You hear a lot of conjecture these days about when the bubble will burst. That usually refers to the rising costs of real estate or the stock market, both of which have been high-flying – in spite of the pandemic.
But the other bubble I'm keeping my ear on is podcasting. Clearly, the medium enjoyed a boom year in 2020 while so many of us were hanging out at home.
A new story in Digiday by Sara Guaglione reveals two impressive podcasting growth metrics:
- eMarketer projects ad spending on podcasts will break the $1 billion level for the first time this year
- Consulting firm Altman Solon predicts global monthly listeners of podcasts will increase 20% a year from 2020-23
And every research study in the space – our soon-to-be-released Techsurvey 2021 included – shows healthy gains for listenership during the many months of the pandemic.
The was the case for audio as well, second only to gaming for increased consumption during COVID, according to fascinating new data from MIDiA.
MIDiA analyst Mark Mulligan notes that “audio” includes radio, podcasts, and audiobooks. And when you take a deeper dive into the data surrounding the growth of audio during COVID, talking books was the big winner – up nearly 50% – followed by a very impressive showing for podcasting (+35%).
Sadly, radio lost share during COVID, as anybody in the business will grudgingly confirm. And that's a topic for another post on another day.
But one of the other unintended consequences of the pandemic is just how many new podcasts launched after the outbreak took hold nearly one year ago.
When I opened up Daniel J. Lewis' Podcast Industry Insights homepage over the weekend – a running total of podcasts in the marketplace – this headline blared above the fold:
For an emerging platform where large percentages of Americans have still never listened to a podcast, nearing the two million milestone is both impressive and sobering. When you consider there are only around 15,000 radio stations in the U.S., it's even more noteworthy how podcasting is expanding the audio ecosphere.
But here's the impressive part. During the COVID outbreak that took over the world during the last nine months of 2020, nearly as many new podcasts were created as had previously existed. You read that right. With so many people having so much time on their hands, the question – “So why don't you start a podcast?” – became ubiquitous in media circles.
This chart from Listen Notes is as mind-blowing as any stat you'll see from COVID (aside from the number of deaths here in the U.S.)
It is hard to imagine podcasting will experience another growth spurt anything like the one that took place last year, no matter how profitable the space goes on to become.
And while many podcasts were created around the COVID theme, other categories also blossomed last year – especially celebrity podcasts. Perhaps the lack of activity in movie and TV production, the decrease in book tours, and even the cutback on pro and college sports directed a lot of energy into the podcasting space. Boredom has a way of doing that.
You can imagine all those agents advising their famous clients – “Looking for something to do? Start a podcast.”
And many, many did. Now it seems like a day doesn't go by without a major announcement about the launch of a podcast by a household name – from politics, pop culture, or sports. Who isn't doing a podcast might be the better question at this point.
And the above is just a smattering of new celebrity podcasts released in recent days, weeks, and months.
The question is, how many will still be in production at this time next year? As the pandemic ebbs, new projects will once again be green-lighted and launched across all media platforms. And as all these newly minted celebrity podcasters go back to work, how many will continue to have interest in these audio productions, many of which will not be downloaded as much as had originally been hoped for?
“Celebrity podfade” could become a media malady in 2021, driven by boredom, ennui, and good old procrastination and neglect. Ask most new podcasters, and they'll tell you it becomes more challenging the more episodes you produce.
Perhaps it was Paris Hilton's bad luck, announcing a new podcast on the same day a couple of guys named Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen launched their own podcast that set off GQ writer Ben Allen. The pleading headline of his newest piece says it all:
Allen chastises the big stars mailing in their podcasts, leaving the heavy lifting to their teams of producers. editors, and guest bookers. He notes that many stars have been sold on the notion that podcasts are lucrative, chatty, and easy – especially compared to the time, staff, expense, and effort required to shoot a film or a TV series, write a book, or build a winning sports franchise. It's as simple as recording a conversation about your interesting life:
“In its worst form, the celebrity podcast is even lazier than the cash-grabby, ghost-written autobiography. Like the latter, the former seems to also involve minimal effort from the headlining celeb, with unnamed staff bearing the brunt of the hard work.”
How superficial and annoying is this trend? The video trailer below (yes, most celebrity podcasts have one) says it all about what to expect from This Is Paris, the exciting new podcast from serial celebrity Paris Hilton.
While I realize I'm not the target audience for This Is Paris, do your best to get through this two minute preview of the world's newest celebrity podcast”
So with this glut of podcasts hitting the marketplace, it puts immense pressure on producers with truly great concepts in mind.
It would seem that like most attention-getting content, the ability to tell a compelling story – especially one that surprises and reveals – may be a key ingredient in the secret formula of churning out winning podcasts.
When consumers admit “Well, I didn't know that” while listening to a podcast, the producers are well on their way toward creating something special, maybe even important. And that's how buzz is created, downloads exponentially grow, and the money follows.
And it seems like so many of the best and most interesting podcasting stories you've never heard are about companies and products that we interface or do business with.
The branded podcasting space may be the most ambitious – after all, it is the polar opposite of two people schmoozing on mics. Branded is an attempt to humanize, personalize, and create a narrative around a product or service. And that's not easy.
Our former employee and client, Dave Beasing‘s Sound That Brands along with Steve Goldstein‘s AmplifiMedia, has been successfully doing this with a well-known eclectic grocery story chain. The podcast is not a hard sell for the brand but speaks to its rabid fans – and that's the point.
Matty Staudt – who posted the GQ story on Twitter – is another former radio pro trying to carve out a new niche with his branded podcasting company, Jam Street Media.
And then there's this – Bring Back Bronco: The Untold Story Podcast produced by Steve Pratt and company at Pacific Content.
It's a wonderful 8-episode series, narrated by NPR auto specialist, Sonari Glintongoes. You can see the rich story development in this trailer:
Now, obviously Ford has more than just a story to tell – it has vehicles to sell, in this case, the reboot of its famous Bronco. To the chagrin of its fans, the brand was discontinued in 1996, despite its proud history in the pantheon of the auto industry in general, and the city of Detroit specifically.
But thanks to this branded podcast, Bring Back Bronco, the vehicle's rich heritage is put into context, leading to the launch of an exciting new version this year.
And for those who only remember the Bronco because of the famous slow-motion car chase involving O.J. Simpson and a multitude of L.A. cops in '94, the podcast provides so much more about this proud, unconventional, and much-loved brand.
In the final episode, we learn more about the new 2021 Ford Bronco, a fascinating development.
But it's the entire story of this vehicle, its development, its fall from grace, and the renaissance of the old Detroit train station (now Ford's mobility headquarters), the city itself, and of course, the Bronco that makes for a great narrative.
Can a podcast about a 3,500 pound vehicle possibly be more interesting than one about a movie star, championship athlete, or a former President or First Lady?
Can a “podvertisement” for a car be more compelling than a look backstage at a charismatic celebrity? After listening to Bring Back Bronco, you tell me.
Of course, podcasts and their appeal are highly individualized. Some of us gravitate to comedy, while other are into politics, sports, true crime, baking, or scrapbooking. And that's the beauty of this space – with a low barrier to entry, there's something for virtually anybody.
There's no question that a well-crafted celebrity podcast can be very successful, revealing sides of the rich, famous, or powerful we've not seen – or heard – before.
But like podcasts globally, there are a lot of really bad celebrity podcasts to sift through until you get to a meaty, compelling one that tells you something you didn't know before.
When all is said, done, and hyped, the podcasts that tell us wonderful, ear-opening stories will turn out to be the most endearing, long-lasting, and memorable of all.
Even one about an off-road vehicle that's being resurrected.
You can listen to Bring Back Bronco podcast here.