Fix podcasting’s problems… on the same model as Brave browser ?

(adapted from an article in French)

For several months now, intermediaries to listen to podcasts have been a problem…
Applications such as Majelan in France or Luminary in the US want to develop the podcasting industry, providing solutions to enhance listening and discovery. Although these start-ups are certainly right to position themselves in this niche, the podcast market cannot grow as it stands.
Every launch of a new podcast app is welcomed with the same outcry by the community, raising the same questions, the same problems:

  • Content: Which authorizations, which conditions? What about revenue sharing?
  • Advertising: What are the significant KPIs? Why current analytics are not considered satisfactory?

1- Observation: such platforms are intermediaries, they do not necessarily share interests with publishers

The best example that comes to mind is TuneIn. This radio (and podcast) aggregator has become such a reference that it is the default service for listening to the radio on Amazon and Google’s voice assistants. TuneIn is a private company, which has no accountability to editors. The company controls the aggregated media as it sees fit. The TuneIn application places ads and purposes subscriptions to its users, to the detriment of the radio stations and podcasts which have besides contributed to the company’s success.

So we can ask ourselves this question: do we really need an intermediary to listen to podcasts? Isn’t it harmful to the ecosystem?
In any case, let us imagine that an “honest” company wants to develop functionalities regarding creators’ expectations. Unfortunately, there’s no reference body to turn to. There should at least be a set of agreements on basic principles, such as the formatting of episode descriptions.

2- Structuring solution: create an organization gathering multiple stakeholders

Radios, production agencies, but also associations of independent producers, advertising agencies, hosting platforms, … ideally (but it is utopian) would be to bring together the ecosystem as a whole, with a governance system similar to that of audience measurement entities like RAJAR or Médiamétrie.

The podcast industry today is sadly unstructured. Everyone can have a different vision of the media and economic ambitions, but this should not create oppositions. There is no coherent grouping around on-demand audio. However, it would be wise to have a collaboration around technology, for a better competition around content.
Let’s hope that GESTE, which has announced the creation of a working group on the distribution of podcasts, will change the situation at least in France from the first meeting on 4 July.

So it would be necessary to define rules and standards. But in reality, this would not be enough, because applications/platforms will always have the final say because they are the ones who control the distribution channels.

3- “Naive” solution: a single platform (and therefore closed…)

Above I wrote: “a collaboration around technology, for a better competition around content”.
This sentence is strongly inspired by Radioplayer’s ideology, which aims to develop unified technologies for national radio stations in the UK, Ireland, Belgium, Switzerland, Norway, Germany, Austria, Canada, and Peru

Share technology, compete on content

What would be consistent (but very “extreme”) is that independent radio stations, agencies, and producers build a unique technology together.
This would, therefore, require abandoning RSS. Otherwise, there would always be a possibility of third-party applications aggregating content catalogs.
In addition to perfectly mastering the “pipe” through which their content is played, the interest of a single platform also lies in the fact that statistics are no longer limited since there will no longer be a multitude of client applications.

This is a controversial topic within the podcasting community, but it is useful for an advertiser to know how many listeners actually heard a mid-roll ad, and it is useful for a content creator to understand his audience by analyzing average listening time per episode and frequent drop-off points.
All these indicators, which can be also computed using specifications like RAD, can only be obtained by setting analytical markers uniformly on every single application playing podcasts. It is absolutely not possible to have this data by analyzing server logs from a podcast host.

But to come back to the idea of a unique player, this approach is risky!
Above all, it is difficult to imagine the implementation of such a solution, the changes to be made are too important, starting with the abandonment of RSS.
And the strength of podcasting endures in its open format. It’s better for the listener to have a choice between different applications to listen to a podcast.

After all, HTML is also considered open. There are many web browsers, and it’s a good thing.

4- Ideal solution: the Brave browser model

About web browsers, do you know Brave? It’s a privacy-friendly browser, based on the same source code as Google Chrome, with an adblocker included. Brave users receive BAT “tokens” when they watch notification ads. These tokens can be used to make donations to the publishers of the websites visited.

Tip vocast.fr website using Brave browser

The BAT digital currency can easily be exchanged into dollars (or other) on platforms such as Uphold or Coinbase.
In fact, it is an interesting experiment with the blockchain technology. As it’s on a decentralized basis, no single stakeholder can control it, no entity can theoretically lead a monopoly with this system.
Today we know that the Internet advertising market is mainly dominated by two companies: Facebook and Google. Brave could solve the problem. You can read the white paper if you’re interested in getting more details. Brave brings a vision of the Web where advertisers, publishers, and users are no longer parasitized by intermediaries, in a decentralized way.

Figure from the white paper
  1. Advertisers pay with dollars (or other) for user attention, tokenized in as BAT (“Basic Attention Token”) digital asset. To summarize roughly, let’s imagine that an advertiser wants to pay for a minute of attention from 1000 users. This will always have the same value in terms of “attention” (1 minute of 1000 users), but the price to pay will not be the same if this attention is subject to high demand.
  2. Users watch non-intrusive ads, respecting their privacy, to get paid in BAT.
  3. Website publishers can receive BAT donations from their visitors with two clicks directly from the browser next to the address bar. A system also allows publishers to be paid automatically according to the time spent by an Internet user on each of the websites. Publishers thus have BAT tokens on a virtual portfolio. They can decide to exchange them for dollars on crypto-currency platforms.

Now back to podcasts stuff. Currently, Brave browser uses domain names (vocast.fr, google.fr, medium.com) to pay publishers, except for Youtube, Twitch, Twitter, Vimeo and Reddit where there’s a built-in system to operate on user accounts.
If the remuneration could also be distinguished by RSS feed — and if a podcast could easily be listened to via the browser — each podcaster could receive contributions in BAT per sum of listening time and/or per donation.

  • No need to go through Patreon to make donations, the functionality is integrated into the browser. Note that users can also buy BAT tokens if they do not have enough to make more significant donations.
  • This makes it easier to set up “private” podcasts: RSS feeds generated for premium users could be the result of authentication within the browser. No more copy/paste to podcast players.
  • Every stakeholder gets happy! Listeners get ads, according to their expectations. Creators get paid without to worry about how to monetize their contents. Advertisers benefit from a certified “listening time”, without intermediaries, measured without compromising the listeners’ privacy.

However, there is still the navigation and subscription management aspect needed. It would take an additional module to have something as ergonomic to use as Apple Podcasts.

But there is no need to wait for the Brave team to develop such a solution! Everyone can decide to design a platform on this same basis.

I’m talking about Brave, but there are a lot of projects on the same principle: Verasity which focuses on videos or even Podcrypt and RadioYo specifically for the podcast industry.

For sure, we can’t evaluate right now how legitimate these projects are. It’s complicated to implement these things, but it would be very beneficial for all podcasters. I think that first of all, a body bringing together as many actors as possible must be set up, in order to possibly design such a system together.

This post is originally from my podcast ‘Des Ondes Vocast’ (in French)

Des Ondes Vocast is a podcast about radio: news, innovation, and history of the medium.

Des Ondes Vocast, a French podcast aimed for radio enthusiasts.

Contact : @AnthonyGourraud / contact[@]vocast.fr

Vocast Project : Podcast / Radio - https://www.vocast.fr