I’m sure that like many of you coming from the generation that grew up with radio, the recent Podcast boom is very welcome indeed.
I listened a lot to the radio in my youth, music, news — all sorts to be honest. I particularly enjoyed the local pirate radios stations that played the stuff the corporations wouldn’t. I was lucky, where we lived. We could pickup stations from miles and miles away. The independence of those stations always attracted me.
Which brings me to Podcasts today.
They’re essentially like local independent radio stations — albeit on a global scale — playing (mostly talking) just about whatever they like. If you have a niche interest there’s almost certainly a podcast for you out there. If you’re trying to learn a new language they can be an excellent resource to help you.
For the last few years I’ve been treated to shows ranging from the essentially amateur, but interesting, to the seriously well-produced professional shows like This American Life and dare I say Serial. All this totally free. Fire up your podcast app of choice, punch in the show name, subscribe and bingo!
Ads or subscriptions?
These shows have mostly been Ad-supported and that’s fair enough, but it seems the Ad revenue is drying up as the popularity increases — or at least the diffusion amounts are increasing — basic economics.
So what have the podcasters decided to do about that? Subscriptions and memberships are where its at, apparently.
I’ve paid for some and will likely continue, and pay for more but at some point this is even more unsustainable than the Ad-supported model. Why?
Well here’s the thing. Most people like to watch many TV channels — podcasts are no different. My feed contains around 33 podcasts. And I’m not even an extreme case.
The subscription model that complements the falling Ad revenue is going to have to increase and be more prevalent otherwise the podcasters are going out of business. They don’t do ‘just for fun’ ! Most of the ‘Membership’ models require around 5 to 10$ per month. If only half of my feed goes subscription that translates to around 80 to a 160$ per month to listen to a few Podcasts, that’s nearly a 1000$ a year Minimum. It just won’t fly. My albeit fairly shitty Satelite subscription isn’t even close to that range and offers around 100–10 watchable — practically 24 hours a day.
Consolidation and mutualisation
So the next logical step is consolidation of the podcasters. We’re seeing some of this already — although its more of a natural phenomenon rather than revenue pressure — where quite a few Podcast Networks have sprung up. But further consolidation will be necessary in order to mutualise and benefit from the economies of scale. That may or may not reduce overall quality, but I doubt that.
I’m more concerned that we get back to the starting point of big corporations running ‘Podcasts’ and the small independent guys being squeezed out — until the next enabling technology comes along.
The question is; will the independents get big enough to fight off the corporations only to then become the new corporations …