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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Putting podcasting over the top

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

What’s on my Overcast playlist right now.

There’s a lot of talk about podcasting these days, mostly because big names from public radio are doing interesting new things with the medium, and people who write for major media outlets tend to listen to public radio. All of a sudden, thanks to the imprimatur of big media, podcasting is apparently back. Even though all the tech geeks have been listening to podcasts for years now, and it’s been growing as a medium all this time.

Still, as a huge fan of the medium (you may have noticed), I’m happy that more attention is being paid to it. A rising tide lifts all boats—and this stamp of approval from mainstream media will reach future podcast listeners and future podcast advertisers alike. It’s a good thing.

Media outlets aren’t the only ones suddenly paying attention to podcasting. Today Ingrid Lunden at TechCrunch reports that Spotify’s app includes hidden references to podcasting features. This follows the purchase of podcast service Stitcher by Spotify competitor Deezer last month.

More importantly for Spotify, Deezer gave me smart explanation of why podcasting was interesting: Deezer is making a big move to do more with in-car services, and podcasts and talk radio are especially popular in that setting. It could be that Spotify, which also has a number of connected car integrations in place, is thinking along the same lines.

Podcasts are replacing the radio for tech savvy car commuters, and once less savvy commuters are exposed to podcasting I suspect they’ll do the same. I’m not entirely convinced that Spotify is the best vehicle for this, but someone’s going to crack it. As Marco Arment wrote yesterday, it may take some time:

Smartphone podcast apps and Bluetooth audio in cars have both helped substantially, but both have also been slow, steady progressions that are nowhere near complete. No smartphone app has caused a massive number of new listeners to suddenly flood to podcasts, and people don’t upgrade their cars frequently enough for any automotive media features to cause market booms. A lot of people still listen to podcasts in iTunes, and a lot of cars still don’t have Bluetooth audio. We’ll get there, but it takes a while.

If one of the biggest concentrations of podcast listenership is in the car, then the difficulty of connecting podcasts to cars becomes the biggest barrier to the success of the medium. Car tech has traditionally been terrible, thanks to the weird dance between automakers and their equipment suppliers—but that’s starting to change, mostly thanks to Google and Apple. The new Android Auto and CarPlay features allow most new smartphones to project a simplified version of their interfaces onto the screens of compatible car-entertainment devices.

Yes, as Marco points out, this will take years to trickle down to most cars, but it will. It makes too much sense to let the likes of Google and Apple drive these entertainment systems with the much better hardware and software that’s in the pocket of almost every driver.

While I think there’s a huge opportunity to bring the podcast medium to a broader collection of listeners—if I were to do a tech startup, it would probably be something related to this—I’m not convinced that the Spotifys of the world are the right companies to do it. Spotify’s brand is about music, not talk. It’s also unclear what Spotify’s terms would be, and as someone who thinks Stitcher’s terms are really crappy, that’s a serious concern.

No, the company that could do the most to make podcasting a success is Apple. Apple’s got the biggest directory of podcasts on the planet at iTunes and the two most popular podcast-listening apps (Podcasts and iTunes). In the mid-2000s, Apple tried to make podcasting the next big thing, and the world wasn’t ready. Apple’s commitment to podcasting dramatically receded after that—remember when GarageBand was for podcasting?—but with iOS 8 it added Podcasts as a default app, so maybe the tide is turning.

It’s great that podcasting is having a moment in the spotlight. Maybe this is the right time for Apple and other tech companies to forget about the false-start of 2005 and bring this amazing medium to the masses. I’m pretty sure they’re going to love it.

[Hat tip to Federico, Stephen, and Casey.]

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