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How long is a piece of podcast?

Image by Mateo Abrahan from Unsplash
Listening to podcasts has transformed walking for exercise - and has been a revelation after the rigidity of traditional radio show formatting that requires a programme to be, say, 30 minutes long, no more, no less. However, a couple of podcasts I listened to this morning have demonstrated how things can go wrong at the boundaries.

The (2022) podcasts in question were the 14 May episode of More or Less: Behind the Stats, lasting 9 minutes, and the 6 May episode of Kermode & Mayo's Take, which runs to 1 hour 59 minutes.

These are clearly extremes - I think it's fair to say that most podcasts are in the 30-50 minutes range. But each illustrates a point.

Let's take Tim Harford's More or Less first. This one demonstrates the danger of making a podcast that is just a radio programme repackaged. It is part of a series that is broadcast weekly on the BBC's World Service and has a rigid 9 minute slot. If it had been a real podcast, it would have run for about 15 minutes, I'd suggest. But, dealing with a relative complex single issue, Harford, who is usually a laid-back presenter, was forced to rattle through at a slightly unnerving rate. The content was fine, but the need to fit to a broadcast slot made it less than perfect listening. 

By contrast, Kermode and Mayo's Take, which is a new podcast based on an earlier BBC radio show by the pair, shows that the freedom of the podcast format can be taken too far. I don't mind that nearly two hours is too long to fit with my typically 40-45 minute walk. I'm very happy to split the listening across several walks. But it felt like what we were getting was an hour's content that the presenters were allowed to run away with and extend unnecessarily. There was simply far too much wibbling with negligible information content. What this one required was a good edit.

The lessons from this listening experience seems to be twofold. We really should do away with linear broadcasting of this kind of programme and just have them as podcasts. They are better in a flexible slot than as time-constrained radio shows. But with great freedom comes great responsibility. Just because a podcast can be whatever length you like, it is still important to edit the content so it works well. I will continue to listen to Kermode and Mayo as I'm interested in film and value their opinions - but it would have been so much better if it had been tightened up.

Podcasting is still a relatively new medium and that will mean mistakes along the way. But if we learn from them, it will continue to go from strength to strength.

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  1. I have been a guest on many, many podcasts. Now, I like my own voice and don't know when to shut up. This clearly creates a problem for podcasters who clearly quail at the thought of all that editing. So the podcasts I have been on are usually more than an hour. Sometimes MUCH more than an hour. Forget your daily walk - you need to camp out in the garden and bring sandwiches.


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