As someone who spends so much time working with and creating content, it was inevitable that the bulk of this past year was spent on the podcast world. A medium that was once regarded with skepticism, has now emerged as a media powerhouse, capable of reaching millions of global listeners on an intimate conversational level, and giving rise to real talent in the storytelling field that cannot be faked. And with podcasts so accessible and growing rapidly in audience numbers, the investors and advertisers (finally) come knocking.
Background, Numbers and Advertisers
A recent Wired Magazine article stated that “podcasters really are the holy grail that advertisers thought they would be” and that according to Midroll Media’s data, on average podcast listeners are making it through about 90 percent of a given episode, and relatively few are skipping through ads. That’s huge, which may lend some of its success to the sense of closeness between listener and host, as they deliver spots (like a new form of radio, but more casual conversation and far less highly produced spin). People are listening to podcasts at home, at work, at the gym, in the car…“Podcasts aren’t a bubble, they’re a boom — and that boom is only getting louder.”
Meanwhile, at last year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, radio personality & host Ira Glass traveled on a repeat mission to get advertisers to support podcasts (who were previously slow to respond). He told Adweek that “I’ve been here now for a day, and every CMO I talk to, I’m met with a blank stare when I talk about what’s going on in podcasting” which seems very odd considering its massive growth in recent years with even more potential to continue expanding (i.e. There were 50 million downloads for the viral S-Town podcast created by Serial and This American Life.) It seems ironic that the advertising and marketing industries, that pride themselves on forward thinking, are usually late to the table in terms of new media and storytelling methods (*for the record, I have worked in both industries and it is absolutely true). Why? Especially, I would argue, that podcasts weed out the strong from the weak storytellers and interviewers quickly, and that they almost always offer valuable content. Therefore, they can identify their brand voice and audience quickly, and offer considerable value to those keen to invest.
As expected, those advertisers quickest to get in on podcasts, are also the youngest. Brands like Casper, Blue Apron, Postmates, Dollar Shave Club, Betterment, Parachute, Peloton, and SquareSpace
Considering there were only a few months between that Adweek and Wired articles, what has happened in the span of a year? Has the gap between content creators and advertisers closed, and the potential of a new medium finally being understood and embraced? If you have looked at the thousands of shows in iTunes, Stitcher, Pocket Casts, Acast, Google Play Music — it would seem that it has. Looking around at the giant crowds at both last year’s Werk It Women’s Podcast Festival and Los Angeles Podcast Festival, I saw there were many future storytellers that have a point of view to offer and an easily accessible medium to do it in. In terms of an equal (media)playing level, the opportunity to truly share diverse voices makes it an exciting field indeed.
*UPDATED 2019: Gimlet Media was bought by Spotify for $230 million
When it comes to success, one only needs to look at the funding going into podcast media companies like Gimlet and Wondery. Or the fact that radio networks like NPR (This American Life, Serial) and WNYC (“2 Dope Queens”), media giants like Oprah and Katie Couric, or outlets like the NY Times (“The Daily”) and the New Yorker (“NYer Radio Hour”), jumped into the medium quickly, as an extension of their existing platforms. Broadcast media, journalism and entertainment leaders are quickly shifting their focus onto podcasting, as well as institutions like the Academy of Achievement (“What It Takes” — one of my favorites for inspiration), the National Storycorps, and The Moth.
The epic rise of LA-based Crooked Media, the political podcasting phenomenon founded by ex-Obama staffers just over one year ago, now offers 8 different shows, signed a deal with HBO, and boasts big numbers with their most popular show “Pod Save America”, which commands 1.5 million Americans per episode and sells out live events across the US. Heck, even The Wing and WeWork have podcast studios on site at their NYC headquarters.
Finally, as I listened to a recent Recode/Decode podcast conversation between venture capitalist Mark Suster and host Kara Swisher, Mark said “I would argue that everything you do as a consumer on the internet falls into three categories. I call them the three Cs: Content, commerce and communications.” As an extension of traditional digital media, I would say podcasts fulfill all three of those functions, and we should embrace the opportunity to share more diverse voices and stories. We need them.