Apple and Audio Drama

User blog

From a post on Modern Soundling


As a Mac user, the death of Steve Jobs is particularly cutting. Recent tributes focus on his technical innovations, on the computer interfaces and advancements that made his products particularly effective. And that's all true. But underlying his achievements is a fundamental dedication to two principles: organization and experience.

The things in our lives can be arranged in many different ways, and those ways have a significant impact on how we live our lives. The organization can make or break the experience. Not just the physical and mental tasks, but the physical and mental states that accompany those tasks. The culture Jobs created at Apple focused on the experience.

What is the audio drama experience?

If we think of audio drama consumption not as an experience, but as an activity, we can begin to see that the experience is something different, something we aren't addressing, that is lacking in the medium. Technically, in terms of content delivery. Socially, in terms of interaction. We have been listening to audio drama without realizing how difficult the experience itself can be. There's a better way to deliver that experience, but we haven't found it yet.

When people talk about modern audio drama delivery, they are usually referring to podcasts. But the podcast does not deliver audio content in the content's native units of measurement. The podcast delivers a (typically weekly) stream of audio which contains audio drama content. They are variety shows - amateur, linear channels that work well for delivering short-form content such as music and features. They are like radio talk shows, splitting off into a multiplicity of topics and minutiae, made possible by the cheap, low barrier to entry.

That's fine. Podcasts are fun. They are good ways access examples of things, and to connect with people who are fans of topics that mainstream media just can't cover. But podcast subcultures, particularly in regards to audio drama, can also be extremely nice. People want to be supportive of their fandom. They don't want to give bad reviews. A bit more bite just might make radio drama podcasts more effective in increasing the standards for amateur content.

In any case, audio drama, like film and theatre, is fundamentally a medium of plays. Sure, there are serials. But a serial is either a play told in many parts, or a series of single plays that advance one story. I'm not sure about that formulation, it's a topic for further discussion. But my point is that audio drama storytelling consists of specific, separate parts. You can't effectively stream linear amounts of audio drama the way you can, say, music. Songs are easily and frequently consumed in batches. The linear model works for music. Audio drama, like film, is really a matter of discrete events. Even television, which has traditionally been delivered via linear channels, was only so by necessity. We can see that from the erosion of linear TV channels, and the rise of time-shifted viewing and iplayers. TV naturally does not want to be linear. It requires too much emotional and mental investment.

I don't know what Steve Jobs would think of the audio drama experience. I suspect he would find it lacking. Obviously, we can point to some of the lacking components. But the overarching means of content delivery requires someone like Jobs with that experience-oriented imagination, in order to give birth to the ideal model for future content delivery. It's not the podcast. It might be the iplayer. Either way, it requires a commitment to Jobs' ideals and an implementation of his style of development culture. Or maybe, we just need a few more crazy inventors in SoCal garages.

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