If you’re stuck at home you’re probably like us: time has lost all meaning, you’ve watched everything on Netflix and you’ve read the entire internet several times. So hurrah for the new Spotlight feature in Apple's Podcast app, which aims to bring you podcasts to excite, delight, entertain and inform you. It promises to be a great way to discover the next You’re Wrong About, Serial or Song Exploder right on your iPhone.
Apple’s Podcasts app comes pre-installed on new Macs including the new M1 MacBook Air, as well as on mobile devices including the iPhone 12, iPad Air and iPad Pro, and you can listen on Apple Watch. Like other podcast apps, the big problem is that there are so many podcasts to choose from it can be hard to find new and interesting ones – especially when a handful of big names get most of the attention. The new Apple Podcasts Spotlight feature aims to address that.
Apple Podcasts Spotlight is a new editorial feature that will feature new podcast creators each month and promote them in Apple’s Podcasts app, on social media and in traditional advertising too. In the app it’s very similar to the way the App Store highlights interesting games and apps that you might otherwise have missed. Spotlight creators will be listed at the top of the Browse tab in the Podcasts app.
The new feature has launched in the US first, and that means its first picks are US too: the first Spotlight podcast is Celebrity Book Club, hosted by Chelsea Devantez, which focuses on the memoirs of “badass celebrity womxn”.
According to Apple’s Ben Cave, global head of business for Apple Podcasts, “Apple Podcasts Spotlight helps listeners find some of the world’s best shows by shining a light on creators with singular voices.” Future creators will be drawn from a range of genres and locations, with a particular emphasis on independent and underrepresented voices. The next Spotlight will be announced in February and we’d expect it to come to the UK soon too.
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Podcasts are big business, but can be a big headache
Apple is rumoured to be considering a podcast subscription service to rival the likes of Spotify and Amazon. It’s the current market leader, but large sums of money are being thrown at podcasts by its rivals: SiriusXM bought the podcast app Stitcher as well as podcast analytics and ad firms, while Spotify has spent hundreds of millions on acquiring podcast companies and inking deals with high-profile podcasters. Some of those deals have attracted controversy: in October 2020, some Spotify users cancelled their subscriptions in protest at the Joe Rogan podcast’s platforming of far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, whose Infowars is banned from many social media services. The same episode was available on Apple Podcasts and on YouTube.
The Rogan controversy demonstrates that podcasting can be trickier than music for tech firms: it raises issues of accountability, freedom of speech, hate speech and censorship that don’t come up as often in music, where record companies are still gatekeepers that steer off a lot of those issues. While tech firms aren’t responsible for the content of the podcasts on their platform, they are responsible for deciding which voices to amplify.
It's likely that Apple's Spotlight feature will focus on less controversial fare for that reason, but there's no end to the number of fascinating podcasts you've never heard of, so anything that helps to change that is welcome.