Podcasting: Money for nothing?

Stephen Rosger

Over the past few weeks as I've been listening to many podcasts, I've found myself questioning whether — in the UK in particular — it is possible to make money from podcasting.

The bigger productions seemed to be an add-on to radio programmes, heavily reliant on content produced — presumably — using on-air budgets.

Many of the others appear, on the face of it, to be labours of love with some sponsorship that may cover cost.

Audience

To make money from a broadcast — unless you’re publicly funded — you usually need an audience. So who’s listening to podcasts?

The most in-depth research readily available is American based — and conducted by Edison.

In the last batch of research, conducted in February 2015, they came up with the following:

  • The percentage of Americans who have listened to a podcast in the past month has almost doubled since 2008, from 9% to 17%.
  • The percentage listening in 2015 was up two points over 2014 levels (15%).
  • One-third (33%) of all Americans (aged 12 and over) say they have listened to at least one podcast.
  • Awareness of podcasting among Americans has more than doubled since 2006 to 49%

UK audience

In the UK some listening figures are provided by RAJAR, who are responsible for radio industry audience ratings.

Following it’s autumn 2015 research it claims 3.7 million adults listen to podcasts, which equates to around 6.5% of the adult population (OfCom’s last figures from 2010 put it at 7%.)

RAJAR also provided a breakdown of device used.

  • Smart phone 57%
  • Lap tops 16%
  • Digital music players 15%
  • Tablets 8%

And the preferred activity of the listeners, with listening while commuting (42%) the most popular, followed by relaxing or doing nothing (34%).

Podcast growth

Alongside what appears to be a growth in audience, there’s also been an increase in the number of people hosting podcasts.

According to The Pew Research Centre and Libsyn Podcasting Hosting Services 22,000 were being actively hosted in 2014 in comparison to 12,00 in 2012.

Their research also shows there’s been an increase in the number of download requests, up to 2.6 billion in 2014 from 1.6 billion on 2012.

So, podcasting certainly seems to be a growth industry. It may be interesting to note at this point that back in 2011 some believed it had already seen it’s peak.

Sponsorship and advertising

Listening to podcasts it quickly becomes obvious the main opportunity for funding is from sponsorship, with the sponsor’s message often the first thing you hear, although in the US some are carrying more traditional adverts.

Again for information on this, we turn to the US. In 2015 Zenith Optimedia, which tracks advertising spends, predicted a $34 million spend on podcasts — a rise of 10% on 2010.

It’s also claimed National Public Radio makes $4.7 million from podcasts with Serial being downloaded five million times in its first nine weeks.

Ratings

So, in the US at least, advertisers are allocating budgets to podcasts. Yet according to Digiday it still lags behind other digital media — particularly online video adverts.

Digiday claims it’s mainly because there’s no reliable way of measuring audiences and listens.

iTunes

Part of the blame, it appears, is iTunes.

Eric Blattberg at Digiday 2015:

“Podcasts reached 65 million monthly unique listeners last month, according to podcast measurement firm RawVoice, which tracks over 25,000 shows.
“Apple drives the majority of that activity through iTunes and its now-default iOS podcast app.
“But the tech giant provides limited data to podcast publishers and advertisers — a continual point of frustration for the otherwise flourishing format.”

There are however ways ‘round this and software which allow the podcaster a reasonable indication of how well their programming is performing.

PodcastAdvice again points the finger of blame at iTunes, but also provides details of ways of measuring podcast stats, including Feedburner, Podtrac and Blubrry as well as using analytics from your own site and iTunes rankings.

Despite problems with accurate measurement of downloads and listens, advertisers are increasing their investments in podcasts.

According to the FT it was the success of Serial that helped prompt this upsurge.

In the US Midroll not only sells advertising for it’s own shows, it also works on matching podcasts with advertisers.

Midroll also believes advertising spending is set to continue its growth, particularly mobile advertising, an area where spending lags behind consumption.

Matt Lieber’s co-founder of Gimlet Media, a venture-backed podcast network.

“It’s a mobile-first medium: 70 per cent of our listening is on mobile devices. Compare that to any medium save Twitter, and I don’t think you’ll find a similar platform with that behaviour.” FT

UK market

The Swedish podcast hosting service Acast has launched in the UK and offers free hosting in return for taking a cut of advertising revenue it makes around — and in podcasts.

It’s also developed dynamic adverts that are tailored to the listeners likes and location at the time of the download.

Among those to move to Acast are Buzzfeed and the Financial Times. This system also allows for a clear division between editorial and advertising.

Smaller scale

But what about the smaller podcast producer — is it possible for them to make money?

Well, the answer appears to be yes — but don’t give up the day job yet.

Podcasting consultant Viv Oyolu has this warning:

“Podcasting is not for money-making. It is for getting your presence out there.
“Other things will come out of having a podcast, you might meet people who say they want to do business with you.”

There are opportunities to make money through advertising and sponsorship, but that route is reliant on the number of downloads — which might be prohibitive to many.

Viv Oyolu again:

“You have to have lots of downloads — 10,000 to 15,000 — before people will want to sponsor your show. I think anybody going into podcasting thinking they will make money has a long journey.”

Another option is to actually sell the podcast through iTunes. Helen Zaltman is the co-founder of Answer Me This:

"We sell our old episodes for 79p each. We thought: that’s the price of a song on iTunes, it’s not an unreasonable price to pay for a half-hour track.”

For many, podcasting appears to be a great way to connect to an audience, which alongside other work and outlets could lead to money making opportunities.

For some though, it’s a simply a great way to indulge an interest and communicate this with like-minded individuals.

Either way Helen believes it’s an exciting time to be involved in podcasting.

“It’s a really great medium, it’s so democratic. It’s very cheap to make, so much cheaper than radio and TV.
“I’m really excited that now it’s possible to be a podcaster for a living.
“There’s no one between you and the audience — there are no filters.”
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