Why open podcasting and a creator-first approach is the way forward for the industry
By Ross Adams, CEO
I miss the office. I miss seeing our teams around the world. But just as much, I miss things like dissecting each juicy new episode with the folk from My Dad Wrote A Porno, or poring over copies of the latest Pod Bible magazine with Scroobius Pip.
You see, Acast was founded on two equally important principles that have guided us in everything we’ve done since. Firstly, we firmly believe in — and will relentlessly champion — the open podcasting ecosystem. Secondly, the creator is the most significant player in all of this, and must always come first. And I miss seeing ours right now.
Podcast creators live and breathe this fabulous and fast-moving audio world we all inhabit. They are the lifeblood — the beating heart — of podcasting.
Needless to say, an open model is not one being pursued by all corners of the podcast industry, but I’d also argue that not all the moves being made recently are in creators’ best interests.
I want to explain a little bit about why we feel open podcasting and a creator-first approach are so important, because maintaining this strategy is the best way forward for an industry experiencing such explosive growth.
“In the contemporary media environment audiences have more choice than ever in terms of what they consume and how they consume it. We see our role as being about creating engaging, innovative and relevant content for our audience, wherever they are. Breaking down barriers between creators and the people consuming their work is the most important thing all of us working in podcasting should be focused on, rather than building an ecosystem that makes it harder or more complicated for audiences to seamlessly engage with the content they want.”
Rebecca Costello, CEO of Schwartz Media
The importance of open podcasting
“Open” podcasting is the bedrock on which the entire industry was built: in short, an ecosystem that allows content creators to share their work with listeners everywhere, across every podcast app and player there is.
The magic of podcasting is in discovering a new show you can’t wait to share with friends, or following one for so long that you feel like part of a family — and all of that is made possible by the industry’s open nature. There’s no “oh, I’m an Android user so can’t join the party” woes, or “I don’t have that service” barriers.
Quite the opposite of what is happening in our fellow media industry, TV, right now, I don’t need to be a member of six different streaming platforms to enjoy all the different shows I want to. Podcasting makes it beautifully simple to have all the podcast content I want in one place.
At Acast we call ourselves “platform agnostic” to reflect the fact that everything we do — all the tools we create, and all the partnerships and integrations we agree — works on any podcast listening platform there is. That is, of course, unless that platform specifically chooses not to support a product, despite its clear benefit to the creator.
And that goes for our approach to monetization, too. Open podcasting doesn’t necessarily mean all content should be free, for example, but simply that all creators should be able to monetize their show in whichever ways suit them best.
We believe every podcaster should be able to make money from their craft, in as many places as possible — whether that’s through advertising, branded content, member-only features or, soon, even ad-free streams.
It means we’re not tying podcasters or listeners to a single platform, or shutting anyone out, which is the only sustainable way to build our podcasters an engaged, consistently monetizable audience. Acast isn’t a “walled garden”, which also means we can properly and fairly reimburse creators — no matter where or how their content is being consumed.
It was quite timely, then, that as more big, platform-first moves were announced in the pod-sphere in recent weeks, we were launching a new collaboration with Patreon that will do just that: enable any creator of any size to make money from their content across all supporting platforms.
“I truly believe in the open podcast ecosystem — to the point that we recently turned down a large amount of money to make all our content exclusive. You need to capture people where they are, and to do that, it needs to be offered on all podcast hosting platforms, as we’ve been able to do through Acast. When you put your business behind a wall, you may like that initial payoff, but that short-term gain can limit your long-term opportunities when no one else can see you. And especially when you do work that is meant to benefit underrepresented communities like ours does, you need to make it easy for those communities to find you.”
Chris Colbert, CEO of DCP Entertainment — home of podcasts including Toure Show, WokeAF, and Say Their Name
Our first step in democratizing podcast monetization came nearly seven years ago, which feels like a lifetime in pod years. We invented true dynamic ad insertion (TDAI) for podcasting, allowing advertisers to change the ads served in podcast episodes according to their desired target audience, or to include new messages or products, for example — no matter how long ago the episode it’s airing in was originally published.
Each time a person listens to a podcast — whether it’s a new episode, an old one, or one they’ve already listened to — we inject a set of individually adapted ads and sponsor reads, placed into the episode stream in real-time. That means two listeners may hear different ads, even if they’re listening to the same episode at the same time — and we can give millions of parallel listeners their own unique combination of ads, in the fraction of a second it takes them to press ‘play’.
No other provider of podcasting advertising can do this on the server side, and that’s why we refer to our tech as true dynamic ad insertion.
TDAI supports open podcasting by allowing advertisers to reach audiences within the listener’s app of choice, rather than being limited to smaller pockets of people who use a specific platform. And, more importantly, it supports creators by helping them make money from all the listens and downloads their content is getting, all around the world.
Maintaining this open approach is absolutely vital if the creator economy is to continue to thrive as it has up until this point. You can have all the ad dollars in the world, but without podcasters — and without listeners — there are no podcasts.
“I started with Acast around six years ago and, despite many options along the way as different companies tried different approaches on how best to present podcasts — and, indeed, to make a profit from them — I’ve not once been tempted to go elsewhere, as I feel they got it right from the start. Putting the focus on getting podcasts their widest audience and then building earnings from there, without compromising what the listener gets and how easily they get it, is really at the heart of what podcasting is and should continue to be. Reach and audience first, profit and earnings an important but firm second.”
Scroobius Pip, host of Distraction Pieces
Putting creators first
Acast has grown to become the world’s biggest podcast company, and with that position at the forefront of the industry we know we have a responsibility to creators. It is up to us to ensure they are treated fairly, and can make a living doing what they love — and we make good on that commitment by always putting their interests ahead of anyone else’s.
From the very start of our relationships with podcasters, we work closely to make sure ads are right for them. We insist on high quality ads and sponsorship or host reads, pushing back on brands if needed, and — vitally — protecting ad load so listeners aren’t overwhelmed by brand messages.
We’ve also spent many years collaborating with our platform partners across the industry — whether that’s Apple, Spotify, Google, Pocket Casts or any of the other dozens of companies with an interest in podcasting — to champion the interests of the creator, and ensure their needs are right at the forefront of any new technology or partnership.
When the pandemic first hit, we recognised the impact this might have on ad revenue, and in turn on our creators, so immediately set about building our Supporter tool — developing and releasing a new revenue stream for creators, from scratch, in record time.
“The Acast Supporter feature has been a game changer for our podcast. By simply asking our listeners to donate a few dollars to help us pay our sound engineer — if they’re financially able — we’ve been able to receive support outside of advertising to help us to continue producing two episodes of our podcast every week, despite being in lockdown for most of this year. We especially love the messages that come through with the Supporter donations; it warms our hearts to know that this incredible community we have built consider us their friends in the same way that we do. The Acast Supporter feature has only reinforced our connection with our listeners.”
Kate Jones and Mandy Hose, hosts of Too Peas In A Podcast
And in recent months we’ve added more new ways for creators to make money, including monetization options for podcasters of every size. We have some really exciting products coming down the pipeline very soon, too.
It’s crystal clear in our minds that, ahead of everything else, we must bang the drum for podcasters of all shapes and sizes. We will continue to do everything we can to help them keep creating content and making money from it, in an open, diverse and inclusive podcasting ecosystem.
We’ll work our very hardest to support and empower that ecosystem. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to pine for real-life interactions with our teams, and our brilliant podcasters.