Large podcast conferences are at a crossroads, with the podcasting community wondering how next year’s conferences and beyond will be reshaped by the winds of change. Here are three possible futures.
I’m back from a lovely two-week vacation in Ireland, resplendent with lots of hats, many liters of Irish whiskey, and some thoughts on the kerfuffle that happened at Podcast Movement 2022 three weeks ago.
But before you say, “Ugh, not another hot take”-rest assured, I’m not adding another hot take on what happened. For those of you who’ve managed to avoid the news completely… well, I’m not sure how you did that. But good news: I need not provide a rehash of the events that transpired for you to understand today’s episode from my markedly progressive viewpoint. That’s what Twitter is for!
Instead of that, today I’m looking at the future of podcast events-three futures, to be precise-that I believe are more or less likely to play out for future podcast conferences, not just Podcast Movement. Futures brought by attitudes and actions brewing for some time across all public communication channels, not just podcasting.
One quick caveat: There’s no way in hell I’m going to “both sides” this issue. If you’ve been listening to or reading me for any length of time, you know I’ve little patience for deplorable people. Yes, I mean to use the word “deplorable.” You’ll learn why in a moment. And if you’re already bristling at my use of that word, you have been warned.
The Free-Dumb Future For Podcast Conferences
One possible future for podcasting conferences is where the free-speech-at-all-cost torchbearers are not curtailed. A future where the purveyors of hateful and intolerant ideologies can express their anti-inclusive rhetoric not just on their podcasts but in the public square without fear of reprisal. A future where conference organizers either welcome them or are fearful of repercussions if they don’t accept them into their events.
If that happens, Newton’s Third Law will emerge. In case your physics is rusty, that’s the one that says for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In this instance, the reaction of which I speak is protest. Civil unrest, if you will, but on a scale befitting podcast conferences
Think protesters wearing t-shirts and bearing banners with clever slogans gathering directly outside the display booths of companies in attendance who actively spread or assist the spread of disinformation. Or activism from the stage, with panelists and presenters naming names and calling out bad behavior. Think of disruptions from audience members attending sessions made up of panelists or presenters who seek to undermine democracy because they can turn a quick buck.
How much fun will a conference like that be? And who would buy a ticket to the shit snow next year, which only promises to be worse?
The Status Quo Future For Podcast Conferences
Equally likely is a future where… nothing happens. No changes at all. This may be hard to hear, but the vast majority of attendees at PM22 were blissfully unaware of any sort of conflict. Having merchants of hate and sowers of disinformation didn’t impact their conference experience. And for those who did notice or heard about the kerfuffle after the fact, most decided it wasn’t something they needed to care about. Or, perhaps better said, they didn’t-and still don’t-see what all the fuss was about. They’ll still buy their tickets next year. They’ll still submit to speak next year. They’ll still attend and promote the event next year. After all, it’s the podcasting event they care about (and I’m not just talking about Podcast Movement) first and foremost.The benefits of being at the event outweigh any squabbles and bickering between others.
I believe many event organizers are counting on this future if I’m honest. So are, I think, most of the sponsors, speakers, and exhibitors who will attend. Because doing nothing is the path of least resistance. Sure, there was a lot of talk about it then and still is now… but eventually, it will blow over. And they may be right about that.
If they are, then it will be a blow to the marginalized voices among us. A blow that many of them won’t stand for, so they won’t attend next year. And they’ll lobby their allies also to not attend. Which will cause podcast conferences-especially large podcast conferences-to trend toward catering to the bigger, more monied side of podcasting, pushing out not just the aforementioned marginalized voices but the smaller, more creative, and downright fun side of podcasting.
How much fun will a conference like that be, where’s it’s all business all the time? Fun if you’re in the business of podcasting, sure. But not so much if you’re more into the fun, wonder, and joy of podcasting.
The Responsibility-First Future Of Podcast Conferences
The final, equally likely, future I can envision is one where podcast organizers do make a stand. A future where they, the people who run the shows, carefully vet every speaker, sponsor, and possibly even attendee. A future where they make it absolutely clear that their efforts to create a truly inclusive event means saying no, you are not welcome to those who actively and publicly work to belittle, shame, and dehumanize segments of the population.
Or the opposite can happen, and conferences specifically designed to attract a subset of the podcasting population come into being. Lament about the “fracturing” all you want, but we’re already seeing that with She Podcasts Live, BLK Podcast Festival, and many other conferences and gatherings already extant or in the planning stages. Conferences that aren’t designed for everyone interested in podcasting.
Will those conferences create echo chambers? They can, sure. Do they restrict “different opinions” from being presented and limit the inclusivity they claim to uphold? Oh, FFS. Give me a break. Anyone saying that is either being disingenuous or still has no idea what an asshole they sound like to the rest of us. If they want, they can-and probably will-form their own conference where they can collectively pine for a return to the world of segregation, don’t ask don’t tell, and a time when less than half the population had the right to vote.
Hey, look! You’re still here. Thanks for listening to my not-at-all-progressive look at the possible futures for podcast conferences. Uh… guess which one I’m into?
With that, I shall be back next week with yet another Podcast Pontifications.
Podcast Pontifications is written and narrated by Evo Terra. He’s on a mission to make podcasting better. Allie Press proofed the copy, corrected the transcript, and edited the video. Podcast Pontifications is a production of Simpler Media.