The long tail of audio

I spent this past weekend at the Third Coast public radio conference in Chicago. In many of the sessions, and hallway conversations, and up-way-too-late-at-a-public-radio-conference-mostly-drunk rants, you could feel a sense of renewed excitement around podcasting, and the wave of independence and entrepreneurship we’re seeing in this space.

Then, this morning in my inbox, via Seth’s blog, a prediction about terrestrial radio:

Just as newspapers fell off a cliff, radio is about to follow. It’s going to happen faster than anyone expects. And of course, it will be replaced by a new thing, a long tail of audio that’s similar (but completely different) from what we were looking for from radio all along.

Podcast networks like Radiotopia, Infinite Guest, Maximum Fun, Earwolf, etc. seem well-positioned for what’s next. Their lineups are full of subject and personality-driven shows. Individually, these shows might not draw broadcast numbers, but in the aggregate, they’re significant. These podcast networks feature shows that would never find a home over-the-air. Shows that are too niche, or too weird, or don’t fit a broadcast clock.

Some traditional broadcasters, like WNYC with its growing slate of nichier, podcast-only programs, give me hope that a few dinosaurs might give birth to mammals.

So then, what’s CBC Radio’s podcasting strategy? I can’t pretend to know, but judging from the current lineup of podcasts, it’s all about mirroring the existing over-the-air broadcast lineup.

The best podcasts out there embrace the unique properties of the medium. They’re intimate, and personal. They’re portable. They’re not constrained to broadcast lengths. They take advantage of the fact that listeners start from the beginning, every time.

Simply duplicating broadcast programming in podcast form isn’t going to cut it in Seth’s “long tail of audio.”

Way back in 2008, Mark Ramsey talked about “starts” — small public radio experiments that are all about trying new ideas.

Podcasts are perfect for starts.

Let’s start something.