RadioPublic Unbundles Episodes With New Feature: Stations

RadioPublic has continued the trend of episode unbundling with their latest feature: Stations. The idea is that you can provide a better discovery experience by grouping together episodes across a similar topic but from multiple podcasts. For example, one Station is called ‘Sports Discussion - reflect on recent games while at the gym’ which collects episodes from podcasts such as ‘Pardon My Take’, ‘The Bill Simmons Podcast’ and ‘First Take’.

RadioPublic has offered a similar feature in the past called Podcast Playlists. With Playlists such as “New to podcasts?” that also grouped episodes into playlists based on similar topics (this feature now seems to have been removed from the iOS app at the time of writing). What makes Stations more exciting than Podcast Playlists is that while Podcast Playlists were a static collection of episodes, Stations will update automatically based on what you’ve listened to:

…we want to assure that when you press play on a station, you get content that’s right for you. By design, we’ll respect the show’s natural play order, if it’s a daily or an episodic show, we’ll play you the most recent (unless you’ve heard it, of course) or if it’s a serialized show, you’ll start at episode one (or pick up where you left off). The station will continue to cycle through all the shows on the station to always serve you fresh audio.

Podcasting hasn’t had a great ‘lean-back’ experience yet (that is, a listener can ‘just play something I like’ rather than choose, download, queue and play a specific episode) and my first impressions of Stations is that it is a great lean-back experience. And they have cleverly given a cue to listeners about when they might want to try each Station by giving them subtitles such as “Commute while catching up on current events” or “Eat lunch with a legend”.

Who is Stations for? I can think of three main use cases:

  1. A new listener who doesn’t know where to start but they know they like sports news

  2. A enthusiast listener who has listened to all their shows that week and is on the hunt for something new

  3. A social setting with more than one person. This one I’m particularly excited about; you often hear how podcasting ‘isn’t a social experience’ and I think that is true for two reasons: its difficult to just have audio as the only focus of a group situations and there is a lot of pressure on the person who plays the podcast to choose the right thing. Stations offers a way to play podcasts without the pressure of having to be the ‘DJ’ for the group.

Are there any problems though? I do wonder if podcast publishers have any concerns about Stations? Maybe it could be argued that episode unbundling is similar to what has happened to online publishing. Now it is no longer about the publication as a whole but about individual articles and who can make the most clickbait headlines for going viral on Facebook. But I don’t subscribe to that argument. With editorial curation this feels like a system for surfacing great content rather than just being about gaming an algorithm for short-term popularity.
But might there be other problems for publishers that I’m not considering?