Podcasts need to be at the centre of mobile strategy

This week, NiemanLab published an interview with Chad Millman, ESPN’s vice president and editorial director for domestic digital content, in which he said,

“Mobile is everything…if we’re thinking about anything else, we’re failing the audience.”

There’s no shortage of research to back this up.  Look at this chart from KPCB

In just five years mobile usage has grown from less than half-an-hour a day in 2010 to nearly three hours a day.  That’s a 600% increase in just five years.  By comparison, desktop or laptop usage has not budged.  Five years ago it was at 2.4 hours a day and that’s where it sits today.  Mobile usage now accounts for over half of the average person’s total internet usage. 

If your organization needs to connect and communicate with an audience, whether that audience is made up of consumers of news and media or donors to your organization or members of your union or users of government services, you are failing your audience if you are not thinking about mobile. 

There are many elements to a smart and effective mobile strategy but one essential component is podcasting.  Many organizations think of podcasts as an audio technology and as a result shuffle it to the side as they focus on the “real guts” of their strategy.  Podcasts are seen as a “nice to have” rather than a “must have.” But that is a mistake. Podcasting is essential to an effective mobile strategy and here’s why

 Notice when peak usage of mobile occurs.  The only time mobile usage outpaces any other device is during the morning commute. This is prime time for mobile.  And what are people doing during prime time?  They’re driving.  In Canada 74% of people drive to work.  In the US it’s slightly higher at 76%.  In both countries, about 80% of people either drive, cycle or walk to work.   

 In other words, 80% of the primetime audience for mobile is unable to visually engage with their devices.  Video doesn’t work for them, text doesn’t work, graphs and charts like the ones in this blog are useless to them.  The one medium that can meet the needs of 80% of the primetime audience is audio.

 So if your mobile strategy does not include a podcast strategy then you are unable to meet the needs of 80% of your audience. Clearly this is not a winning approach.  Audio needs to be at the centre of smart and effective mobile strategy. 

Now the trick is to do this without sacrificing quality.  Organizations that wouldn’t dream of putting out grainy, poorly lit video or posting web pages that look like they are from 1996, or running an article that pointlessly meanders and is poorly written, will think nothing of putting out low quality audio and a rambling, under-produced program.

 ESPN has some work to do on this front.  While they have a range of podcasts that are easy to access, for the most part they sound like rips from video rather than stand alone programs designed for an audio audience.

 I suspect this will change in the coming years not just for ESPN but for any organization that puts mobile first, as it should.  You can’t go very far if your refuse to cater to 3/4 of your primetime audience.