The podcast tools changing the way we engage with audio

Every content platform undergoes a major transformation at least once in its life. Consider how we’ve evolved from silent film to surround sound, from spinning shellac vinyls to streaming anything anytime, and from playing arcade machines to playing Minecraft on the same device you call your mum with.

While podcasting might be relatively young compared to these other mediums, there’s been an impressive array of tools released in the past few months, plus a few more on the horizon, that promise to evolve the platform for years to come.

Q&A and Polls

The conversation is no longer confined to the guests on a podcast, nor the runtime of the episode – Spotify’s new Q&A feature allows creators to respond to audience questions and pin responses for all to see. 

Whether it’s a topic that listeners would love to see expanded on, or perhaps a question for a guest that the host never quite got around to in the time they had together, Q&A’s promise to enrich the podcast experience.

In a similar vein to the Q&A feature, now there are polls too! Creators can attach a poll with up to 7 responses, so they can stay in tune with their audience. This could be a chance to find out where listeners stand on a topic you’ve just covered in an episode, or even discover what kind of content they’d love to hear more in the future. 

Subscriptions & Channels/Playlist

The two biggest players in the game right now are Apple & Spotify, and they’ve gone blow for blow when it comes to tools for monetisation and discovery. 

Apple’s Channels and Spotify’s Playlists are presenting content curators, creators and critics a chance to collate a selection of different podcasts. You could be a listener keeping your favourite shows categorised, or an influential brand looking to advocate similar content in your sector – either way, Channels and Playlists are a great way to aggregate your top podcasts.

When it comes to monetisation, Apple took the brave first step to offer subscriptions, allowing creators to set their price for listeners to support them as they offered premium content. Spotify, since a soft launch of subscriptions in April, have been preparing to do the same, and as of mid-November they’ve expanded the feature to another 33 countries.

While charging for your existing podcast might have the unfortunate potential to thin out your listener base, if used correctly it could become to podcasters what Patreon became to YouTubers – an opportunity to create additional, premium content.

Dynamic Advert Insertion

Speaking of both YouTube and monetisation, it’s hard to ignore the infamously auto-generated ads that give channels a space for promotions tailored to each viewer. These tools have drifted into the audio space too, through Dynamic Ad Insertion. 

Dynamic Ad Insertion, or DAI for short, allows you to mark positions within your episode that are suitable for DAI. Your chosen tool can then choose an appropriate advert, as opposed to the previous approach of inserting pre-produced clips. Instead of baking in an advert that’ll age, even your oldest content could include ads for the latest brands, products & services. 

This might not be suitable for everyone, particularly if you’ve already secured a sponsorship deal with a brand that may not appreciate having to share their advertising spot with a brand with no control of who that may be. 

Video Podcasts on Spotify

Up until now, video podcasts have remained firmly in the domain of YouTube, but Spotify are once again changing the game by rolling out their upcoming Video Podcasts feature over the coming months. It’s no longer Spotify for audio, YouTube for video – all of listeners’ favourite content can be found in a single place. 

Content aggregation at the point of consumption is always a consumer’s preferred option, so bringing video podcasts to the app will undoubtedly increase the number of users happy to watch a video podcast in the same session as listening to an audio episode. It’s a win-win for both you and your audience!

Clubhouse Alternatives

Since Clubhouse had its time in the spotlight throughout the better part of 2020, we’ve not seen the most prolific uptake in the format since then; Oprah’s interview with Adele on CBS garnered 10m viewers, but her appearance on Clubhouse drew an audience of just 40k. 

While many of us would be delirious at the thought of 40k viewers, it’s also notable that none of us are the indomitable Oprah Winfrey (unless you’re reading this Oprah, in which case hi!).

One possible reason for this, which is both a blessing and a curse for the ‘live chat podcast’ format, could be the rise of so many alternatives. Spotify has Greenroom, Twitter has Spaces, Discord has its Stage Channels, and Facebook got stuck in with its imaginatively titled Live Audio Rooms.

We can’t see the format taking the world by storm in the long run, but it’s certainly opened a lot of mobile users up to the prospect of engaging audio content.

Round up

The staggering thing about this plethora of new & upcoming features and formats is the fact that so many have come within the last 12 months alone! If a single year can yield such technological advancement, who knows where the future of podcasting will lie…

Written by Dan Johnston