In 2021, UKAI Projects supported the creation of a short series of speculative story-based podcasts through the Goethe-Institut Toronto. “The Computer is Your Redacted” drew together diverse experts to collectively explore issues of artificial intelligence through play and improvisation.
Throughout 2023, our Research Lead, Jerrold McGrath, has been looking into the infrastructure, skills, and digital assets necessary to transform existing working model for artists and to deepen partnerships across sectors around issues of sustainability, equity, and other complex challenges that don’t fit neatly into one sector or discipline. One element of this has been to leverage audio and podcasting platforms and this work was supported by a Seed grant from the Canada Council for the Arts.
Role-playing games (RPGs) can be understood as both play and performance. Our belief was that activities such as role playing can be inherently anti-algorithmic, improvisational, instantiated, and empathetic responses to hegemony and polarization. The outputs suggested the potential for a novel mode of being in relationship, telling stories, and sustaining the work going forward.
Our creative practice prioritizes approaches to convening and containing multiple points of view on key issues in order to map out new constellations of meaning and action. The Computer is Your Redacted drew on Bakhtinian models of inter-subjectivity. Multiple subjects were brought together drawing on different lived experiences and bases of knowledge in encounters that do not seek resolution, but rather novelization and/or complication.
Podcasting is an ideal format for this approach as voices can encounter each other on a shared plane. Production can occur in shared space or virtually and distribution is digital with massive existing platforms (Spotify, Apple Music) available to amplify works of high technical and artistic quality.
With the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, Jerrold has been building out this aspect of his practice and we are very pleased to be integrating it into UKAI’s offerings. The opportunity to engage diverse non-artistic expertise in artistic works that can reach global audiences is immense but capacity, workflows, and technical partners were essential.
We see this work as addressing three key sectoral challenges:
Polyphony: Many of the significant challenges we face as a society require diverse expertise in order to understand the situation and then begin the process of working through solutions. However, differences in assumptions and language can make these intersections adversarial or incomplete. The modality of game-playing and storytelling through podcasts allows for diverse expertise to rest on a shared plane of experience that centres artistic ways of knowing. Through play, and the sharing of that play with others, we can more easily inhabit the positions of those with different lived experiences and/or expertise when addressing issues of climate change, inequality, surveillance and so on.
Reach: According to Grand View Research, the global podcasting market size was valued at USD 11.46 billion in 2020 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 31.1% from 2021 to 2028. Certain modalities are firmly entrenched (talk-show, long-form journalism). Others are emerging. Going forward, we are seeking to develop the format of ‘speculative podcast’ centred in traditions of role-playing games and radio drama.
Attention: Our work increasingly touches on broad issues of social concern through storytelling and improvised performance (games). This approach invites a much broader audience into relationship with the ideas being explored than a more traditionally directed artistic work might. Moreover, by engaging participation from non-arts experts, different relationships evolve which generate new potential resources and energy for artists addressing broad social issues such as climate change, inequality, AI, etc.
The main objectives of this process have been:
- To research best and next practices in podcasting with a focus on accessibility: What are the existing business models? Who are audiences reached? What partnerships are critical? What ethical questions are entailed? Who is experiencing challenges accessing these forms? See below for some of the key trends to emerge from this work.
- To develop a strategic plan and individual project plans to deliver on future podcasting projects. The objective is to operationalize broader capacity and individual projects that emerge. The Local Disturbances – Shorts work that is being released currently is the first individual project to come out of this work.
- To develop skills, knowledge and innovation capacity to centre speculative podcasting as a mode of creative expression and reach. This will involve mentorship and training. Artist and brilliant human Koohyar Habibi has supported us through this process with production leadership from UKAI's Kasra Goodarznezhad.
- To build out workflow and the technology stack to allow for distance and in-person production. How to work with folks facing digital obstacles? How to ensure safety in production? Our new space at 379 Adelaide St. West (The Bridge) has been immensely helpful in allowing for recording and the clarification of workflows.
- To bridge diverse expertise through collective storytelling to address issues of broad social concern. Who is interested in these experiences? How do we engage them productively? We are still discovering this, and will continue to share what we learn.
- To provide broader audiences access to socio-technical issues too-often framed in abstracted and Western ethical traditions. How can we make difficult and complex imaginaries engaging and deserving of time and attention?
- To generate new partnerships and new resources through engagement with other sectors/expertise aimed at related issues. Who pays for this? This question remains an open one. Our focus for the time being is audience, with connections to merchandise, events, and co-production opportunities. Generating revenue is a challenge everywhere.
- To build a network of technical and non-technical expertise to deliver on speculative podcasting project. What expertise can be internal? What needs to be contracted? It has been wonderful working with Koohyar Habibi and Kasra Goodarznezhad on this work, with the amazing advice of folks such as Yasmeen Nematt Alla, Ian Garrett, Marjorie Brans, and others.
Summary of Trends
The podcasting landscape is evolving rapidly, and there are several key trends that artists and arts organizations should be aware of going into 2024 and that have informed our overall strategy and technical development:
- Mergers, Acquisitions, and Expansion of Programmatic Ads: The podcast industry is expected to see more mergers and acquisitions, providing a stronger foundation for podcasting products and companies. This trend is conducive to an environment ripe for new podcasters, who can benefit from increasingly sophisticated and user-friendly tools. Additionally, there is an anticipated increase in programmatic advertising, which could be a significant financial boon for podcasts, allowing for sustainable growth and evolution of the podcasting landscape.
- AI Integration: The integration of AI in podcasting is reshaping the market, especially in programmatic podcasts, transcription, optimization, and advertising. AI transcription technology is particularly relevant, ensuring ads are placed on podcasts that align perfectly with their core themes, thus enabling effective monetization and content creation.
- Mental Health Focus: There is a growing trend in podcasts focusing on mental health. These podcasts are becoming a refuge for those seeking meditation guidance, therapy insights, and stories about mental health journeys. This trend reflects an increasing public interest in mental well-being and self-care.
- New Monetization Methods: Beyond traditional ads, podcasters are exploring new monetization models. For example, platforms like Luminary use a subscription model, and some podcasts are thriving on platforms like Patreon, indicating a shift towards diverse revenue streams..
- Live Podcasting: Live podcasting is gaining popularity as it boosts audience engagement and opens new revenue sources. Platforms like Podbean and events can charge for admissions, and the format can vary from interviews and Q&A sessions to live event coverage.
- Cross-Promotion and Social Media Distribution: Podcasters are increasingly using cross-promotion and social media distribution to reach new audiences. Cross-promotion tactics like podcast swaps and distributing audio or video clips on platforms like Twitter and YouTube are effective strategies for boosting listenership.
- Emerging Genres and Formats: New podcast genres and formats are emerging, catering to diverse tastes and preferences. These include local pulse podcasts, boundary-pushing fiction, engaging edutainment, compact content, mind wellness chronicles, behind-the-scenes content on overlooked professions, and nostalgia-focused shows.
- Solo Podcasting and Collaborations: Solo podcasting is becoming more popular due to its lower production costs and flexible schedule management. At the same time, collaborations with other podcasters and influencers are being leveraged to reach wider audiences and build credibility.
- Enhanced Show Notes: Show notes are becoming increasingly important for podcasts. Detailed summaries with main talking points, guest information, and resource links not only help listeners but also improve the podcast's discoverability through SEO
For artists and arts organizations, these trends suggest a dynamic and rapidly evolving podcasting environment. Embracing these trends could help in creating more engaging, monetizable, and diverse podcast content, thereby reaching a wider audience effectively.
What do you think? Let us know your thoughts.