For many podcasters, the coronavirus pandemic is the first time they’ve held a media role during a national crisis, let alone a global one. During the 2008 financial crisis, podcasting was still a nascent and niche media, and 9/11 pre-dated the introduction of the on-demand audio format. For many podcasters the playbook includes many lessons that radio has learned through its decades of service. But podcasting also offers new ways of addressing things.
Podcast News Daily caught up with Amplifi Media CEO Steve Goldstein, who spent four decades in radio before launching his podcast consultancy in 2015. An edited transcript follows.
Podcast News Daily: How should podcasters respond to what’s happening around them?
Steve Goldstein: I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all solution. I think it does go back to the essence of a show or a reason someone selects that show to listen to. Is it for escape, information, a reality check? Having a true north for the show is going to determine what kind of content is going to resonate over the next couple of weeks or months.
Podcast News Daily: If a show wants to do something and it doesn’t fit into what they do, could this be the place for a bonus episode?
Steve Goldstein: I don’t know there is a law that says a podcast needs to have a coronavirus episode. It really depends on the reasons people choose a particular podcast. Let’s take it over to TV. I don’t expect my average crime show or sitcom to do a coronavirus episode. That’s not what they’re built to do. I think podcasters have to ask the question: what is the audience looking for from a particular program? — and then take your cues from there.
Podcast News Daily: If a podcaster decides it fits and they want to do something, any advice you’d give them?
Steve Goldstein: We’re in the middle of a significant cultural change and trying to adjust toward it. Shows need to stay in their lane. But I do think they need to interpret the times. It’s not a reset, it’s a work in progress.
Podcast News Daily: If nothing else, this has changed commuting and at-home patterns for many listeners.
Steve Goldstein: I also think there’s a fundamental change in consumer usage right now. We know historically that most podcasts are listened to at home, with an increasing number of commuters. But now that commutation is going to be on the slide, does that benefit podcasters? What happens if you have family at home? Does that decrease some of your independent time? We’re in the midst of a disruption of normalcy, and we don’t really know how this is going to play out in terms of consumer behavior.
Podcast News Daily: Do you have a gut feeling for which way things will go?
Steve Goldstein: Let me put it this way: I’m watching TV news for the instant information, and yet this morning I found great value listening to The Daily, with a conversation with an Italian doctor about how they are responding to the coronavirus. I think these things can live in different forms. I can watch cable news for the instant information and then I can use podcasts to get more perspective. Look at CNN, which is all about instant breaking news, [it] also has a top podcast called Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction. It’s a great brand flank in which they can use the podcast medium’s longer format to spend more time to talk about this hugely topical story.
Podcast News Daily: So much of podcasting is evergreen content and this potentially upends that.
Steve Goldstein: I look at the top of the charts and way more of the content is ephemeral content. Look at the top podcasts now – The Daily, Pod Save America, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, Up First, The Ben Shapiro Show – these all have a freshness dating component to them, so it’s a blend.
Podcast News Daily: What about sports podcasts when there’s no sports to talk about? Should they go on hiatus?
Steve Goldstein: There’s a whole genre that’s totally disrupted. On the TV side, shows like “Saturday Night Live” have gone on hiatus. I could see why the late-night shows have decided to go out of production because they need that studio audience more than I realized. When you hear it, it’s so stark and so different. Could podcasts also go on hiatus? Sure, why not? There are financial considerations if you’re running a top podcast, and I wouldn’t recommend a show goes away.
Podcast News Daily: But isn’t there a risk sticking around if you’re still producing shows and talking about nothing?
Steve Goldstein: HBO’s John Oliver did an 18-minute show without a studio audience, so he clearly adapted and decided he didn’t need to do a full episode. I would recommend that for podcasts. You have time elasticity, so maybe that needs to be part of the thinking and the formula.
Podcast News Daily: Podcasting is in many ways still a young medium. Do you think it has the wherewithal to withstand the economic headwinds and whatever consumer habit changes that are coming?
Steve Goldstein: We are in the middle of a systemic change and this is where we’re moving. We’re moving to content being available at a time of an individual’s choosing. I think podcasting is on trend in that sense, but I think it’s becoming more important. The expectation that content be available instantaneously. That doesn’t go away, and if anything, I think that will become increasingly important over time. I don’t think podcasting in any way goes away. I think the expectation, especially generationally, is this stuff needs to be available when I want it.