I was having breakfast with my friend Pat Keane recently and we started talking about podcasts and our shared frustration with new show discovery across the entire category. Everyone who consumes to podcasts - both of us included - has a preferred place to listen. Many people I've asked lately go with what's obvious and native like Apple's Podcast app. I lack the discipline to download and delete shows, preferring to stream only and so I've been a Stitcher app devotee with a side of the Soundcloud app for pods that aren't on Stitcher. Before settling into my longterm preferences, I tried many apps and services for listening. In addition to those already mentioned, I've used Overcast, Podbean, TuneIn Radio, Pocket Casts, Downcast, iCatcher!, Pod Wrangler, and even Spotify. All are generally well designed throughout; none of them has solved for discovery via in-app UX/UI. Considering media discovery in other formats - streaming tv and movies for example - and it may be that the problem is neither unique to podcasts nor a symptom of limited design.
Searching for a new podcast can be a struggle akin to endlessly mining Hulu app or HBO Now for something to watch. Depending on mobile or desktop view, 9 to 15 title card rectangles are all anyone has to go on, these single images become difficult to recall or differentiate once scrolling begins. The design restraints in option-selection display are shared across the spectrum of digital media browsing. Devices only have so much screen. Thumbnail title images aren't a fair representation of what's great about a show. Yet, people surrender lots of time to scanning Netflix. The issue for podcasts then may be that the medium has not yet delivered a critical mass of blockbuster content that's necessary to encourage listener browsing.
Word of mouth is a marketing mechanism as yet unmatched in its ability to convert. This is true across any purchase or participation category and its particularly obvious in the realm of digital entertainment. In February of 2013, Netflix dropped an an adaptation of a popular British series called House of Cards - its first original series and first time releasing a full season all at once. The buzz was immediate and for a few weeks its all anyone could talk about. Everyone watched it. Since that month, Netflix has released Orange Is The New Black, Bloodline, Stranger Things, The Get Down, The Crown, The OA, 13 Reasons Why, Ozark, and Mindhunter, just in the original, fiction category. Not everyone watched all of them (except me) but you probably watched more than one and many, many people you know did too. These shows, and many of the wildly popular standup and documentary specials, gave Netflix a word of mouth superpower along with consistent audience satisfaction to back up the buzz. There are amazing new shows and movies to stream with more coming and its on Netflix.
Podcast, as a category, has not yet had the big bang moment that House of Cards created for Netflix. Serial was a glimpse of that moment but the show did not have staying power nor was it followed by a succession of shows with similarly cross-demographic, obsessive appeal. Netflix and increasingly all of the streaming platforms are known to have a plethora of content, seemingly more and more everyday. Audiences then are confident they'll find something interesting when they log-in, even when they don't have a specific idea of what they want to watch. Podcasts haven't hit a volume threshold to earn that confidence from listeners and so drive them into their podcast apps in search of regular entertainment. Without that recurring action, there's too much distance between podcast interface and podcast audience for discovery to take place.