Interview With A Real, Live Podcast Listener

The other day, a coworker came into my office and said, “‘Cheap Date,’ huh?”
He had discovered our podcast purely by chance.
I realized this was a real opportunity: I was talking with someone who discovered podcasts entirely on his own, looks for shows by searching through the iTunes directory, and listens to material he likes on a schedule he sets himself. In other words, I was talking to someone who could give some real insight as to what a real listener looks for in a podcast.
Brian (his real name, he won’t mind) said he looks for podcasts that fit into three general categories: spiritual enhancement, professional enhancement, and– his term, not mine– “mindless listening.”
He told me about his favorite spiritual and motivational podcasts, and how he typically listens to them as his day begins. On the professional side, he listens to podcasts from the Yale Business School and the Project Management Institute, where he says he finds valuable tips for his career. “Mindless Listening” consists of everything from the videocast of Craig Ferguson’s show to, well, Cheap Date.
What does Brian like most about podcasts? “The fact that I can play what I want, when I want.” When I asked about radio, he said, “I like being able to decide for myself what I listen to. Radio makes that decision for me, and I don’t like that.”
He prefers podcasts that sound professionally-produced, primarily for their production values and the fact that they “get right to the content without a lot of messing around.”
I explained how many people are trying to monetize their shows, so how does he feel about advertising? “I don’t mind ads as long as they’re generally in the same spot in every show, and they’re short.” How likely is he to fast-forward past ads? “Not very. I usually just start a show and let it run through.”
Then I asked a critical question: what about the length of a show? In a previous life, Brian was a preacher, and he said he always followed this rule: “If you can’t say what you need to say in 20 minutes, re-think what you have to say. And you have to be very good to keep your audience’s attention for 30 minutes. Anything beyond that, forget it.” He said he will rarely download a show that’s longer than 30 minutes unless the subject is compelling.
Any complaints about some of the shows you’ve heard? “Some show hosts seem to think that all they need to do is turn on a microphone and talk about anything that comes to mind. Howard Stern makes a lot of money doing that, but pays a huge support staff to provide his ‘ad libs.’ The truth is that there are too many podcasts where the hosts think it’s interesting to spend 25 minutes talking about their experience in returning a rental car at the airport.”
I think Brian’s most compelling statement was “I am giving you my most valued asset: my time. Respect that.”
We podcast producers need to remember that there are real people out there, and it’s up to us to respect their time, interests, and sensibilities. The audience is granting us the privilege of entering their homes, cars, etc., and we should treat that privilege with respect.
That’s the philosophy we intend to continue following on Cheap Date. Others may cling to their “Explicit” tags thinking it makes them edgy, or their “no editing” policy which supposedly adds a sense of “reality,” but our goal is to honor that respect for the audience.
And maybe people will keep listening.