Podcasts' Need For Speed

Plenty has been written recently about the ideal length for a podcast. Quick answer: some are too long, some are way too long and some are fine. You can go back to my previous blogs for views on that.

A recent conversation about podcast length with Edison Research President, Larry Rosin yielded a different tack. Larry is an avid podcast listener and I wondered how he consumed so many. 

He was kind enough to pen some thoughts for Blogstein:

Over the last few months there has been a spate of opinions put forth on what is the ‘ideal’ length of a podcast.  I would like to inject a new variable into the discussion – speed.

I consume an enormous number of podcasts, and many people can’t understand how I fit them all in.  My main trick is that I listen to one category of podcasts using the 1.5X speed option on my iPhone.  That’s right – I listen at 50% higher speed than the recording.

Now – I don’t do this for all podcasts. I do this for what I refer to as “banter-casts” – that dominant category of podcasts which consist of two or more people talking among themselves in an unscripted fashion.  And I don’t listen at 1.5X speed just to get through them faster – I enjoy them much more at this speed.  You should try this.  It turns out that many people speak at a pace that is vastly below what your ear and brain can follow; speeding them up actually improves the sound.

"I listen at 50% higher speed than the recording" 

For instance, I love Bill Simmons, but man he speaks slowly.  Now, he sounds ‘wrong’ to me when I hear him at ‘normal’ speed.  He sounds great at 1.5X.

If someone speaks quickly, it can at times be hard to follow at 1.5X.  Probably the perfect speed for ‘banter-casts’ is more in the 1.3X range.  But almost no one sounds better at real speed than they do at 1.5X.

Meanwhile, there are the ‘cinemacasts’ – scripted dramas and other highly produced podcasts such as RadioLab or This American Life etc.  I’ve tried, and for me these don’t work at a higher speed.  Doubtlessly this is because they have been so ruthlessly edited in the first place.  There is no empty space and speeding up just ruins them.  (Maybe they could handle a little speeding – but not 1.5X.)

So – a couple of thoughts: 

  1. If you produce a banter-cast, maybe you should consider pitching your shows up?  Send it out at 1.25X or 1.3X – whatever sounds best on a listen.  You may find you have just created a better-sounding, more vital show.  And to be sure you’ve created a shorter one!
  2. My ideal player would allow for more variable speeds.  There are probably shows that would still sound good at 1.7X, but more to the point I’d love to have 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 and 1.4X available.

Speeding up one’s podcasts probably is not for everyone.  But this is something we all should be experimenting with.  For me, 1.5X has changed my entire perspective on this medium for the better.  I get more enjoyment in less time.  How long is my ideal podcast?  For the ‘banter-casts’ that I like…it’s 2/3rds of their original length!

Larry Rosin is the President of Edison Research.  Edison works with Fortune 500 companies, countless media companies including numerous podcast and streaming related businesses, and since 2003 has been the sole provider of election exit poll information for the top networks and newspapers.