By Mike Carruthers
LOS ANGELES — Podcasting is now a real thing. In fact it is now a small industry. Consequently, this may be the perfect time for radio professionals to take a hard look at podcasting. Frankly, it is the one growth industry that can actually utilize the skills every experienced broadcaster has developed in their career. In fact these are the exact skills many podcasters would kill for, such as: the ability to project a personality, to talk to and interview people, to keep things interesting, to tell stories, to use audio creatively and to edit (both in real time and after the fact). These are exactly the things many podcasters struggle with – yet most seasoned radio pros can do them in their sleep.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly why commercial broadcasters have been reluctant to get into podcasting. If you look at the iTunes charts of the Top podcasts (https://www.podcastchart.com/) you see that many of the highly rated ones are produced by NPR or other public radio entities. But only a few are done by commercial radio people.
Whatever the reason radio folks have stayed away, there is now no longer any excuse for people interested in podcasting not to try. There is an audience, money, opportunity and a level playing field. Unlike radio, podcasting is not dominated by a few large media companies. Many successful podcasts are done by individuals who simply had a good idea. Let’s look at some facts and a case study:
- In 2016, $190 million was spent on podcast advertising. That figure is expected to jump to $243 million in 2017 and continue to increase year after year. Millions more were spent in equipment sales, training, web design, and other podcast production services.
- 57 million people listen to podcasts in the U.S. For perspective, that is the same number of active U.S. Twitter users. While it is small compared to radio, it is growing.
- Podcasts listenership grows at about 23% per year.
Additionally, thanks to iTunes and other apps, the ability to search for, access and listen to podcasts gets easier and easier. In many new cars, listening to a podcast is as easy as listening to the radio.
The process of producing a podcast is not especially difficult or expensive. That’s why there are reportedly about 60,000 active podcasts available on iTunes and thousand more that are still listed but no longer publish new episodes. Of course, those numbers can seem daunting. With 60,000 active podcasts, why should anyone believe their podcast stands a very good chance of success? Let’s see.
Perhaps it is best to compare podcasting to YouTube. While there are many people who are very popular and make money on YouTube, the vast majority of people don’t. For them it is not a business – it is fun. Similarly in podcasting, the vast majority of podcasters do not approach it as a business. It is very common for someone to start a podcast, publish episodes for a few months, hope for stardom, get discouraged and then throw in the towel because no one is listening. Creating a successful podcast takes skill, a good idea and persistence – as well as an understanding of the business of podcasting.
So how do podcasts make money? The model is similar to – but not exactly the same as – radio. The podcasts that do make money do so by monetizing their audience through commercials. And you don’t need an especially huge audience to do it.
As a comparison, typical commercial ad rates for network radio spots today are in the $4,-$7 CPM range. Commercial rates for podcasts start at around $25 CPM and advertisers are more than willing to pay it. That is because, while smaller, the audience is far more targeted than radio. If there is a podcast about model trains (there is) and you are Lionel Trains, you are going to get far better results advertising on that podcast than you will on the radio where you are spending much of your money to reach people who have no interest.
Most podcast advertisers today are direct response advertisers. They use promo codes to track results. They can tell exactly how well each podcast works. And they keep coming back to podcasting for its effectiveness and ability to reach the right people. In addition, most ads in podcasts are “host-read.” There are not a lot of agency produced commercials in podcasts. Podcast host-read spots fall into the category of “native advertising.” In other words, the commercials sound as if they belong in the podcast. And there are a lot fewer of them than on the radio. While a radio station may have eight or more minutes of spots in a half-hour, a typical podcast might have two or three. Consequently, listeners say they find podcast ads far less objectionable and they are more likely to actually listen to them.
Just like in radio, there are podcast network companies that will sell advertising for independent podcasters on commission. These include Gimlet, Midroll, Panoply, Wonderey and Podcast One. So you don’t have to go out and find advertisers yourself – you can leave that to someone else who does it for a living. However your podcast must first have a large enough audience or a great deal of potential for them to get interested, typically.
Critical to podcast success, especially for broadcasters, is to understand that:
Podcast and radio are very different
While there are many similarities, the differences are profound yet easy to overlook. The biggest difference between podcasting and radio is the listener experience. Consider how someone listens to a podcast:
- He (or she) specifically chooses a particular podcast to listen to
- He specifically chooses to listen at a time that suits him
- He listens from the beginning
- He can pause and come back to the same spot where he stopped
Radio, on the other hand, plays to the short attention span. Formatically, radio is more about being brief, keeping things moving and pushing the listener into the next quarter-hour with promises of what’s to come.
Producing a podcast requires a change in mindset. You can take more time and you can explain things more completely. There are podcasts episodes that actually go for hours. “Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History” podcast runs anywhere from three to five hours, per episode. And it remains one of the most highly rated podcasts on iTunes. While that length is not typical, it shows that length is not as critical in podcasting as it is in radio.
Production is also different. Podcasts are typically not as highly produced. You don’t hear a lot of sweepers, sound effects, promos and other tactics employed by radio to keep listeners’ attention. In podcasting, it is not necessary. You already have their attention.
That is not to say that podcasts don’t have to be interesting. They do. But in a different, more relaxed way. There is no rush to hit “hard breaks” or long commercial stop-sets. There are no time limits. It takes as long as it takes.
Perhaps the biggest key to podcast success (assuming the podcast is done well) is promotion. Every podcaster has to be willing to get out there and promote in order to attract an audience. Some of the most effective strategies include:
- Social media
- Being a guest on other podcasts
- Having your guests promote their appearance to their following
- Advertising on other podcasts
The willingness to relentlessly promote seems to be a common characteristic among successful podcasters. The need for constant promotion is another reason to consider signing with a network company as they have a bigger bullhorn and can cross promote one podcast on another.
Podcast success is seldom instant. But a good podcast, well promoted, can find an audience.
Let’s look at my podcast as a case study.
For many years, I’ve been producing the syndicated radio feature, “Something You Should Know.” It has been a large part of my life and my income. However, several years ago, I saw my revenue declining. I needed to do something.
I first took a look at podcasting about eight years ago. I tried to get a podcast started but I didn’t feel as if I knew what I was doing and consequently, was unsuccessful. So, I threw myself back into the network radio business, but again found the future was not very bright.
So about two years ago, I decided to take a fresh look at podcasting. Since my last podcast attempt, things had changed. There was now a sizable and growing audience and real money to be made. Podcasting, I concluded, was a real business with real opportunity – especially for someone with my skills.
I developed a podcast, also called “Something You Should Know,” based on my radio feature. (The radio feature is 90 seconds; the podcast is 30-45 minutes.) I created a new website, artwork and really studied the elements of successful podcasting.
On Labor Day 2016, the “Something You Should Know” podcast debuted. I spent as much or more time promoting my podcast as I did producing it. I talked with other successful podcasters to get their suggestions and I just kept trying new things to attract an audience.
Then, one day in early December, 2016, the “Something You Should Know” podcast showed up on the iTunes charts as #49 overall and #9 in the category “Society & Culture.” It has consistently remained on the charts ever since.
Seeing my name and podcast logo on the iTunes charts was a real rush. It feels a little like having a hit record on the charts. But more importantly, if I can do it, anyone can do it if they are willing to put in the effort.
With the podcast’s success, I’ve started a new media company called OmniCast Media, LLC with Ken Williams, founder of Dial-Global Radio Networks and former president & CEO of Westwood One. That company now handles advertising sales for the podcast and plans are to grow the company into a boutique network to help other podcasters grow and succeed.
Another thing I did was to write down everything I learned along the way. The results are on a website called www.PerfectYourPodcast.com which contains a ton of free videos, pdfs and other information to help new podcasters.
I am also hosting a free, LIVE, podcasting Master Class in association with TALKERS magazine called, “How to Launch & Grow a Successful Podcast.” It is exclusively for broadcasters and readers of TALKERS. This event will be held on March 8, 2017 at 1:00 pm ET. To register, click here. Do it quick – space is limited.
Mike Carruthers is CEO of PerfectYourPodcast.com. He is the creator and host of the long-running, award-winning syndicated program, Something You Should Know.” He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.