Segmentation matters

This American Life has split its back catalog of shows up into individual stories (or “acts” in TAL parlance):

First off, on each episode page, in addition to the big PLAY button at the top, there are now play buttons for individual stories. No more shuttling through audio to get to that one story your friend told you about. Of course, we believe that the episodes are best heard as a whole, but we understand that sometimes you’re just after one particular act. So there’s that.

This is great. I’ve been preaching this kind of simple segmentation to my colleagues at CBC for a long while now. Yes, we work hard to create shows that often have themes running through them. Yes, we want our shows to be more than the sum of their parts. And yes, it can be a little painful to build a show up, then cut it back down into its component parts.

But arguing that radio shows “are best heard as a whole” and not offering individual stories sounds a bit like how AC/DC  refuses to sell individual tracks on iTunes, saying, “We don’t make singles, we make albums.”

This American Life‘s new offering makes their show so much more spreadable and sharable by fans.

The other day, a colleague and I were discussing CBC’s digital radio strategy. Particularly, the CBC’s approach to online sharability and spreadability. I offered the following exercise as an illustration of where we’re just not getting it right.

Compare and contrast the experience of the following:

  1. Point a friend to a YouTube video you saw
  2. Point a friend to an NPR news story you heard on the radio
  3. Point a friend to a CBC story you heard on the radio

Let’s try this by writing a few imaginary email messages. First, pointing a friend to a YouTube video:

Hi, Tom.

Check out this video about marmosets: «>>. You’ll love it!


Next, pointing a friend to an NPR news story I heard on the radio:

Hi, Tom.

Check out this crazy NPR story about zombies: «>>. You’ll love it!


Finally, pointing a friend to a CBC story I heard on the radio:

Hi, Tom.

Check out this story about Fabian Manning. Go here: «>> and then click on “Listen to Part 2” and once it’s loaded, scroll to about the 16 minute and thirty second mark. You’ll love it!


See the problem here?

I’m not trying to pick on As it Happens here (honestly, I’m not). They’re just a convenient example of a magazine-style show with a bunch of different stories in it. They do lots of stories every day, and there’s a good chance I might want to send one story in particular to a friend. The majority of CBC Radio programs are in exactly the same boat.

Here’s the point: people want what they want when they want it. Offering easy access to individual stories (like TAL does, or how Quirks and Quarks offers a segmented podcast) helps people share and spread the stories they love. It helps create the conditions for virality.

There’s a technical challenge here. There’s a resource challenge here. And there’s a culture challenge here. You need the right publishing tools to make segmentation easy. You need a human being to actually do the segmentation. But most of all, you need a workforce that understands how informations is spread and shared online.

Comparing the spreadability of radio stories from NPR (with it’s relatively small budget) and CBC, we have some catching up to do. Why are we not breakup up all of our shows into pieces? Why can’t I embed a radio story on my blog in the same way I can embed a YouTube video? Shouldn’t we? Shouldn’t I be able to?