One of the common hot takes in media right now is that podcasts would greatly benefit from a video component. But I believe this is just a play for people who want another “pivot to video” to happen to line their pockets as another medium goes down. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen people insist that a perfectly functional space is in need of disruption, and it won’t be the last.
Why Audio Doesn’t Need Video
Podcasts aren’t just videos without a camera budget. Audio is its own, independent thing. Podcasts are great because you don’t need to be looking at anything. Listeners can be driving, cooking, working or walking around the neighborhood, with or without service as long as they download the episodes, all while listening to their favorite podcasters talk.
Being so portable and on-demand at any time of the day kept the podcast industry afloat during the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown. That’s why after some initial uncertainty in March and April 2020, download rates continued to climb throughout 2020 and beyond. Spare screens and privacy were hard to come by, but podcasts were a moment of someone else telling you a funny story in your ears, even if the only time to do that was on the mandated walk around the block.
Defending an art form to those who seem determined to disrupt it for profit and under the pretense of innovation feels futile to some degree, so this piece isn’t for them. What I’m hoping to do is not only sound an alarm but also drive home that podcasting has succeeded because of its specificity and focus on one medium, not in spite of it.
The ‘Pivoting to Video’ Problem
“Pivoting to video” is a business practice so ubiquitous it has its own Wikipedia page. If you don’t remember, Facebook, now Meta, declared in 2015 that it was seeing 8 billion average video views daily, and media companies aimed to staff up their video teams. But it turns out that Meta admitted it overestimated the average viewing time. When the inflated ad estimations failed to materialize, even more media workers lost their jobs.
From my perspective, this new call for video podcasting is the same wolf in different clothing. Major audio companies sometimes criticize perfectly functional technology in order to woo venture capital and impress investors. With podcasts, some claim that everything from host-read ads to the RSS feed itself is broken, and coincidentally, whatever they’re selling is the answer. Apps that want to own all of audio and dominate people’s listening time would greatly benefit from podcasters releasing content in even more monetizable ways. What audiences want doesn’t seem to matter; touching even more parts of the content landscape does.
The technology of podcasting works just fine. The RSS feed is the aqueduct of the internet, reliably transmitting media from creators to audiences. Just because they’re old (in internet terms) doesn’t mean they’re outdated. I believe these manufactured crises about our tools and strategies are meant to scare podcasters into thinking we are falling behind or not doing enough — that we have to replace those old, boring aquifers with newfangled pipelines.
RSS = Success
Podcasters can continue to thrive without a specific platform. There’s no YouTube changing its algorithm to favor content that makes itself more money, or Twitch unilaterally deciding what your income splits will be. Being independent lets us own our intellectual property, decide how and where to connect with our audiences, and charge three times more for our ads than YouTube’s marketplace does. Audiences are more willing than ever to support creators directly, and tools like Patreon make it easy to do so. Thousands of creators make a living on their own terms every day, making choices to please themselves and their audiences. It’s just that no one’s writing catchy headlines about it.
The only thing podcasters “need”to do is to listen to themselves and their audiences. I know that’s not the sexy, “get rich and run your own Squid Game” decision, but it’s true. Make decisions that suit you: your goals, your show and your audience. Try new things because you want to, not because you’re afraid of missing that one foolproof thing that will make you blow up. Double down on what you know works, use tools you understand and always value your audience’s trust over some company’s interests.
So, should you add video to your podcast? Sure, if you want to! If video would be an exciting addition for you and your audience, go for it. But for most of us, video might simply be the latest non-solution to a non-problem.