Essentials Week spotlights unexpected items that make our daily lives just a little bit better.
I realized this year that podcasts have supplanted practically every other form of media to become my most consumed entertainment.
My Spotify usage has dwindled. I haven’t been making it to the theater much since all those MoviePass hijinks. And I’d rather just hear one guy drone on for seven hours about the French Revolution than actually pick up a book. It’s all podcasts now, baby.
There’s a lot to admire about podcasts as a medium. There’s a broad and seemingly bottomless well of content: comedy, politics, history, true crime, and too many others to list here. Audio-only means I can keep both hands free for multi-tasking. Podcasts pass the time on my morning and evening commutes, fill hours during my workday, provide a soundtrack for gym time, and can be a helpful motivator for chores around the house.
But there’s one aspect of podcasts that doesn’t get the attention it deserves: the 15-second skip button.
Oh, that little skip button. My precious, beautiful child.
The revolutionary ability to jump forward and backward in short intervals, featured prominently in every podcast app I’ve used, has a single profound effect, making your listening virtually ad-free.
The modern ad experience is a grim one for consumers. If you’re a frequent user of Spotify, YouTube, and other services, you will be bombarded not only by ads designed to be as disruptive as possible, but also by ads selling an ad-free experience — for a price.
The modern ad experience is a grim one for consumers.
I haven’t had cable for five years, but when I have the opportunity to check out modern TV, I’m always staggered that 75 percent of it is commercials: cheery pharmaceutical ads, promos for cars I won’t buy, and Alex Trebek selling life insurance. Think of how long TV existed like this before the invention of TiVo!
Your phone may not be listening to you and serving ads based on your conversations, but it is tracking your location and selling that data to advertisers.
And you can look forward to a Minority Report-style future of hyper-targeted IRL ads based on face recognition. In fact, that future is already here.
Podcasts are no less inundated with ads. After all, how else is a humble content creator going to see a profit? Some of the most successful and long-running podcasts, like Comedy Bang Bang, are supported by multiple ad breaks per episode.
Just within my limited podcast repertoire, hosts have found different ways to deal with the necessity of advertising. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
The Slate Political Gabfest features ads at the beginning and end of each episode as well as between the show’s four segments. Ad reads for services like Quicken Loans or Rocket Mortgage (telling you a lot about the listener base) are presented in a straightforward manner by the host in pre-recorded segments.
If on that particular day I don’t feel like listening to David Plotz regaling me with info about his recent Blue Apron meal, I can take out my phone and, from, the lock screen, tap forward 15 seconds. Y’know what, tap twice, because this ad is probably a minute long. Yep, he’s still talking about glazed asparagus. Tap. He’s giving me the promo code now. Tap. OK, now we’re into a discussion of Michael Cohen’s crimes. Back to our regularly scheduled programming.
Pod Save America and other shows under the Crooked Media umbrella use a similar but modified format: Multiple hosts participate in the pre-recorded reads, lending the feeling of camaraderie and honesty that makes the show itself so popular. Hosts like John Lovett might even make light of the stiff copy provided by sponsors like Audible or BarkBox.
And light music playing under Pod Save ad segments makes it very easy for an impatient listener to tell when a commercial has ended. Just listen for the music to end every time you jump forward 15 seconds. Unless, y’know, I really want to feel like I’m hanging out with Tommy and the Johns while they riff on Blinds.com for a couple of minutes.
The comedy podcast Cum Town takes an entirely different tack. The hosts transition directly into live reads for BetDSI or Mack Weldon in the midst of recording, often building simple ads into elaborate, rambling bits that can last for minutes at a time with no clear ending. They’re more fun than a conventional ad read, but also deceptively harder to skip if I want a truly ad-free experience.
They’re doubly deceptive because Cum Town, like a number of successful podcasts including Chapo Trap House, already employs a highly profitable business model through Patreon. Subscribers can pay $5 per month for extra weekly “premium” episodes. Under this model, a few thousand paying listeners can provide a hefty reward and (theoretically) keep your pod ad-free.
That sounds great, but here’s the thing: I’d like to pay nothing and get everything (I am a millennial, after all). And that’s why the 15-second skip button rules.
I’d like to pay nothing and get everything (I am a millennial, after all).
I realize that for many, podcast listening is a passive behavior, and the ability to instantly skip ads isn’t a game-changer. On a cold morning walk in to work, it may not be worth it to peel off a glove and dig through your coat pockets just to skip a 45-second ad.
Same goes for when you’re on a road trip. Do you want to be fumbling around under the console while you’re driving just to avoid a minute of discourse about moisture-wicking boxer briefs? Probably not.
And in some cases, ads can be a pleasant part of the listening experience. I’ll forever associate Mail Chimp with the podcast Serial because of the innocuous, cute ads that kicked off every episode.
That said, the next time some gravelly-voiced podcaster wants to whine at me about how hard it is to go to the post office and how there’s finally a solution for all my shipping needs? I’m going to thank the podcast gods for that skip button.
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