Another week; another debate about podcasts

The Verge’s John Lagomarsino has written a manifesto about podcast listening speeds, of all things:

Radio — like film, music, TV, theater, and dance — is a temporal art. It relies on the passage of time to play with anticipation, tension, and release. A good radio producer knows how long a thought will linger in a listener’s consciousness, and either grants her that time, or purposely denies it. A conversation between two hosts is riddled with pregnant pauses and interruptions designed to head off miscommunications. We’re used to these patterns, and a good podcast is paced to play into them. Why, then, should we mess with that balance in the name of efficiency?

There are a few ways podcast apps go about speeding programs up. The most common is simply to run the audio at faster-than-normal speeds, often 1.5x. Thankfully, this process doesn’t tend to affect the pitch of the material. At best, it forces our brains to work in overdrive; worst, it destroys the art of timing.

He goes on to show that speeding up a podcast like Serial or This American Life makes it worse, as things like music and dramatic pauses get compressed, lessening their effect.

I read the article this morning, but wasn’t going to weigh in. Even as someone who co-owns a podcast network, I really didn’t care about the article because I wrote it off pretty easily.

Marco Arment explains what I was thinking:

Enjoying the full experience of all media and preserving “what the artist intends” is a romantic ideal, but it’s both overrated and unrealistic in reality. Not everything is that good, not everyone cares that much, and not all media produced is perfect and immutable.

The biggest reason people cite for not listening to more podcasts is that they don’t have the time. My goal with Smart Speed was to directly address that: to make more time for people. And it has: since Smart Speed time-saved totals are synced to Overcast’s servers, I can happily report that Smart Speed has cumulatively saved 55 years of listening time so far. I bet that the vast majority of that time saved was subsequently filled with… more podcasts.

As a host and producer of podcasts, I view things like Smart Speed as a net positive on the industry. I’ve saved 33 hours in Overcast personally, as a matter of fact.

Yes, Smart Speed and features like it change our shows; listening above 1x can cause little issues with things like music[1] and pauses, but in reality, it doesn’t greatly impact what we create each week.

The truth is, for shows like ours, it doesn’t matter anyways. The ebbs and flows of conversation are still present when sped up a touch. What the listener hears and what we produce doesn’t have to be 1:1 to be good.

I’d rather people listen a little faster and consume more of our content than hear every single beat, as it comes out of Logic.

  1. In fact, Myke has been working on a new thing and we tested the music discretely in Overcast to make sure it was okay with Smart Speed.  ↩