Podcasting and establishment radio

Somewhat positive news today, on the ongoing slow breaking of the stranglehold of the establishment media in the UK. Ofcom (the UK broadcast regulator) has crunched three data sources and has reported that the number of podcast listeners in the UK was double in 2017, compared to what it was five years ago in 2012.

Good news, in terms of choice and intellectual diversity. Yet this growing market was still small compared to mass market broadcast radio and streaming music. Ofcom’s press release states that 6 million adults listen to talk podcasts each week, which equates to 11% of UK adults.

One area where a definite trend can be seen is among the under 35s in the UK, because the audience is so large and avid. There appears to be a strong trend among the youth toward decoupling from establishment radio, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. What Ofcom does spot is that the strongest market here is in youth comedy. Again, unsurprising, but I guess it’s useful to have that nailed down. And yet perhaps we shouldn’t assume that is all such comedy is edgy indie stuff being downloaded from the Wild Web, since a third of the supposed “podcast” content being counted by Ofcom is actually sourced from the BBC.

The same BBC output ‘skew’ probably also happens at the other end of the age spectrum. By the likes of the “In Our Time” .MP3 recording of the weekly programme, which must have huge numbers of listeners, and other similar programmes for older audiences.

Not quite such a positive story, then, when one starts to break it down. And definitely not a mass market breakthrough for most independent ‘talk radio’ podcasters, despite what the huge YouTube view counts and download counters may say for a few super-stars of podcasting.

But one has to suspect that heavy ‘talk podcast’ listeners — such as those interested in niche interests, lecture recordings, politics and current affairs — are being strongly under-counted by mainstream survey methods that are geared to identifying mass markets for advertisers. Under-counting seems highly likely in the Ofcom figures, due to Ofcom’s use of only three sources. All seem questionable in some way. ACast: I’ve never heard of them, and they appear to deal only in finding paywalled podcasts as a service to mass advertisers. Radio Joint Audience Research (RAJAR): geared to measuring broadcast radio audiences via self-selecting diarists and other partial means. They thus seem intrinsically likely to overlook those who have switched away from the establishment media. TouchPoints: is from the Chartered Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, and has a similar approach and thus similar problems. They seem focussed on data of interest to national advertisers, based on an infrequently-updated (every two years?) 6,000 user sample of media consumption patterns. Currently their last report was published 2017, and expected respondents to complete “a 7 day diary every 30 minutes”, questionnaires, and install a tracking app in smartphones and on tablets. All three sources thus seem rather likely to be skewed in various ways, and may find it especially difficult to engage those who have decoupled from broadcast.

To be really useful, these lumpy and aggregate figures for podcasting also need to be more finely mapped, and listening tracked on a larger and more inclusive scale. Larger datasets could then be usefully mapped onto factors such as intellectual ability (vocabulary might serve as simple proxy there), cultural tastes, and regional tastes.


Something for the weekend #28

My round-up of the week’s causes for optimism, discussions of optimism/pessimism gap, and debunkings of optimism/pessimism, as noticed in the media.

* “Space Junk Net Successfully Completes Capture Test” reports Popular Mechanics. “Deployed from the International Space Station [using] a vision based navigation including cameras and LiDAR, the net was able to quickly capture the runaway CubeSat.” CubeSats are really tiny satellites, and thus seem like a good ‘hard’ test target.

* “Most of us are wrong about how the world has changed” writes Max Roser, University of Oxford. “An accurate understanding of how global health and poverty are improving leaves no space for cynicism.”

* ‘Pakistan’s tree revolution’ becomes a global inspiration, and also a big vote-winner at elections. The new “government plans to plant over 10 billion trees” in five years, repairing decades of deforestation. While there’s congratulations from the World Economic Forum, and it seems that every organisation and company in the nation is now issuing press releases that they’re out planting trees on their land, one has to hope that the back-end long-term sustainability has also been baked in to the project. China will also help, providing a big new tree restoration campaign along the Indus River near Pakistan, which should reduce some of the downstream flood-water which washes away so many saplings.

* Meanwhile, in Africa, moves toward “Monitoring the ambitious land restoration commitments in Africa”. “Restoration [of land] requires more than the planting of trees […] Countries must enact polices, allocate budget to restoration implementation, track and learn from their progress.” Also needed may be more politically difficult reform of things like land tenure and farm security.

* Spiked! on “The myth of a climate crisis”… “The problem with the climate-crisis idea, as Pielke shows, is that most extreme weather data do not support it. This, explains Pielke, is not a fringe view; it is the consensus of climate science.” Also, “the data sets consistently show that economic and technological development mitigate the worst problems that climate has always caused. [for instance] the deaths caused by droughts have fallen by nearly 96 per cent, despite a nearly fourfold increase in population.”

* Nepal is on track to double its tiger population by 2022, according to the nation’s recent camera-trap surveys. The wider background is explained in an article at The Diplomat, “Nepal’s Success in Wildlife Conservation”.

* In Canada’s Banff National Park Banff bison are roaming wild and free for first time in 140 years. “These are not a captive display herd. These are wild bison”, and they’re breeding.

* Future of Jobs 2018 report from the World Economic Forum. Their best forecast for the next five years is that… “machines and algorithms in the workplace could create 133 million new roles in place of 75 million that will be displaced”. That’s a gain of 58 million new jobs, albeit probably not uniformly distributed or necessarily well-paid. Also, A.I. is deemed unlikely to impact creative areas such as art and illustration markets, despite the hype among creative marketeers. A.I. is probably also unlikely to impact content curation, given how dismal the taste-matching suggestion algorithms are on the likes of YouTube and Amazon. We may also see diminishing public acceptance of A.I. deployment due to politically-correct skewing of the algorithms — for instance, in recruitment there is no way that a ‘C.V. bot’ will simply be allowed to impartially pick the five most highly qualified candidates for interview.

* Early news of a new book by Matt Ridley (The Rational Optimist), to be titled How Innovation Works: Serendipity, Energy and the Saving of Time. It will examine the history and theory of innovation, and compare this with evolution in animals and plants. The rights have been picked up by publishers and the title is set for publication in Spring 2020.

* A newly published book, Reimagining Our Tomorrows: Making Sure Your Future Doesn’t Suck. The cover makes it look a bit dippy at first glance, but it’s actually optimistic ‘sci-fi near-future storytelling meets futurism’, from a former writer for Disney Imagineering. Seems like a stimulating set of scenarios, judging by the contents page. But, as yet, no reviews.

Enjoyed this post? There’s more at the ‘Something for the Weekend’ newsletter archive.

New website: 2211.world

A new website, “2211.world” aims to imagine the world 250 years after the world’s first manned spaceflight, and to do so with a meta-cultural / space-philosophy angle. It’s rather an empty ‘coming soon!’ site at present, but there’s a podcast with the founders in which they explain the site’s aims.

In the podcast they address the potential problem of a site with an open ethos becoming a grouch-fest for grumpy space nerds (e.g.: ‘we hate Elon Musk’s flange-widgets and they will dooom the new space race!’ etc.), or being hijacked by a whiny politically-correct leftist flame-war (e.g: ‘noooo, you can’t say ‘space race’ because it’s symbolic of of of… evil racist patriarchal oppression!’ etc.).

One of the most interesting elements (not yet on the site, seemingly) is the “new lexicon of space philosophy” now being developed by one of the site’s founders, Frank White. Such as…

* Homo Spaciens is a radically different kind of human being, one highly adapted to living in the conditions of space and poorly adapted to living on planets.

* An Overview System is a pattern of organized self-awareness in which the whole is perceived as the context of all the parts within it. An overview system can exist at any level within the universe, from a planet to a solar system to a galaxy and beyond.

* Solarius is a solar overview system manifesting as a solar civilization with a presence throughout the solar system, and based on awareness of the solar system as a whole.

* Technos is the worldwide technology system, or technosystem, consisting of satellites, networks, computers, tablets, smartphones, robots, androids, and other interconnected electronic entities.

Homo Spaciens is a bit clunky. Homo Solarius would be more mellifluous on the tongue.