As a regular podcast producer, I am constantly keeping an eye on the trends that this relatively new media industry is running though. What excites me most about the format is that is it an entirely free way to reach the world. It can be any subject from anywhere in the world, available at any time. It reminds me of the days when the world experienced pirate radio; a revolutionary attempt to free the airways by creating radio stations that broadcast without a licence during the 1960s and 70s. It fell foul to authorities because it was playing music and not paying royalties to the artists. Eventually all the stations were either closed down or decided to go down the legal route and take up a licenced operation.
But for a brief time, people had free airwaves and were able to produce media without borders or regulations and now, in 2022, we are in back in that favourable position with podcasting. Once an obscure method of media, it has now become an amazing tool for distribution of ideas, information and creativity. You can access a podcast from anywhere in the world, be it football in Ghana, beer making in Argentina or human rights issues in China. And what’s most amazing is that the vast majority of podcasts are free. It truly is a modern marvel of technology of the masses, standing independently alongside the printing press, the television, a radio and a personal computer.
Yet despite its popularity and potential, it is already in danger of becoming a flag bearer for the dregs of society, right wing movements and the corporate media as shown recently by the recent spat between veteran US musician, Neil Young and the world’s most famous podcaster, Joe Rogan.
Let’s go back twenty years ago when Rogan was a little known comedian who had a few gigs as host of reality TV shows. In 2009, Rogan decided to launch a podcast; a pretty mundane affair in which he discussed his own interests which were primarily Mixed Martial Arts fighting (MMA). Over the next 12 years, middle men America began listening in and gradually, his chats became interviews with guests and the quality of guest improved, so did his personal popularity as Rogan was seen as the guy next door; a bit dumb but still with an opinion that had a propensity to be uninformed to say the least.
Fast forward to 2022 and the Joe Rogan Experience is the most popular podcast on the planet with millions downloading each two hour plus episode. The end result was that Spotify, ever more increasing its stranglehold on the podcasting world, decided it wanted an exclusive piece of the Rogan cake and offered a mind bending 100 million dollars for the streaming rights; a payday surprise for a middle aged podcaster. But all is not well in the Rogan camp. He has never shied away from discussing controversial topics on his podcast and when he decided to fall on the side of the anti-vaccine fence, often promoting alternative medication on a number of his episodes, Neil Young decided enough was enough and announced that he was removing his music catalogue from Spotify in protest at coronavirus misinformation broadcast on Rogan’s podcast. Fellow songwriter, Joni Mitchell followed suit and removed her music from Spotify and despite a few more artists voicing support for Young’s decision, there hasn’t been a predicted tidal wave quitting the streaming platform. Nevertheless, it did prompt Rogan to make a video accepting that his podcast has got things wrong and promising to do better but it hasn’t ended there. A video appeared recently showing over 70 occasions when Rogan used a racial slur in a number of episodes. This prompted Spotify to quickly, yet quietly, remove all episodes of the show when the slur is documented and forcing Rogan to yet again issue an apology stating the “the most regretful and shameful thing that I’ve ever had to talk about publicly.”
So as the crisis for Rogan and Spotify develops, with no real known outcome in sight, the world of podcasting may need to deal with the long term ramifications of this one guy who simply got too famous for his own good. When the person on the street is asked to define the word ‘podcasting’, it’s most likely that the vast majority of them will say “Joe Rogan” and this is a worrying situation for many of us who are dedicated to the industry. The end result is that podcasting is now under a spotlight that it does not really deserve and it may be that the threat of regulation, accounting and licencing could become a norm which would be a devastating blow for podcast enthusiasts around the world. Could we be forced to register our podcast, signing agreements on content, liability and so on? Hopefully not but whatever the outcome of the Joe Rogan debacle, the best outcome will be that he is no longer the definition of podcasting; right wing, fake news sensationalism and machismo and that we will continue to be an exciting free form of expression without our unwanted cigar smoking heroes.
Featured image by Michal Dziekonski on Pexels.