Podcasting's exploding, right?
The #1 movie in the world is “Halloween” – a sequel set 40 years after the original release, directed by the iconic John Carpenter way back in 1978. So, what's the premise for re-investigating the Michael Myers mystery? A documentary? A “60 Minutes” exposé? A newspaper investigative story?
No, a true crime podcast.
In 2018, podcasting is buzzworthy. Everywhere you turn, new celebrity and branded podcasts are being launched, podcasters are making 7-figure incomes, and radio companies are going “all in” to the space.
As we've discussed on this blog and with many of our clients as we help them navigate the turbulent media waters, an audio renaissance bodes well for the best-known, most listened to audio medium – radio.
And that's why so many radio executives have read the tea leaves, run the numbers, and concluded they need a podcasting strategy. For the last three years, we've taken a lead role with Podcast Movement – the biggest and best attended gathering of them all. A big part of the reason for its success is the sheer, unadulterated energy and belief of its visionary creators, Dan Franks and Jared Easley.
And their success should be an indication to podcasting neophytes that dedication, commitment, and passion are key ingredients – whether you're producing a podcast or you're building a platform.
We're believers. And we will be back at Podcast Movement in Orlando next summer with our “Broadcasters Meet Podcasters” track. We've been encouraged that so many radio broadcasters were in attendance in Philly this year.
And it's been fascinating to watch some of the biggest companies commit to this space, from Entercom's stake in Cadence 13 or iHeart's recent $55 million purchase of HowStuffWorks. Interestingly, iHeart is using the slogan, “Podcasters Meet Broadcasters.” Aside from their dyslexia, it's yet one more sign that podcasting has entered the mainstream.
Or has it?
By any measure, podcasting is growing with each passing year. I hear about it anecdotally in focus groups, many of my clients are talking about and launching podcasts, and we see it statistically in research studies conducted by a wide range of companies.
And yet, a look at the radio audiences in our major research initiatives – commercial radio's TS 2018, Christian radio's CMB 2018 and public radio's PRTS 2018 – still shows a sizable number of “podcast nevers” – consumers who say they just don't listen to podcasts. All this, despite “Serial,” Joe Rogan, “Pod Save America,” and the other podcasts making waves. Check out the red slices of the podcasting pie charts – the “podcast nevers” – in all three of our studies:
More than four in ten respondents in both our commercial and Christian radio surveys say they never listen to podcasts. And even in public radio – where podcast listening is a popular pastime – three in ten still say on-demand audio is not on their consumption menus.
The number one reason in all three studies is a stated lack of interest in podcasting. But logic suggests that because podcasts can be about anything, that response is more reflective of a lack of familiarity with the platform. And then there are the other issues facing podcasting – discovery, that lack of a native app on Android devices, or an overall lack of understanding about the space and how it works.
Podcasting experts have offered myriad reasons why podcasting – on-demand audio – has lagged behind its video counterpart: streaming video.
First, on-demand movies and TV have been popularized by a singular brand that got it right – Netflix. Discovering and watching a movie or TV show on the platform is almost as easy as just grabbing a beer. Making streaming video as seamless as say, listening to the radio, is a key to the growth of Netflix, and in its wake, Hulu and Amazon Prime.
Podcasting, on the other hand, is a kludgier experience, without the benefit of a familiar brand that instills a sense of confidence or loyalty. There is no big name in podcasting – it's an industry made up of disparate tribes – Apple, NPR, Stitcher, Podcast One, Gimlet, and so many others. There isn't just a couple of places to get podcasts – it's more like a bazaar where you have to know your way around.
And then there's the monetization issue. With Netflix and its competitors, the business model is familiar, convenient, and very serviceable – you pay a monthly, modest subscription fee for an all-you-can-eat service. Amazon is only slightly different because of its Prime membership. But the dynamic is the same.
Podcasting is going down the same road as broadcast radio – an ad-supported medium. It doesn't matter whether they're prerolls or midrolls, live reads or produced – they're commercials. And just like on the radio, people skip them – as often as they can. We asked that question in this year's Techsurvey among weekly podcast listeners, and we discovered this unsurprising finding: Consumers are repelled by commercials, no matter where they are or who reads them:
Between those who never listened to embedded podcast ads or tell us they skip ads all or most of the time, we're looking at a majority of regular podcast listeners avoiding commercials.
And yet, paying for content has gone very mainstream. That's the model used by new media brands as diverse as SiriusXM, Spotify, Netflix, and of course, the New York Times and the Washington Post, where millions pay money each and every month to avoid commercials, testimonials, and carnival barker ads. Yet, the podcasting community (except for Audible) has eschewed the subscription model in favor of the same lame broadcasting model consumers are gravitating away from.
There's no doubt podcasting is becoming more mainstream – at least in the media. Last fall, ABC-TV introduced a short-lived sitcom, “Alex, Inc.” starring Zach Braff. It was based on the episodic journey of podcaster Alex Blumberg who made his reputation with “This American Life” before going out on his own. But the TV show lasted just a few short and painful episodes before flaming out and facing the network cancellation guillotine.
And then there's the new “Halloween” movie mentioned at the top of this post, featuring two annoying British podcasters – Aaron Corey and Dana Haines – as a plot mechanism for dredging up the serial killing mystery focused on a killer who never talks. (That makes for a tough interview for any podcast.)
The Ringer's Miles Surrey offers up a somewhat sarcastic critique of this fictional podcasting duo – and it's not positive. From poor audio quality to being lousy journalists (they bribe the Jamie Lee Curtis character, Laurie Strode, with $3,000 to obtain an interview), this pair is doing the podcasting industry no favors.
While NPR would never hire knucklehead podcasters like Corey and Haines, they are at least indirectly exposing consumers to this still-fledgling audio medium. With more than $200 million worldwide in box office revenue, a lot of people are learning a little something about podcasting, even if it's fictional and awkward.
It has taken movie and TV producers decades to get it right when they've produced a film or a program about rock bands. Finally, a film like “Bohemian Rhapsody” successfully depicts the enigmatic personality of Freddie Mercury and the dynamics of his band, Queen. It sure wasn't that way in the 60s and 70s when rock on screen or on the tube was uniformly embarrassing and obnoxious.
Is podcasting's slow-growth trajectory due to tech problems, discovery confusion, overall awareness issues, or a glut of content?
Is it a lack of exposure, a poor business model, bad metrics, or a dumb name?
Those are a lot of question marks about a medium that should be figuring it out by now.