in podcasting

Why audio rarely goes viral

This piece by Stan Alcorn for Digg is a few years old, but I think about it a lot. I don’t think I ever blogged about it here, so I’m sharing it now.

According to producer Nate DiMeo, “People will watch a bad video more than [they will listen to] good audio.” Why is this? Why does audio almost never go viral? A few possibilities:

“The greatest reason is structural,” says Jesse Thorn, who hosts a public radio show called “Bullseye” and runs a podcast network called Maximum Fun. “Audio usage takes place while you’re doing something else.” You can listen while you drive or do the dishes, an insuperable competitive advantage over text or video, which transforms into a disadvantage when it comes to sharing the listening experience with anyone out of earshot. “When you’re driving a car, you’re not going to share anything,” says Thorn.

The second explanation is that you can’t skim sound. An instant of video is a still, a window into the action that you can drag through time at will. An instant of audio, on the other hand, is nothing. “If I send someone an article, if they see the headline and read a few things, they know what I want them to know,” a sound artist and radio producer told me. “If I send someone audio, they have to, like… listen to it.” It’s a lot to ask of an Internet audience.

The end of the piece has some suggestions for how one might make one’s own audio more viral: Think about the sharing mechanisms, think about how to appeal to an audience beyond your existing one, think more carefully about things like metadata, titles, and presentation.

It’s challenging work but the rewards can be enormous.