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The next big thing in podcasts is coming back

Vince Major and Michael Tucker, hosts of the podcast Beyond the Screenplay, thought they knew what their audience wanted for their next episode: a deep-dive into Back to the Future — a "no brainer," says Major. . However, to be sure, he decided to choose his audience. They didn't go to Patreon, Instagram, Twitter, or other places where creators often chat with their audiences. Instead, they went where their listeners already tune into their show, Spotify, and used their new polling tool to ask. The people talked - they wanted The Godfather.

“[Elections] let podcasting technology take hold in some ways,” Tucker says. "In a place where people are actually listening, they can still participate." Although co-hosts started using these polls within the past year itself, they say their listeners are taking advantage of it. They're talking back.

"Podcasting has always been this kind of one-way street," says Mike Mignano, head of creation platform at Spotify. “A producer publishes content; the listener listens; Oh! That is the matter."

Now, however, interactive elements are making their way into the space. Spotify is giving all of its anchor creators the ability to conduct polls and Q&A and is testing interactive ads. Other apps, such as Facebook, are trying things as simple as allowing listeners to leave comments — a core YouTube feature — while podcasting apps in China already allow listeners to form “listening circles” and “discussion groups.” allow.

"When I first downloaded Chinese podcast apps, I was amazed at how interactive they were," writes Helen Lee at Rest of the World.

While the conversation overseas is huge, it's not clear how popular it might be in the US in these traditionally audio-only regions. Do people want to touch their phone while in listening mode? “It’s not really in the mindset of podcasts to engage yet to give immediate feedback,” Major says.

Interactive elements already popular abroad
In America, the excitement of the conversation is nascent, but bubbling up. On the recently launched Fireside, the live audio app co-founded by Mark Cuban, when you first look at its website in large, bold, white font reading: "The future of entertainment is interactive." The same is the case with Twitch, which is reportedly working on a specific live audio integration: "We build communities around live content that is interactive, diverse and always at the next level."

In the case of Fireside, viewers can respond with an emoji, ask a question or leave a written comment. On Twitch, listeners can pay to have their name pop up in their favorite streamer's video and join a chorus of commentators.

Amazon, which entered the podcasting space last year with podcasts on Amazon Music and Audible (and also owns Twitch), might be working on something podcast-specific as well. In a recent survey provided to podcaster attendees of an industry conference, the company mentioned the possibility of a voting feature. Toys and games also already rely on Alexa as a moderator and guide for interactive moments, so it's easy to imagine the smart assistant playing a bigger role in podcasting and commercials.

“We haven’t really seen anyone crack the code on true listener-to-producer interactivity on listening platforms yet,” Mignano says. "So I think that's the natural evolution of content and media on the Internet, and I think, hopefully now, we can finally catch up with podcasting with the rest of the medium."

There is also the challenge of making conversations sound natural with audio. Podcast analytics and advertising platform Backtrack has developed an SDK that integrates with AirPods to detect head gestures. A podcast ad might say something like, "Shake your head to learn more," and give you a chance to dive deeper into what you're listening to. Backtrax CEO Jonathan Gill considers it more palatable than asking someone who is listening to something in particular, rather than looking at their phone.

"If you're asking someone a question, and you expect them to answer by looking at the phone on the phone, after a certain amount of time, you miss your audience's use case," he says. "So one reason to do it as part of the listening experience is that someone is walking, running, they can be in their house, out, and then if you ask a question or [gesture] interact, so it really fits the context."

One of the biggest reasons behind this push for interactivity is the hope that it will make podcasts stickier. If you can talk to your favorite podcaster in a specific place or build a community in an app, chances are you'll come back to that place. Then, of course, there is advertising functionality, an important function especially in audio, which is primarily used to attribute sales to listeners.

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