Podcast Movement 2017: What I Learned, Who I Met and Where Podcasting is Heading?

Notes from my 2nd year at the Podcast Movement conference — Aug. 23–25, 2017 Anaheim, Cali.

2nd year sticker, made me excited, I’ll admit it!

I’ll admit it, getting the “2nd year” sticker placed on my badge at registration was strangely a very satisfying feeling, like I’m one of the cool kids 😎

Since the end of the conference, on Friday afternoon, I had a couple of chances to look through my photos and notes, which gave me a few opportunities to reflect on what I saw and learned. I noticed that the information keeps falling into three buckets in my head: What I learned, Who I met, and Where the podcasting industry is heading. And yes, I used the words Industry and Podcasting, in the same sentence! 🤑

What I learned at #PM17?

A lot of smart and interesting people care about podcasting. Just the fact that people from all over the world paid hundreds to thousands of dollars to participate in this event, between the cost of air-travel, lodging, food and event passes, it is clear that people truly care about the podcasting industry.

Looking at the vendors area alone, it seems like it quadrupled in area-size since last year, and the number of companies presenting doubled if not more based on my intuition and eyeballing the space.

One example of many, of your typical spontaneous interview at the podcast movement!

According to the ever-entertaining Tom Webster of Edison Research and Steven Goldstein of AmplifiMedia we learned a few important things about our industry:

  1. Audio quality is important, but media size is as important if not more! Users will unsubscribe from podcasts to save space because a majority of people are still using smaller storage devices and are worried of running out of space for photos and apps, so they will carefully choose what to subscribe to, and will have no problem unsubscribing if the content doesn’t match their expectations!
  2. Over 50% of podcast listeners will listen to ads and will not skip, especially to mid-roll ads that are an endorsement by the host. They especially like it when the hosts make fun of the product.
  3. Although most people remember the products in the ads, very few are actually buying these products.

I also learned that it looks like Audition by Adobe Creative Cloud is the preferred audio editing tool anywhere from indie podcasters to pros such as The Adam Carolla show (not claiming it is the only one used, just that it is the most commonly used among the technical sessions I’ve participated in both this year and last year).

People are making a living from podcasting! yes, A Living! And no, it is not easy, and yes they had to suffer for a long time in order to get to this point! But you can make a living of podcasting, if you put your mind, heart, and soul, and of course your time, money and talent, into it.

Programmable ads are a real thing, it is already happening, and for the most part it is done so well that even the people of the ad insertion companies themselves claimed they sometime can’t tell when it is a baked ad or a dynamically inserted one. The leading technology player here is probably Art19 but many other like cast.plus, Wondery, iHeartRadio, ADOPTER Media and Knit.Audio are great examples of the size of the industry. To the point that it is not clear, if you are a podcaster, how to decide who you should go with, when it comes to monetization. The main challenge for the publishers (a.k.a. the podcasters) would probably be setting the right price for the right ad style, as this industry is adjusting and figuring out its pricing model for programmable ads.

Good-old talk-radio networks are starting to realize that the future is in podcasting, but not all have made the needed transition, and adjustments to the nature of the medium. For example, the fact that unlike over-the-air radio, where listenership rotates over the life of a show (some listeners drop, while others join), in podcasting the most listeners you’ll have are always at the first few seconds of your show. This number will only go down as the show progresses, and you’ll never have more people at the 5th minute, than you had at the 1st minute, as an example. So you have to re-engage your listeners throughout the podcast, which is why just dumping a radio show as a podcast is not going to work. A few examples of radio stations that understand this are NPR (with “NPR One” as a technology play example on top of content) and WNYC with their many shows like RadioLab as another good example. Both are good case-studies of radio networks that get it. The ones that do not adjust, will face a similar sad faith as the one that the music labels and hollywood studios are about to face, in my opinion (but I’m running ahead of myself…)

People who create podcasts, are super passionate about it, and at the same time super humble and are willing to teach and learn from each other. It is common to see the same people who gave a talk on one stage, going to another room to learn and ask questions.

Shannon Cason’s sock-mic

I can go on and on here, but the bottom line is that the Podcasting community is truly this: a community! And, because most podcasters are spending most of their time at their “home studio”, may it be their bedroom closet, or speaking into a sock covering their mic in their kitchen, (shoutout to Shannon Cason), the one common thread of them all? Podcasting can get very lonely, very quickly, and having a chance to meet other people who share the same passion for this amazing medium, is something that they all appreciate and are willing to spend their little money on, to be a part of this annual party that Dan Franks and Jared Easley throw for the 4th year in a row. Btw, what I really like about both Dan and Jared is that they make sure to make it 100% about the crowd and the speakers, and not about themselves. Not even once did they take the stage to give the crowd a chance to thank them for their amazing work! (This is your cue to clap them, and clap them loudly! 👏🏼)

Who I met?

ZCast didn’t have a booth, so I represented ZCast as a “walking” billboard by wearing a bright blue tee-shirt throughout the entire conference while walking around and introducing myself and ZCast to anyone that would talk to me.

These shirts are much brighter in real life than my camera can capture! My eyes are still in pain…

Like any podcaster in the area, I also obsessively told everyone about the Missing Alissa podcast that Ottavia Zappala and I released just a couple of weeks earlier, in perfect timing. I met so many incredible people, starting with my “neighbor” at the registration line, Kathe Kline of the Rock Your Retirement podcast, Edie Berg who is a walking celebrity at the PM event, Glen Hebert of the “Horse Radio Network”, which I confirmed with him, and yes it is about horses, the incredible Hole-of-Fame inductee Elsie Escobar of “She Podcasts”, Ray Ortega of the Podcaster’s Roundtable podcast, Roman Castro who runs “The Spear Podcast” which is about, you guessed it, spearfishing, Jeff and Donna Baker of the Air2Share podcast which covers AirBNB locations around the world, and these are just a few of the people I met and talked to. I also met a lot of technical and professional people and vendors like Jenni and Uriel from the Cast.Plus team, Georg Holzmann of Auphonic, the machine learning based audio post-processing service, and many more.

Each one of these people brings their own story, passion, and expertise to this growing ecosystem.

The one thing you can count on, with this crowd, is how loud they get given enough alcohol. A couple of free drinks in their hands and the dB level is skyrocketing, as you can experience in this live recording…

Podcaster are a loud crowd when you give them enough alcohol, especially the free kind…

Where are we going from here?

This is the big question. It is obvious that podcasting is not going away, if anything, it becomes more and more dominant and especially as traditional over-the-air radio is fading away, podcasting (not necessarily under this name) will become the next place where audio content is created, published and consumed. Take this into consideration: Kids 12+ are listening to podcasts, but they do not listen to radio!

Currently the industry is broken into 3 broad categories, in my opinion:

  1. Indie podcasters (as big as Marc Maron and as small as your favorite spearfishing show)
  2. Podcasting networks such as Gimlet Media, PRX, PodcastOne and many others who control the top charts on iTunes and others
  3. Business podcasters: people who use podcasting to promote their own business through audio content marketing, in addition to their other marketing channels such as blogging, newsletters etc.

It is quite clear that these three directions will continue to grow, each in its own way, and become a different source of content, but, in my opinion, the consumers will not really care about the source. As long as the content is good, they will consume it. If we will compare it to the TV world for example, good shows survive networks, and there have been many shows that switched networks, without losing audiences. Few examples includes the “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” which moved from CBS to NBC, American Idol that moved from Fox to ABC, Futurama that moved from Fox to Comedy Central and many more… The bottom line is, a good show will always find a home, and fans will continue to follow their favorite shows, not to mention the long tail of shows that got their own life on syndicated networks and other streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, Google Play etc.

The same is true for podcasting, in my opinion. As long as your show is available on the major podcasting players, such as Apple Podcast, Stitcher, or any Android player, listeners don’t really care if your show came from NPR, an Indie self-made show or a business backed show like “The Distance” (which is sponsored by Basecamp). They especially do not care if it came from Libsyn, Podbean, ZCast or Anchor. A good show is a good show, and the network is just a “technicality” that only the content creator should be aware of.

The sooner the industry realizes this, the sooner the podcasting industry will start to accelerate its growth.

My prediction is that we will continue to see massive growth in podcasting consumption, and the 10 billion hours of podcast that we have listened to in 2016, per Apple, will continue to grow, but with it, the number of podcasters will grow from the ~300,000 today to at least double this size, in the coming few years, especially as businesses who are aiming at where the puck is heading, will start to produce more and more content for people to listen to.

Good content will always win. So if you want people’s attention, create compelling content, be respectful of people’s time, and give them what they came for. Leave the small talk on the editing floor, and give them what they really want, educting, fun, interesting content, in audio form, so they can consume it on their commute, exercising, or doing any other activity that prevents them from staring at a screen. And stop looking for these meaningless “likes” and “hearts” on social media, these are cheap. Create real content and trust your listeners to listen to what you have to say, even if it is not a “7 seconds” bite-sized nugget.

Or to borrow from Marc Maron’s signature ending: “Long-form lives!”

Raz Yalov is the co-founder and CEO of ZCast, a podcasting platform that is designed to enable the creation of professional audio content by all people without any technical background.

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