271 - Podcasts

I can appreciate that a podcast is a product you might absorb while your eyes are otherwise busy. For me that is when in the car and I think only then. I see a lot of people who have decided that milder forms of exercise fall into this category, but I disagree on several counts, where the most important of these is safety. 1  To my simplistic mind, the occasions where one can genuinely do two things at once is pretty limited and, for me, exercise is one of those things I take sufficiently seriously to want to concentrate on it.

I feel the same way about a lot of driving and will often drive in silence. On familiar routes and motorways I am in that sense available as a customer and at this point the radio, a choice of music and podcasts are possible additions to the environment. Quite clearly, the test is that (i) one's eyes are busy and (ii) the brain has the capacity to listen and to continue to do the activity, in this case driving. I am still not entirely comfortable with concentrating on listening and therefore not concentrating on driving. My absorption of material on radio and television tends to be complete — if watching a film, I am concentrating on the product and I would very rarely watch something and do something else at the same time; the material that deserves only partial attention is either switched off or only viewed as a recording with a finger on the fast forward button. Examples: quite a lot of sport is watched by me that way: penalties in field sports, the collective down time. F1 is a case in point where I cut out the long passages of motoring around in single file — in a sense filtering for the action. For televised athletics and similar (swimming, cycling) I am often even more selective, but what the general press shows (e.g., the last 100m of a middle distance race) is too little, especially when the producer has decided that the post-event interview is part of the service. Soccer goals spend quite as long on the aftermath as they do on the event, when to me the construction of the score—understanding who was where and why—is a significant part of the appreciation of the event. I apply the same thinking to all the sport I watch; the producer / director's opinion of what it is I want to see is a long way adrift.

So a podcast has very limited use to me. Yet I am aware that there is a growing wealth of material, and surely some of it would be interesting. Which either requires me to find periods where listening could be done in parallel with something else or, turning that around, I need to find some activities I could do while listening to a podcast.

A very little research found several sources of useful information. [1] is written to encourage people to create podcasts, written to persuade providers that they need to do more to grow the market. Horrible phrase. It points out that the population listening to podcasts is surprisingly different from those who know about it but don't do listening. I am well aware that I fall on a wing of the distribution; I know what they are but I've never listened to one. I know that there is stuff I'd like to listen to (Radio 4, Laurie Taylor, Listening Aloud is one such, similarly the R4 Science programme). I don't know how to go about downloading a programme but I'm sure it isn't too difficult. No, the problem is that the downloading requires premeditation; I do use my several gadgets in ways that accept automatic downloading of material—I do that with sudoku and news—and I probably have at some time subscribed to somebody's newsfeed, however briefly. But I simply don't so listening in such a way. Somehow the idea of planning to be distracted on a long drive is at the same time declaring driving to be sufficiently safe and boring to deliberately intend to be distracted, which to me equates with something like passive driving and therefore probably less-than-adequate participation. Music is used to fill a background, but speech worth listening to is exactly that, worth listening to, which means that there will be times when it is inappropriate to be listening when one should be concentrating on the driving.

Or the cooking, which I find takes a very similar level of concentration; often not much, but occasionally proper directed thought. Reversing that opinion, then, suggests that acceptable material to listen to has high redundancy, so one can switch in and out of listening. But that is my principal reason for turning the radio OFF. I listen to, say, a politician being interviewed. Ten minutes later the same programme reports a snippet of what was said and, often, I'm shouting at the radio that this is now out of context and so the message delivered by the programme is now 'spun' to tell a different message. Just last week, the two parties interviewed pointed up a difference in interpretation of words that made neither one wrong, merely that each was pushing a point of view; what was selected made it perfectly clear that (i) the producer was exhibiting bias, which they are specifically required to not do and (ii) that he or she had not been listening for anything other than an opportunity to exaggerate an issue rather than clarify a potential truth. 2

So, in order to participate in podcasts one has to have a listening habit. Immediate failure, since I do not. If I had such a habit, I'd find subscription sensible and useful and helpful, but I do not. If I had such a habit I would find it useful to be selective, to put the effort in to discover stuff that I found entertaining or informative or both; but I don't have such a habit.

I have zero interest in listening to someone read a book to me. I read far faster than you speak and my boredom threshold is actually pretty low, so unless you're on about something I already know I am interested in, I'm not going to listen. As evidence; I switch the radio off or change channels at every incidence of 'drama' or 'reading' (and also anything to do with religion, which  far too often is obviously reading, so I am immediately the opposite of engaged). I also turn off argument, specifically where the two antagonists are failing to listen to each other, pushing their separate agendas instead of discovering where they agree and exploring how they might agree on more of the issue.

I have found that a good deal of podcast is actually video. Oh, did I misunderstand the term? No, I did not, podcast is defined (every dictionary I looked at) as a digital audio file made available on the internet. By implication then, at no direct charge. But almost immediately (TechTerms.com) podcasts became audio and video files. So that, I think, is the difference between .mp3 and .mp4 as the chosen filetype.

On Quora, I found a relevant discussion. I quote a reply from Michele Trainer from 2015:

10 Reasons More People aren’t Listening to Podcasts
1.      People don’t listen, period.
2.      People don’t know what podcasts are.  See 6.
3.      What is the motivator?  Why WOULD someone listen to podcasts?  Because today's music sucks?  Because their commute is long? Because exercising is boring?  Because they want to learn something?  Because they know the host?  If people don’t have these questions then maybe there is no reason TO try to listen to a podcast.  
4.      If they haven’t found one they love, is it just another task?  Most folks have DVR’s that have become like To-Do lists and podcasting would just add to the “To-Listen” list.
5.      As you mentioned, too much noise. We are over-invited and oversubscribed.  I try to differentiate my podcasts by filename so people can pick and choose.  
6.      They don’t know how to listen to a podcast.  Podcasts came up years ago, then died, then came back strong.  I wrote this because I know that some folks just don’t know how to find or listen to a podcast at all:  
How to Listen to a Podcast
7.      Some folks have smart phones and don’t know how to use them.  Podcasts are not available on everyone’s car radio, therefore they would have to come from the phone.  
8.      Maybe folks do not have any device that would play a podcast.
9.      Duration. Some podcasts are just too long.
10.  Content.  Is the content not interesting? I’m always seeking out interesting content: 
WHO Do YOU Know?

I agree with all of this, but especially points 1 and 3 and 7. If podcasts were on my car radio, I'd hunt for material. The work required to set up podcasts on (say) my phone and then to set that up to run in the car is known to me to be doable, but the work required for no known benefit is simply not happening.

There must be some research into the supply and demand and usage of podcasts. Still from 2015, [5],[6],[7] give a taste of what is available as research. From [6] we learn that just under 13% of all American adults are using podcasts (p10). Source [5] is informative but little is on topic (so it might make a good read). The bit relevant to podcasting starts on page 52. Taking snippets from there: • The percentage of Americans who have listened to a podcast in the past month has almost doubled since 2008, from 9% to 17% by January of 2015. The percentage listening in 2015 was up two points over 2014 levels (15%).

•  Fully one-third (33%) of all Americans 12 years of age or older now say they have listened to at least one podcast. 

•  Awareness of podcasting among Americans 12 years of age and older has more than doubled since 2006, when Nielsen measured it at 22%. Overall awareness of podcasting is increasing at a modest pace, with roughly half (49%) of Americans ages 12 and up aware of podcasting by early 2015, up only slightly since 2010 (45%). 

• p56: the majority of podcasts are requested for mobile devices, 43% in 2012 to 63% in 2014. That's one supplier's data.


For British figures, one must look to OfCom [7]. I found this much more directly telling me what I thought I wanted to know. 3  Again, picking out points:

Podcasts are booming in the UK, with nearly 6 million adults now tuning in each week.

The number of weekly podcast listeners has almost doubled in five years – from 3.2m (7% of adults aged 15+) in 2013 to 5.9m (11%) in 2018.

The increase is across all age groups, but the steepest growth is now among young adults [see diagram]

Ofcom collected data from a range of sources. Findings include:

  • Comedy is the most popular podcast genre, followed by music, TV and film.[2]
  • Half of podcast listeners are under 35. While only 29% of traditional radio listeners are under 35, this rises to 49% for podcasts.[3]
  • Almost all podcast listeners tune into radio too.
  • Radio and TV broadcasters are embracing the medium. 

UK listeners access podcasts from a range of sources. Among the most commonly used were the BBC website and app (used by 36% of podcast listeners), YouTube (26%) and iTunes (25%). Other sources included streaming services such as Spotify, and newspapers’ websites or apps.[6]

Ian Macrae, Ofcom’s Director of Market Intelligence, said: “Podcasts are booming in the UK, and broadening people’s listening habits. Every age group is getting involved, but the most explosive growth is among younger adults.

I found several articles suggesting that 2019 will show a boom in podcasting. It may be that I'm writing in some reaction to hearing more about this way of listening. I quote from [8], but do go look to see the remainder so that you see why I produced the opinions expressed, much in line with the reportage: 

I believe 2019 is a time for hockey stick habit growth and diversification of the audience and the offering.” Courtney William Holt, Head of Global Studios, Spotify

“With Alexa now in the car (and microwave), creators will produce podcasts of a different kind. From the evolution of the board game to the future of driving tours, audio will find its way into our lives, well beyond your favourite podcast app.” Corey Layton, Content and Marketing Director, Whooshkaa

“The market for shorter, bite-sized podcast content will grow, as will podcast consumption on smart speakers.”
Tom WebsterEdison Research   Yes, one can imagine a smart device selecting from the week's catalogue, rather as a radio show does that for music. Oh look, I'm not the only one to think that...

“More shorter-length sub-five-minute podcasts will be made — these work well on smart speakers, and respect listeners’ time. Expect not just news updates in this format, but others, too.” James CridlandPodnews

Of course, development of this market is going to mean that we have to pay for content. I reckon this will be by subscription. As soon as I had the thought, there was a further set of quotes saying the same thing. Only with more weight, as they're in the business.  Note too that for source [8] podcast means video quite as much as audio. Perhaps we're anticipating see-through wearables so that video in some way overwrites vision as in a heads-up display. Which will move HUD more into speech and make it lower-case, hud. Hence new meanings for huddle, not as [9].

So I think I'm learning here that there is a facility out here that I am deliberately ignoring.  In order for me to listen I am clear it is only ever going to happen in the car as displacement for radio; it is only going to happen after I've bothered to develop a feed of desirable material to my phone and after I've also bothered to link my phone to the radio (easy, but I don't do it 'cos I hate the phone so much) — it has to be a feed, because otherwise we're expecting me to plan ahead so much I've actually planned to listen to <specific list> on <specific trip>. Which isn't going to happen. 
So, in order for such as myself to join the ranks of 'have listened to a podcast' and 'listened to a podcast in the last month' these are the advance actions. Even then, all I'm looking at, so far, is time-displacement of radio material, which is how I have used the video recorder ever since we first acquired one, probably in the early 80s.  For this action to occur, what I require, funnily enough, is to declare myself so disgusted with the material available on the radio. The choices always include silence as a major preference, so that what is on offer at the instant I feel some audio input is appropriate already rejects the current radio offerings and instead one goes for  what is deemed more reliable, something known to be worthwhile such as a short list of existing but as yet deferred programmes, each to be listened to exactly once. 

What am I waiting for?

We must all recognise that the move to autonomous cars will affect this behaviour. Many people will continue to do several things simultaneously and in consequence work (perform) at a lower rate than optimum (no, you don't work better with music playing, you simply work longer at a slower rate and think you're less bored, more entertained — so it is something of a balance). But if travel becomes autonomous, are there not altogether better things you could and should be doing while the travel occurs? Would you not have your face at a screen doing something more productive? The test of when an audio podcast is appropriate is voided, except in that interval when we have autonomous vehicles but are required to be alert in a just-in-case way, when audio will be used by a very large proportion of the population. 

Have we already slipped into a general state where we are largely passive and unproductive? I watch young(er) people wandering around with their faces in their phones and I do not see people engaged with life, though no doubt that they view themselves as engaged in their immediate society. Yet, when, for example I grab the wife (or her phone or her attention) to see what she is actually doing, most of the time she is engaged in what I identify as meaningless chatter, what a sociologist would call 'churn'. Yes, she finds some content worthy of intelligent comment, e.g., giving advice to other Chinese about living in Britain, much as I might make comment on Quora, but such activity is a tiny fraction of the time she spends  pointing her face at a tiny screen.  Of course, hard on the heels of such apparent spousal criticism I have to ask myself if I really behave so very differently. 

I'm only looking to cause people to behave from reason, rather than apathy. 

As in "Get a life".   

So I tried listening to a podcast ot two, having written so much already. I discover that much of what I thought would be bad proves to be as bad as expected. For example, I listened to  the News Quiz, but found that either I tuned it out entirely or had to concentrate to join in the amusement. I am currently listening to a Guardian podcast on 'populism', only to discover it has no such effect at all, since the content delivery is so low. Basically, I discover that this podcast was a waste of time as it gave me no new content - unless I then flipped in and out, by waiting for my attention to be grabbed and then go back and sample that slice. I also discover that I want a written alternative based on the same content - mostly because i want a far higher content rate. I am recently aware how far through a 'piece' I go in reading, before abandoning it unfinished. A 'good' piece leaves me wanting a little more (obviously I finish it), whereas a piece where I only reach say 80% before moving on is, perhaps, stretched too thin. Just occasionally I am enjoying the writing enough to continue, even though the content is low.

I have downloaded a set of podcasts that I think I might listen to in the car, so that when in the car I can attempt to sample this. I think that the 'cast that is running right now IS the sort of thing that I'd accept in the car as not damaging my driving by distraction, but todays's experiments show me that in the car is perhaps the only circumstance in which I can accept a podcast. What is running right now is of sufficiently low content that it is merely distraction. I do not think I will accept the presumed drop in ability to concentrate (I assume this is more like drivel  than usual) since the perceived gain is less than the loss. That strikes me a failure. Worse, I think this means that the podcast will continue to be a medium I have very little use for. What I do not understand is where the market is, since that implies that everyone else has a significant amount of time per day in which this sort of low-quality concentration is appropriate. I find that worrying.

DJS 20190307

top pic from p9 of [6]

[1] https://medium.com/cabana/5-reasons-someone-isnt-listening-to-podcasts-641c669b5cdf

[2] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/five-reasons-to-listen-to-podcasts_us_59986b60e4b033e0fbdec48a Actually doesn't do what it says

[3] https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/news-videos/may-says-police-numbers-not-to-blame-for-knife-crime-rise/vi-BBUlKJu

[4] https://www.quora.com/Why-arent-more-people-listening-to-podcasts Much better; sensible discussion.

[5] http://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/13/2017/05/30142603/state-of-the-news-media-report-2015-final.pdf

[6] https://www.nielsen.com/content/dam/corporate/us/en/reports-downloads/2018-reports/audio-today-report-apr-2018.pdf 

[7] https://www.ofcom.org.uk/about-ofcom/latest/media/media-releases/2018/uk-podcast-listening-booms

[8] https://blog.pacific-content.com/13-predictions-for-podcasting-in-2019-d52e7ed536ed

[9] https://www.fedscoop.com/video/hud-launches-new-blog-the-huddle/

1 I might enumerate the reasons and the occasions. 

Out running or walking, then safety when anywhere near traffic is paramount - I use my ears quite as much as my eyes to detect potential threats. When out in countryside proper, that is why I have gone — to appreciate the countryside — so I am certainly not going to then set up a barrier to that appreciation by putting other noise in my ears.

In the gym I see that many people have decided that this is an appropriate place for listening. For aerobic exercise I disagree on two counts; one, at my idea of 'vigorous', the equipment, however small, is in the way and two, the whole point of the 'vigorous' appellation is that one is concentrating on the work. The addition of music or podcast serves a purpose only if deliberately trying to zone out — which to me means the exercise has fallen into a different category, where the listening has become important and the exercise incidental. You could call this a failure to parallel process; I'd call it a failure to do the exercise.

2 "If you look at the figures, what you see is that there is no direct correlation between certain crimes and police numbers".  [3] reported in the independent as there is no link between rising crime rates and fewer police. [4]. A day later, the Today programme addressed this properly (well done!), by interviewing one of their own to ask about crime figures. What happens is that police numbers (directly connected to funding of course) go up and down (quite a lot). Each time numbers go up there is a reduction, after some delay, in certain sorts of crime, but the correlation does not exist. This is an occasion where the causation must be obvious (as Cressida Dick more or less said this week) or else every time the police are given extra funding they use this to fund having time off rather than solve or prevent crimes, so there must be an effect and either the measurement of crime statistics is useless or the police are useless, or the extra police numbers, just by existing, has a depressive effect on crime  none of which are really likely to be true. So it looks as though the PM is correct, that, when tasked with showing correlation it proved not possible (I can easily imagine producing sufficient results to show the correlation fails to be significant, even with adding delays to effects of changes of number). That is an interesting discovery, but numbers go up and down depending upon the political climate, which reacts to the perception of the public's reaction to information  all of which delays cause and effect. So Tony Blair was entirely right to point to dealing with crime and the causes of crime and this is what we hear back from the police as how they view their role. 

So then what is interesting is this lack of correlation when the causation has to be obvious. Or maybe it isn't obvious; if we add to police numbers that only has an effect on the crimes we measure after some significant delay and such change can only happen if the extra police resources are directed at that specific problem. But there is no good reason why the political opinion or the press opinion should be what drives police commissioners  surely we want our police to be independent of politics while at the same time sensitive to public need  a difficult line to tread but less so if prevention is the objective and public education the result. Crime occurs because our society encourages it or allows it or fails to prevent it. Therefore on the large scale it is up to us to cause our society to change for the better and then the only discussion is what we might mean by 'better' followed by what that means for individual behaviour  should we be reporting issues much more readily? Is every bad event always someone else's problem? Is that something we should aim to change?

3   Isn't it interesting that often you don't know what you don't know and so don't know what it is you want to know, unless you have a specific question? I wanted any measurement (statistics; reduced info as numbers) available on podcasts. [5] and [6] told me lots of interesting stuff, but not much at all about podcasts — but that is in itself useful in helping me discover what it is I DO want to know.

20190310 edit.

I attempted to deal with this the following weekend. Discovery: BBC Sounds will only download to the phone direct, not via the desktop, which means going to sit beside the router (didn't know that was an issue). Frustration here, since I re-discover how much I truly hate the phone's tiny keyboard. Do I have a BBC account? No idea (I have, apparently). Can I get any of this to listen to while at my desk? No: even iPlayer is denied to the desktop and laptop; I can have them via catch-up on the tv, but not at my desk, except via the oh-so-hated phone. To date all I learn is new reasons for disliking the phone.  I then discover that I AM able to stream old radio programmes on the desktop, but the tiny difference is totally missed. More exploration to occur.

So I sat at the desk, playing the News Quiz. Nothing else got done;  I tied writing on here and I prove only that I cannot concentrate on two things at once; example, I can hear that the audience think the programme is funny, but I do not - if I write. And that one lady on the show thinks the label is anti-semetic, not semitic. I simply don do anything at the desk with sufficient low-quality intensity that I can listen too. I may be able to learn this, but I do not think so.

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