumps of coal, but the thing that really put Facebook on the naughty list was that it was basically lying about its viewing figures.
Without relitigating the case, the company auto-played videos in users’ feeds, and then counted any watch time longer than three seconds as a view. As has been pointed out, this is like if a restaurant counted anyone who glanced over a menu as a satisfied customer, and doesn’t represent an accurate picture of a publisher’s success with their content strategy.
The fundamental problem was a lack of open and transparent analytics data for video, and podcasting faces a similar problem today - which is why, this Christmas, I’d like to find better cross-platform podcast analytics under my tree. I’ve written before about the challenges of tracking podcast data beyond basic info like the number of downloads and geographic breakdown, so if your elves could whip up an open standard which allowed for more detailed metrics like completion rates and listener acquisition, I’d be a very happy boy.
Finally, I’ve got one more request - but since Christmas is a season of giving, it’s not a present for me, but for the advertising and media professionals of the world. Despite the huge range of proven benefits that podcasting can deliver as part of an advertising strategy, it’s often not included on many media plans beyond some token spending on programmatic audio.
I think this is because podcasting doesn’t have the same level of cultural ubiquity as things like out-of-home or TV advertising, and so this year, when you come down the chimneys all the good little media planners and CMOs, I’d like you to fill their stockings with a couple of podcasts that really resonate with them. If more people within the advertising world became regular podcast listeners, I believe they’d see the value in deep, targeted partnerships, and we could start the slow process of establishing podcasts as a viable creative channel.
Understanding requires experience, and until more media professionals can assess podcasting from a place of familiarity, it’s still likely to remain an afterthought - like the toffee fingers in a box of Quality Street, an accepted fixture, but never the main event.
I’m sure you’ve got a lot of these letters to get through, and I wouldn’t be too surprised if more than a few of the ones that you’ve had from my fellow podcasters have asked for similar things. I’ll not take up any more of your time - I’ll just finish by saying that, after a year of sweating over waveforms and audiograms, I think I know how your elves are feeling this year.
Adam Shepherd, aged 30
P.S. I moved into a block of flats with no chimney this year, so if you need to get in on Christmas Eve, just ring the buzzer and I’ll let you up.