An incorrect prophecy
A few years ago, my then-fellow Unibet Poker ambassador Espen Jørstad predicted that the future (at least in terms of poker content) lay not in blogs, nor podcasts, but in vlogs.
He was not alone in this prophecy: his prediction was very much in keeping with the times. The general feeling was that blogs were like books – a bit passe. Vlogs on the other hand were like movies or Netflix – hip and cool. And podcasts? Well, they were just radio, and nobody listens to radio anymore.
the popularity of vlogs seemed to nosedive
Roll on a few years and it’s a very different picture. After a period in which people couldn’t seem to get enough YouTube footage of their favorite player walking in slow motion through an airport or casino, or sped-up footage of them at a table playing poker, the popularity of vlogs seemed to nosedive. Blogs plodded on gamely fighting the good fight, but the real winner was the podcast.
The Chip Race
When David Lappin and I started our podcast (The Chip Race) about seven years ago, there were only a handful around. This helped us get a foothold in an uncrowded marketplace, but over the years the number of new competitors has grown into the hundreds. Far from seeing our numbers decline, however, we have grown every year. Nowadays, we get close to ten times as many listeners as we did in our first year.
racking up views in the thousands
When we launched our YouTube channel it was purely to serve as a sort of virtual jukebox or archive of old interviews and strategy pieces, with no expectation of getting more than a few dozen listens. Despite all of the material previously being released on Soundcloud and iTunes, and the inclusion of barely any visuals, we were blown away to find clips racking up views in the thousands, rivaling all but the top vloggers. One strategy clip featuring Jungleman got over 60,000 views, competing with some of the top poker vlogs.
Faces for radio
Bolstered by the growth of the YouTube channel, David and I decided to give it a boost by launching an original YouTube show with talking heads called The Lock In (it launched during lockdown). Although we were happy enough with the numbers to keep the show going after lockdown, it’s worth noting a couple of points:
(1) The YouTube numbers for the show are typically only about 10% of what the Chip Race gets on iTunes and Soundcloud, and half of what our strategy clips get.
(2) When we abandoned our YouTube-only strategy and started making it available on iTunes a couple of days later, we quickly discovered we got three or four times as many listeners. Now, maybe that’s a comment on our ugly mugs making the majority prefer to hear but not see us. But it’s also possible it underlines something I’ve long suspected: that online poker overvalues the reach and promotional value of visual platforms like YouTube and Twitch, while undervaluing audio platforms like iTunes and Soundcloud.
Less is more
It seems that people who a couple of years ago thought vlogs were the future are now shifting focus towards podcasts. Many poker vlogs have reinvented or rebranded themselves as podcasts.
live or die on the non-visual content
There’s an old saying that sometimes less is more. As vlogs were seen as a visual medium, most vloggers put a lot more thought into how they should look rather than what they should be about. Podcasts, since they have little or no aesthetic aspect, live or die on the non-visual content. This gives them a longer-lasting appeal.
There are only so many times you can see someone walking through an airport or sit through drone footage from Malta or Rozvadov before you never want to see it again. It’s also content no one is going to watch back in a few years’ time. On the Chip Race YouTube channel we quickly realized that the appetite for interviews, even with superstars like Phil Hellmuth and Phil Laak, didn’t have the same lasting appeal as strategy clips, which don’t date as quickly.
Technology drives art
David Bowie said (or rather wrote) to me once that technology drives art and entertainment, not the other way around. The printing press made the written word more important than the spoken word. Radio, TV, and movies reversed that to some degree. Photography moved painting away from realistic portraits and landscapes (since it rendered them redundant) to impressionism and surrealism. Vinyl, music, CDs, and the internet all changed the music industry.
you can listen to a podcast to break the monotony
The ease at which content or art can be distributed and consumed often dictates its spread and impact. Most of the listeners who contact me tell me they listen to us on their commute to and from work, while exercising, or while doing mundane work at home or in the office. The fact that you can listen to a podcast to break the monotony of running or driving or stacking shelves but can’t watch a vlog has been crucial to the growth of podcasts. Podcasts are a great way to give your brain something to think about while your body is otherwise occupied.
I listen to poker podcasts on my daily run. When injured or ill my consumption of podcasts drops to zero. If I gave up running completely, I might never listen to another podcast again.
Recently, a leading industry professional asked how many listeners a typical Chip Race podcast got. When we told him, his reaction was the one we have grown accustomed to: he admitted he had underestimated by a factor of ten or more. For whatever reason, the poker industry seems to be failing to recognize the huge captive audience poker podcasts are claiming.
Podcasts may just be radio in the internet era, but here’s a thought: there has never been a time when more people watched TV than listened to the radio. According to a Business Insider report, tablets come in fifth place in the list of media platforms with the most reach at 37%, PCs are fourth at 50%, smartphones third at 83%, and television comes in second at 89%. What’s number one I hear you ask? Boring old radio, believe it or not, at 93%.
For all the hype, video did not kill the radio star.