Technology

Why Podcasts Become Netflix

This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. This is a collection of past column.

Whether you listen to podcasts or not, you should appreciate some of the weirdness about them. Podcasting is one of the few areas of digital entertainment and information that is not yet controlled by giant corporations.

That phase is ending, and now there’s a battle to be the podcast’s Big Tech Boss.

The previous weeks of Controversy involving podcast host Joe Rogan highlighted the ways Spotify and other companies want to be the Netflix of podcasting. They imagine controlling both popular programming like Rogan’s and the digital point where we listen.

This comes at a time when tech enthusiasts want to revamp the Internet to become less ordered by powerful companies – was taken by the term “Web3”. That reality already exists in podcasts and is fading. What’s happening with podcasts is a potentially frustrating lesson that utopian ideals of digital freedom can give way when the potential profits become too tempting.

Let me step back and explain why podcasts are a relatively liberal corner of digital life, and what we gain and lose now that it’s changing.

In theory, anyone could create a podcast in their basement and then distribute it to everywhere people listen to the podcast. There is no one set of rules that everyone has to follow.

Maybe that doesn’t seem remarkable, but it is. In most of the internet, Big Tech brings people to the door.

Apple and (to a lesser extent) Google decide where we download apps, how we pay for them, and what features they include. Amazon effectively drives what millions of online merchants and shoppers do. The places where we form communities online are often controlled by superpowers like Facebook.

Most podcast listeners use the standard audio app with the iPhone, but Apple isn’t nearly as involved in podcasts as it is in apps. Podcasts for a while were a bohemian but glorious free thing for everyone.

There’s no moment when podcasting starts to sound like an exclusive nightclub. But Spotify’s decisions started a few years ago to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for exclusive rights to what people like Rogan and podcast company Gimlet Media produced when podcasts started charting along the same path as Netflix.

If you love Rogan, you can just listen to his shows on Spotify. (Spotify bought two more podcast tech companies this week.) Fans of the true crime podcast series “My Favorite Murders” or the entrepreneur interviews on “How did I make this“Must use Amazon’s music app to listen to the latest episodes.

Ashley Carman, podcasting business writer for The Verge, called 2021 the year that “the foundation came to our ears,” with Facebook, YouTube, New York Times and Sirius XM shows that they also have bigger ambitions in podcasting.

And it happened because companies wanted our ears and our attention. “It changed when podcasting became a business strategy for these companies,” says Tatiana Cirisanoa music industry analyst and consultant with MIDiA Research.

Spotify has quite a few similar songs available elsewhere online, and it has trouble monetizing the music. Podcasts, especially popular ones that people can only find on Spotify, can be a company’s ticket to long-term financial success. Nearly 30 percent of Americans listen to podcasts every week, the audience and sell ads is developing rapidly. Podcasts have become a cultural force. That’s a delicious goal for companies.

Powerful companies taking more control over podcasts have its benefits. It’s easier to find things you might like because Amazon, Spotify, or YouTube can suggest options for you to explore. Spotify has smart podcast ideas Take advantage of a mix of music and podcasts, including shows that combine songs with host jokes similar to the morning DJs on the radio.

But it’s also a pity that podcasts are being tamed. As soon as something becomes popular and profitable enough, relatively unregulated digital services become a swath of technology for gatekeepers. And with that land grab, perhaps we’ll see a little less creative freedom.


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Fry Electronics Team

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