Project Post-Mortem: Pixel Digest podcast, Season 1

Overview

Pixel Digest was a weekly podcast hosted by volunteer MDS staff, Andrew Nguyen and Shamichael Hallman, with MDS Director, Bret Staudt Willet. Each week, we got together over Zoom to share our recommendations on what games to play, what to watch or read, and who to follow on social media. Our recommendations revolved around geek culture. Our commentary and discussion on each recommendation was framed by the intersection of faith, reconciliation, and geek culture. Pixel Digest is hosted on SoundCloud and available from iTunes.

Basic Stats from Season 1 (Sept-Dec 2016)

Current as of February 14, 2017
  • 16 tracks, 652 total plays, 16 followers
  • Per track, range of plays from 11 to 109
  • Two outliers on high end: 92 plays and 109 plays
  • Three outliers on low end: 11 plays, 17 plays, 17 plays
  • Average plays per track seems to be high 30s

These results were with almost no promotion, just announcing with the MDS Twitter handle (which doesn’t have many followers).

Goal

The goal of this podcast was to test Andrew's framework for a scaleable entry-level podcast. We wanted to see how “entry” it really was, if it would be something students can easily replicate, and to familiarize ourselves with the publishing process.

What Went Well

  • Released 16 episodes consistently
  • Successfully published on iTunes
  • Discussions felt organic and honest
  • Having 3 hosts allowed for dynamic and varied conversations
  • Diversity among 3 hosts: ethnicity, geography, life-stage, occupation, and interests
  • Conversations often intersected faith, reconciliation, and geek culture as intended
  • Mixing up the programming with new segments (when we had time)
  • We saw a listener spike when we had “Lecrae” as a tag (we think!)

Issues

  • Built-in Zoom recording was insufficient. While one person spoke, co-host channels were largely cut off making it difficult to hear someone if they interrupted or even if they began talking to closely to when someone else was just finishing.
  • It took several episodes before we found a good tech setup. There is a large variation in quality in the first several episodes.
  • Although three hosts made for good conversation dynamics, it also felt like the maximum occupancy. Having a guest on the show would feel over crowded. 
  • All three hosts were men.
  • Pacing - There were a few occasions we wanted to try a new segment but would run out of time just going through our normal programming.
  • Very little marketing and promotion.
  • Working with three different time zones was tough. Our recording time was 7:30am on the west coast. If we ever had to shift that time, it would likely cause a schedule conflict for at least one other person. 

What We Learned

In our Startup Podcast Guide, we named four key guidelines to a scaleable entry-level podcast. We attempted to test these during Season 1 of Pixel Digest. This is what we found:

1. Expert Knowledge

Identify what the business world refers to as your “unfair advantage,” something that is not easily copied or bought. You don’t need to be a PhD on the topic, just more knowledgeable than the average joe. Choose a topic you could you easily jump into at a party and talk for hours on without preparation.

Findings:

The format of the show encouraged this as it was about each host’s personal recommendations, which tended to relate to their areas of expertise. We didn’t often take a deep dive into someone’s area expertise, but in general our commentary and discussions always felt easy but still informative. As co-hosts, we were always learning something new from each other.

Takeaway:

We still highly recommend people form content out of their areas of expertise. Future podcasts can look for ways to bring out more of this content. The “Explain Like I’m 5” segments of Pixel Digest, for example, were great opportunities to do a deep dive.

2. Sustainable Content Pool

For now, avoid creating original content from scratch. Base your program around a content source that can provide you with a steady stream of material to work with (i.e. Bible Verse of the Day).  It’s even better if it’s something that stays current like gaming news or movies in theatre this week.

Findings:

We didn’t have to create or produce any content as our content was simply our recommendations and discussion of them. There was no shortage of games, videos, or social media personalities to recommend. This made each episode quick and easy to prepare for and was easy enough to sustain weekly shows. It also allowed us to play with adding new segments. Even if the segment didn’t work, we still had our core content going consistently. Having our core content ready also meant that we were able to keep the show unscripted, which resulted in natural, flowing conversations and moments of clarity and insight.

Takeaway:

We still highly recommend people find a sustainable content pool if they want to do an entry-level podcast. Some of our future podcasts will continue to benefit from this strategy as many of them will still be experimental and exploratory. 

3. Do What You Know

Minimize the amount of new things you’ll need to do. You’ll already be learning how to record, edit, and publish for the first time. Make it easy for yourself by leveraging things you’re already doing (i.e. you and a friend already get together to break down the Golden State Warriors’ performance each week; start there).

Findings:

Similar to the previous point, it was easy to sustain a weekly show with Pixel Digest because we minimized the amount of new things to do. We did have to learn how to publish to itunes, but other than that we didn’t take on anything else. Our program was a discussion among friends. We didn’t try to regularly conduct and edit interviews, we didn’t try to cover topics we weren’t familiar with, we didn’t try to expand to live streaming services like Twitch. We specifically tabled some of those ideas for phase two or for a different podcast. 

Takeaway:

We still highly recommend for entry-level podcasts to be limited to what the specific team knows how to do well except for the one new thing they are trying. The assumption is that, for some, recording a podcast all together is the one new thing. If the team is too limited for the scope of a planned podcast, the recommendation is to recruit by role (i.e a writer, A/V guy, release manager, etc.) in order to minimize new things the team must learn. 

4. Bite-sized Episodes

Plan for brief and concise episodes, anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. Not only will this be more accessible to new listeners, it also forces you to distill your content down to the good stuff and only the good stuff. It’s also quick and cheap to produce.

Findings:

We didn’t adhere to this guideline. Our episodes were between 45-55 minutes each. That’s what felt appropriate for our programming. Going for something between 5-15 minutes would certainly be less of an investment, but in the case of Pixel Digest it might actually be harder to adapt to that timeframe. It wouldn’t be the same show.

Takeaway:

Bite-sized content would not have worked for what Pixel Digest turned out to be but because we didn’t explore it, we can’t make a recommendation for or against making bite-sized/short-form content in an entry-level podcast.

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