How publishers should approach the podcast as a medium

There have been many moments where podcasts have been heralded as having ‘arrived’: The Guardian publishing the first series of The Ricky Gervais Podcast in 2005, the founding of Midroll Media in 2014, the first series of Serial in the same year  and the launch of the GE-sponsored The Message in 2015 have all been pointed to as the moment the medium really took off.

Podcasts and radio are converging into ‘audio’ – what does that mean for publishers?

The truth, as I discussed with podcast expert Vanessa Quirk on an episode of Media Voices last year, is that there really was no moment you can point to as being the singular point at which podcasting became viable for publishers and media companies. Even the so-called ‘Serial effect’ is overstated. Podcast listeners had been steadily growing for the ten years prior to the true crime show’s first episode, and ad networks have been controlling increasing amounts of ad spend as those audiences have grown.

But 2018 might genuinely be the year that the line between ‘podcast’ and ‘radio’ blurs enough that we stop drawing any tangible distinction between them, due to the medium having reached critical mass in listener numbers, legitimacy and advertiser interest.

Perhaps the most obvious evidence of that is that the New York Times has recently announced its daily news podcast ‘The Daily’ is making the leap onto public radio stations. To what extent the show will be altered to fit in with other more traditional radio shows is still up in the air, but it speaks to the fact that podcast content can be indistinguishable in quality and form from radio shows.

Only the other day the podcast start-up behind shows like Dirty John raised $5 million in VC funding for the sole purpose of growing out its roster of shows.

In the UK, too, the podcast has been granted further legitimacy with the appointment of the BBC’s first-ever podcast editor. The press release surrounding his appointment also draws a direct comparison with podcasting and radio, this time with the explicit intention of appealing to younger listeners:

“[Jason] Phipps, a former BBC producer, said: ‘It’s an incredible time to re-join the BBC and be part of a podcasting revolution well underway. For podcasters and everyone in the audio community there is a sense that we are at the foothills of an incredible period of innovation and re-invigoration of radio.”

The BBC has form with this, too, with the release of many of its flagship shows as podcasts already. Desert Island Discs is a perennial favourite, and regularly appears in the top 10 iTunes download charts.

Podcasting for profit is big business now, too. Earlier this year Slate revealed that podcasts make up fully a quarter of its revenue. In an interview with Digiday, Slate’s editor Julia Turner was also keen to blur the line between ‘the podcast’ as a form, and the rest of the publisher’s output:

“The big story is, we’re pivoting to words. We’re going to be experimenting with all media, but we spent lot of 2017 looking at the fundamentals of the business of the written word and podcasting and found a strong case in investing in both.”

The reason for that investment is obvious: ad money. This Wired article has a great breakdown of how podcasting got to the point at which it could be monetised effectively, and why the daily news podcast might be the future of the medium. As the line blurs between ‘podcast’ and the lucrative medium of radio, we’ll probably have to find new terms to describe publisher output in that category, or at least retire some of the current terms. One thing that’s not in question, however, is that podcasting has arrived as a culmination of those many small moments along the way.

Publishers and podcast-obsessed individuals looking to take advantage of the increased ad spend should bear in mind the following:

  • As with YouTube and Facebook video, there is no shortage of podcast content out there. The relatively low cost-of-entry means that everyone and their dogs already has a podcast, so any publisher seriously interested in launching a podcast better make sure they have a hook or idea that attracts an audience.
  • As a corollary, while the cost-of-entry is relatively low, that doesn’t mean publishers should skimp on quality.
  • As with The Daily, publishers should consider what the podcast can offer to the rest of the business. The Daily, for instance, is a source of revenue in its own right but also draws attention to the rest of the New York Times’ content proposition.

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Martin Tripp Associates is a London-based executive search consultancy. While we are best-known for our work in the TMT (technology, media, and telecoms) space, we have also worked with some of the world’s biggest brands on challenging senior positions. Feel free to contact us to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog. 

Image via David Rodrigues on Flickr.