Death of a Podcast?

November 6, 2007 by

Tony Morgan, over at his blog, discussed the end of Yahoo! podcasts a while back. The service shut down, and it begs the question: Is podcast listenership in decline? He lists a few barriers to the success of podcasts:

  • You can’t scan through a podcast to find the good stuff.
  • It’s tough to carve out time to listen to podcasts.
  • Other things like videos and reading sound more fun than listening to someone talk.
  • Podcast quality often stinks.
  • They don’t lend themselves to viral distribution.

Why in the heck does this matter to church marketing, you might ask. Well, podcasts for weekly sermons are integral parts of many churches. Some churches even podcast more than just weekly messages. We have to ask ourselves if this form of media is something we should continue to pursue, and if so, how should we improve the state of the podcast?

I see two potential “Save The Podcasts” schools of thought here. Firstly, you might think that podcasts are fine how they are. They were all the rage for awhile as people were testing them out, and now they’re settling down to only those looking for serious depth and theological meat through technology. Secondly, you might think that podcasts just need a little makeover. The most popular podcasts sit around ten minutes in length and are well-produced. Let’s look at these two briefly.

Podcasts are fine how they are.
In a world of blogs, bits, slogans, phrases and quips, they are a defender of the theological and the deep. The workhorses of the technological industry. There’s obviously a market for deeply satisfying podcast material. I’ve met folks who like to run to the sound of solid exegesis or like to be spiritually satisfied on their long drive to work. This can give your church appeal beyond just the community and can be so important for edification of believers. Maybe if you don’t think podcasts are worth your breath, you should at least consider these people.

Podcasts just need a little makeover.
In a world of blogs, bits, slogans, phrases and quips, they are the the technology that showed up to the race without shoes. Churches ought to podcast straight and to the point–maybe sermon highlights, inspirational thoughts or news and updates from the staff. There’s people out there who get a little squeamish at the idea of a 45-minute sermon (cheers to you, Kevin), and we need to give these individuals a gateway to our churches. Let’s not forget about these people, either.

So maybe one or the other podcast is especially effective for your audience. Maybe both would be best. Or heck, maybe podcasts are dead and neither one is worth a second look. Either way, as podcasts get older (relatively speaking, of course), it’s time to ask ourselves again how we’ll be using this technology.

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Joshua Cody

Josh Cody served as our associate editor for several years before moving on to bigger things. Like Texas. These days he lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, and you can find him online or on Twitter when he's not wrestling code.
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13 Responses to “Death of a Podcast?”

  • adam
    November 6, 2007

    Certainly our podcast at church is not a staple of who we are and how we communicate. But it is something that people use.
    More importantly for us, it gives us an excuse to create a really nicely produced version of our message. Because “most” people who listen to our podcasts aren’t using it “the right way.” (Like through itunes or a feed reader.) They are listening to it directly on our website or even just downloading the whole file to their computer.
    I think podcasting is something that may be dying because while “early adapters” are kind of tired of the novelty of a podcast… we’ve not done a great job educating the people in the church as to what they even are or why they should listen.
    So if I tell people, “We have a podcast.” They politely say, “that’s cool.”
    But if I tell them, “You can listen to our service on our website.” They go, “How cool is that? You mean I can send a link to my friend and she can listen to the message?”
    Big difference there.

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  • Brandon
    November 6, 2007

    I find this interesting since more and more churches are doing this. Perhaps saturation is what is making podcasts less appealing. It seems like everyone has one.
    To be honest, I would think that more and more people are going to the good podcasts since you can “get church” without ever going. Our iPods provide the sermon and the worship. These, I know, cannot replace relationships, however, most young adults are getting their relationship needs met in other ways.

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  • Ross
    November 6, 2007

    I could not disagree with you more. Just because Yahoo shut down a medium they didn’t invent doesn’t mean its dying. If we use that logic we would say iTunes should be on the decline because other online music services have shut down. But its now the #3 music retailer in the nation behind Wal-Mart & Best Buy. Podcasts are great, I listen to them everyday, I think they are here to stay. I’d like to see some hard evidence rather than just empty opinions based on bad logic because someone noticed Yahoo shut theirs down. I didn’t even know they had a podcast service, maybe that is cause its lame.

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  • Roland Thomas Gilbert
    November 6, 2007

    Behind the innovators are the early adopters. Behind the early adopters are the teeming masses who may or may not begin to buy in. A great idea takes off only when the critical mass believes it’s a great idea.
    But regarding podcasts, I see Tony’s point about the cons of them … but those who dig ’em, really dig ’em for their own reasons. Not Tony’s. Firewheel Church produces them, and we’ll no doubt continue to produce them until a better idea comes along. Just like everything else.

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  • Jeremy Myers
    November 6, 2007

    I know nothing about programming and what is “possible” with computers, but it seems that with voice recognition software, someone could set up a website that “listened” to sermon podcasts, and automatically converted them to text files, (complete with time tags) to make podcasts “searchable.” I have over 2000 podcast sermon downloads in my iTunes, and though I enjoy listening to them, I wish I could “search” them for key words, topics, or references.
    I think that podcasting is not dead since people will always want to listen to sermons. But in our information-driven era, people want their information fast. Podcasts do not offer that.

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  • brad
    November 6, 2007

    A podcast is all about the content. I run my own for work, and am developing one for personal use as well. I’ve said it before, if a podcast is just a sermon, how can it hold someone’s interest? Most times it didn’t even hold its congregation’s rapt attention the first time ’round…and that was live!
    My favourite podcast is about an hour long, and I listen to it as soon as it’s out. It’s about photography (I’m a part-time photographer) and includes news and an extended interview with a professional photographer. It’s dynamic, snappy, informative and chatty (ie doesn’t take itself too seriously). I will continue to listen to it as long as they make it! Listening to one that is great knocked a whole bunch of mediocre ones out of my aggregator. (That’s probably one good reason why it’s “dying”, because the good ones are maturing and their audiences are growing, while the bad ones are just painful.)
    @ Adam — now I have to think about not even calling them podcasts. Why couldn’t you have said that a month ago!? I just did blog promo pieces with ‘podcasts’ clearly printed on it. D’oh! :-)
    @ Ross — I totally agree. Let’s not finish nailing up the coffin just yet…
    @ Jeremy — As a content creator you can tag them based on content, or theme or whatever. Having a service do that seems like a lot of work for minimal payoff. But Google will probably do it and change the world again… :-)

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  • travis ham
    November 6, 2007

    Jeremy it looks like is already on track with something akin to your idea. Here’s an example: search= justification.

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  • Matt
    November 6, 2007

    @adam – Great call on vocabulary. When I first talked about podcasts at the previous church I worked at, most staff assumed it was a “nerd” thing…which is was. Podcasting doesn’t mean much to my parents, but they sure would love to listen to the sermon from the church they used to go to back east.
    I will say that I’ve always wondered why most churches (that I’ve seen at least) only provide their sermon as a podcast. I love listening to sermons from churches all over the country, but I would really love to see a podcast building off the sermon of my own church. Or maybe a Bible study that was produced (“hit pause, and read passage 5:5-10, then hit play to hear more about that passage”).
    I don’t think the medium is dead by any stretch, but another look at how we use our tools is always a good thing. A revamp needs to happen regardless of the status of the Yahoo! podcast.

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  • James
    November 6, 2007

    I subscribe to Saddleback’s podcast. At 20 minutes, they’re the perfect length for my drive to work.

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  • mike foster
    November 7, 2007

    i think podcasts are failing because they are too long. we need microcasts like we have microblogs. 18 minutes seems good to me.

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  • BlueNight
    November 8, 2007

    Good call. We’re at the start of creating a church website, and in preparation I’ve been the one ripping and compressing the sermons. I think we’ll call the audio section “sermon archives” instead of “podcasts”.

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  • Granata
    November 8, 2007

    I like the idea of podcasting complete sermons. It’s not all that hard and can be invaluable to volunteers or others who miss the teaching as well as to the teaching team who may want to hear how they are doing from time to time.
    I get really juiced when thinking about other ways podasting can be used by the local church. I’d listen to 15 minute podcasts with a church perspective on life in Edmond, business and finance, personal improvement, men’s health, etc. Not to mention the 10 minute b12-shot-in-the-arm devotional. It is with podcasts like these that I see a potential for outreach.

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  • Tony Steward
    November 14, 2007

    I have heard several industry people, like leo laporte at blog world last week, say that podcasting is dead. But when he clarifies what he is saying is that the term podcast – and the medium being defined by the technology is dead.
    He talk about how most of the top podcasts have hit a ceiling and aren’t growing, but that it is because of a technology and adoption gap – not a decline in interest or a lack of quality in content.
    Audio will always be a relevant medium, it is actually the most intimate. With audio they speak right into your ear and you come to know the hosts merely by the sound of their voice. It has personality but engages your thinking mind much more than video that has to do a lot of the thinking for you.
    Podcasts being called and defined by the term “podcast” is probably on the decline, but “on demand” subscription based media will only continue to rise. And audio will be right there with video and the written word.

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