Blurred Lines of Broadcast Media: Where Does Video Start and Audio End?

A couple of weeks ago was Spotify’s Stream On event in California. When he took to the stage, CEO and co-founder Daniel Ek set a jubilant tone, announcing that despite this being a tough time for tech companies, the platform had reached half a billion monthly listeners.

He was right to celebrate. Just five years ago, Spotify had less than half that figure, and there was a justified concern that Apple Music could steal the show entirely.

If the obvious question was “What are the next steps to continue that growth?”, Julie McNamara – Spotify’s Head of Global Podcast Studios – provided an immediate answer.

Not only would the platform give an enhanced focus to video podcasting, it would open it up to everyone with a Spotify for Podcasters account. A format previously reserved for heavy hitters like The Joe Rogan Experience, Diary of a CEO, and The Always Sunny Podcast was being democratised – with potentially huge ramifications for the online media landscape.

In advertising circles, podcasting has traditionally been viewed as a close relative to radio. With the advent of video podcasts, the medium is slowly evolving into something closer to a live stream. This point was illustrated by McNamara, who highlighted the introduction of interactive live podcasts, which share more in common with a platform like Twitch than with traditional radio.

It might seem strange to shift so heavily towards video podcasts, and some journalists have not been shy in highlighting this, speculating that video podcasting may be a fad. But there is a simple boardroom explanation: YouTube.

Spotify sees YouTube in its rearview mirror, and as we know from Jurassic Park, things in the rearview mirror can be much closer than they appear.

But it would be wrong to suggest that shutting out the competition was the only reason Spotify is chasing down the video podcast market. It’s also very popular, illustrated by the fact that in 2022 24% of podcast listeners reported watching video podcasts on Youtube.

Nor is that trend towards the visual entirely alien. In fact, it also applies to the realm of traditional broadcasting.

Spokespeople preparing for a radio appearance used to focus almost entirely on what they would say, and how they would sound when they said it. That used to be all that the listener would be aware of.

Breathing exercises, microphone positioning, and telling the audio engineer what you had for breakfast to adjust sound levels were the main considerations.

In today’s media landscape, it’s not quite so simple. Take LBC, for example. Over two million listeners tune into the station each week to listen to  James O’Brien, Nick Ferrari and Andrew Marr, but plenty will also choose the option to watch the live video feed from the studio.

Furthermore, footage of LBC interviews are regularly cut up and shared as short-form content on the platform’s social channels, with some clips reaching online news sites. For organisations making a radio appearance, the opportunity is there to reach a wider online audience.

Thanks to this trend in broadcasters investing in building their social teams, many radio brands now service two audiences: one that listens or watches live, and another, typically younger, watching its TikTok and social content.

As a result of that visual emphasis, TV media training techniques such as posture, outfit, facial expressions and background now often apply to radio media training, and our clients are having to consider that they may be seen as well as heard.

TV and radio are two formats that are alive and well, but they are also location limited. The global audience prefers online video, and both TV and radio are adapting. The direction of travel is a Frankenstein format, where traditional content is structured in a way that makes it easy to edit for social media, rather than tailored to its own medium.

According to a report by Radiocentre, more than half of all commercial radio stations in the UK are investing in video content to complement their audio offering. The biggest bellwether is the BBC, which is following suit with behind-the-scenes segments from The Today Programme and Radio 1 Breakfast.

Why? Because that’s what the younger generation of radio listeners wants.

A radio interview might go out on the airwaves, but it might also be captured on video for a livestream and have captions added for the awaiting social media audiences.

While the spoken word will be as important as ever, a trend towards soundless viewing opens up a lot of possibilities. Instead of a changing of the guard, perhaps it would be more accurate to describe the trend as reinforcements arriving?

The line where video begins and audio ends may be blurred, but the future is clear cut: broadcasters will continue to evolve as the habits of their audiences do the same, and it is up to us in the comms industry to have up to date strategies in place to take advantage of this evolution.

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