How did we accidentally start a podcast revolution and hit one million downloads

Few months ago ‘podcasting’ in Slovakia was basically an unknown term. Now almost every major media outlet has its own podcast.

Recording of our daily news podcast in our new podcasting studio (Photo credit: SME — Jozef Jakubčo).

In October 2017 we launched a daily news podcast and basically no-one knew anything about podcasting among the public. Those who knew considered them niche or outdated. Now, podcasts are new & cool and everyone is trying to be involved. I work for a newspaper (on digital stuff), by “we” I mean a few people involved in the daily life of podcasts at daily SME in Slovakia.

And I believe we have started a podcast revolution. Here's how it happened.



One year ago, there were probably 5 active podcasts with listenership over few hundred people. Now, there are more than 20 Slovak podcasts with thousands of people listening daily. What happened?

Speaking frankly — mainstream media jumped on the podcasting train rolling around the world. First it was us (= SME.sk) with our daily news podcast heavily inspired by The Daily and Up First.

Which means the most read daily news web in the country started promoting on a daily basis podcasting. You'd think it was easy that way. Well, it wasn't.

First, the newsroom management had to be convinced, then colleagues had to be persuaded to jump on, then we asked our video guys to become audio guys and finally we had to leave a daily spot on the homepage for an experiment.

Oh, and did I mention people did not understand what a podcast is?

After some months of flying solo colleagues from different newsrooms started to pop out with their podcasts and this keeps happening since then.

That was probably the moment when “podcast” became a cool word, which you suddenly want to talk about and explain to your parents what the heck it means.

And I date the start of the revolution somewhere around that time. With a highlight of the daily news podcast hitting one million downloads in less than 7 months.

And we really thought we would end this experiment by the end of 2017 and label it “we tried”. Sounds funny now.

Where do people listen to podcasts?

One of the surprises for me was to find out the web player is driving almost half of the listens/downloads (whichever metric you use).

Readers of SME.sk have learned that a new podcast episode is daily on the same spot on the home page with a distinctive logo. Many of our fans told us they listen to it when they arrive to work, start their PC and play it while browsing, making coffee, checking the e-mail, waking up…

The second largest group are iPhone users making up to 40%. I have written about this before, so just quickly — US is largely iOS-centric, EU is more Android-centric. With two taps on an iPhone can be subscribed to any podcast. On Android it's much harder (there is no native app, ok — maybe this for new Androids).

The rest consists of different apps, voice assistant plays and direct downloads.

Through Podbean we managed to get our daily news podcast to Spotify, unfortunately Spotify is not sending us any stats even after months.

Nevertheless, Spotify is supposedly the no.2 podcast platform in the world. And that is actually great news for Europe (any small and big country within) and its Android smartphone dominance. To have your podcast on Spotify means exposure to more than 150 millions of subscribers around the world.

Just a quick note: If your podcast is not reaching millions or a substantial number for Spotify to care for you, it's not an easy relationship.

So far we have launched 4 podcasts and we are selfsustainable

Of course, once you are sure there is a revolution going on, you better get yourself more involved. And we did.

We produce a daily news podcast (our flagship), which is also distributed via a regional radio. Then we do a daily and weekly science podcasts, which are also distributed via the national radio. And so far a weekly tech podcast about internet.

As we steadily grow we are thinking about new series to add on. There are already several in “preparation” mode and we hope to double the current amount by the end of the year.

Without a monetisation strategy there would be no podcasts. We sell ads, try to convince listeners to get our digital subscription (yes, this is working) and by creating several online article also by selling display advertising.

We started recording in our video studio and after earning enough money from sponsorships/ads for the podcast we were able to fund a brand new podcast studio.

Another way to fund the whole project is to rent the studio while not recording.

Podcast studio, suitable for professional voice recording. (Photo credit: SME — Jozef Jakubčo)

Where can you find our podcast?

Here is a overview of different podcast distribution platforms we have either submitted our feed to or have built a new specific feed (Amazon Echo — Alexa): Apple podcasty (iTunes), Spotify, SoundCloud, RSS, Podbean, Stitcher, Pocket Casts, Overcast, TuneIn, Amazon Echo — Alexa (instruction in Slovak), Google Home (instruction in Slovak), Google Podcasty (outside Slovakia).

A checklist for starting a podcast in a place where podcasts are not a thing

  1. Start by explaining over and over what a podcast is, that it is free and how can they listen to it.
  2. Copy and modify existing podcast formats if they do not exist in your country or for your audience.
  3. Have a monetisation strategy (all the clients first needed to see & heat the product + have feedback from the audience, then they got on board).
  4. If you have a place where your audience goes regularly, show them the podcast there regularly.
  5. You do not need expensive mics or a studio to start.
  6. Create a community around the podcast — we have a Facebook group called Podcast club where we ask for feedback (and get it) and go for inspiration and critique.
  7. Be transparent — we regularly publish monthly numbers (it's good for the community and great for future sponsors).
  8. Be happy when your competition and rivals start doing podcasts — the more there are the healthier the whole ecosystem gets and naturally grows the overall audience.
  9. Find out what your audience wants and does not want (SME is a mainstream news portal, we cover everything, but our podcasts audience enjoys most of all domestic news, politics and important world news; they really do not like sports as we found out).
  10. Your listeners can support you if you ask nicely. Also podcast listeners tend to stick till the end of an episode which makes it a great product for advertisers.

If you liked this, you can follow me on Twitter as well at @davidtvrdon — I Tweet a lot about podcasting, journalism and stuff.