The podcast hug: a mindful space

Joining our podcast discussion panel: former Newstalk presenter Dil Wickremasinghe, a recent convert to the medium via Sparking Change with Dil; founder of women’s sporting podcast Fair Game, Elaine Buckley and Headstuff podcast network founder Alan Bennett.

Brand new to the podcasting game and giddy with its possibilities was the panel host, our Publish Or Perish MC Blindboy Boatclub, who released the first weekly installment of The Blindboy Podcast in mid-October and has held firm at the number 1 spot in the Irish iTunes charts ever since.

“I came up with this in an interview last week, what I’ve coined as ‘the podcast hug‘; in the everyday cacophony of social media, podcasts offer a more mindful space”.

The Rubberbandits have built a prominent internet profile over the past decade, amounting to a combined reach on Facebook and Twitter of 1.5 million, so it’s fair to say that Blindboy has a better frame of reference than most brands for podcast performance and audience engagement.

“I’ve been putting out content of some form or another for years. I’ve never had such engagement as I have with the podcast. I’m getting fucking essays from people in response – it made me think, it’s like I went from being just a person on the internet to being their friend.”

You are now entering a troll-free zone

So we can agree on the mindful space podcasts offer to listeners, but what’s so great about podcasting from the content creator’s perspective?

For Dil Wickremasinghe, having spent the past 10 years as a radio broadcaster in conventional media, the editorial freedom podcasting offers her over radio has her hooked:

“At the end of the day, it’s your name on the door…I have a duty of care to the listener; I don’t care about ratings.”

Elaine Buckley set Fair Game up as a response to spending a lot of time fighting with people on the internet about women’s sports. Interestingly, the podcasting sphere doesn’t lend itself to trolling.

 “[Our listeners] have sought Fair Game out, it’s not like they’ve had a view foisted upon them in their newsfeeds, they actually want to listen to what you’ve got to say…”

Blindboy agreed that the “angry feeling” on Facebook and Twitter doesn’t apply to podcast audiences, not only because people are more open and have time to be compassionate, but because the “dehumanisation” factor that applies to social media doesn’t apply – listening to a human is “realer” than reading about them or what they have to say.

Long-form hearing

Discussing the commercial viability of podcasting, Alan Bennett, founder of the Headstuff podcast network, was quick to point out that while brands and most big companies tend to think of audiences in terms of reach, they’re completely missing the point.

“The audience of a podcast may be small, but it’s a lot more targetted [than social media audiences]. That’s so relevant.”

How so? Because the audience partakes in a deeper engagement, what Elaine Buckley and the Fair Game team call ‘long-form hearing’ i.e – if a target has gone to all the trouble of downloading and listening to a podcast, they’re more deeply engaged than if they were to swipe through their Facebook feed and see an organic post – or even, a paid ad.

That’s why the Fair Game team would rather have 50 people listening who are actually hearing – who are engaging.

Lessons from the 14th (and 15th) centuries

So what about brands – where does the advertising fit into the podcasting universe? Blindboy has an old-world solution:

“Brands should look at the art world in the 14th/15th centuries and act as the patrons did: ‘here’s a pile of money, be creative!’ They should say: ‘we’re going to pay you to do that thing that is you and engage your audience authentically.”

The Limerick artist insisted that the nature of podcasting allows hosts to talk honestly to their audience about advertising, in a way that won’t annoy them: “look, if Red Bull sponsors me, I’m going to call it ‘fizzy medicine’ and be honest! That’s my outlook! That’s what they’re getting from me.”

An immersive content ‘experience’

So what’s the next likely step in the evolution of podcasting? Will the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland swoop in and ruin the fun for the Blindboys and the bad boys (and girls)? Alan Bennett doesn’t think so, pointing out that the internet is 15/16 years ahead of podcasting but still essentially without regulation.

Still championing the medium as the panel wrapped up was Dil Wickremasinghe: “video killed the radio star; podcasts will kill everybody!”

The last word to Blindboy, our conference MC, who mused:

“what if I put a 360 degree camera on my head as I recorded the podcast and created an immersive experience for the audience? Is that the next level of podcasting?”

There was a healthy smattering of laughter in the Science Gallery in response, with the remark widely received as an off-the-cuff quip by The Rubberbandits star; I’d gamble that this was something else entirely: prescience. Watch this space.