Here’s what changed that made podcasts skyrocket more than a decade after they first started — and why your news brand can’t miss out on this audience.
By Tim Wolff, Vice President of TV and Digital Publishing Innovation, Futuri
In 2005, I created one of the first video podcasts (vodcasts) in our market. We used it for high school sports highlights, and I was pleased we grew to about 50 users. Still, it took about a day to process the video, and the effort wasn’t really worth it at the time. Like most media outlets, we put our focus elsewhere.
By 2006, we had generally done that with podcasts in general. They had taken off as “the next big thing” after the iPod was launched (thank goodness they aren’t called Zunecasts!), but after a few years podcasts seem to fade from everywhere other than NPR. The market was too small and the work too involved for most media outlets to invest in it.
Several years later, Serial became a podcast hit, and suddenly podcasts were the next big thing again. Everyone from newspapers to bloggers scrambled to create podcasts, while NPR had been there the whole time.
As in many industries, the key changes were about distribution, production costs, and a singular hit to capture people’s attention.
By 2014 the biggest barrier to consumer podcast listening had changed. Users no longer needed an iPod or to go through iTunes (these days, Apple Podcasts); the podcasting app had become native to every iPhone. This was a key distribution change, making it easier and automatic for millions of people to quickly get into listening to podcasts. Serial was the first big benefactor of this, shattering previous records for podcast downloads.
Now, with smart speakers and phone connections in cars, podcasts are readily and easily available everywhere.
Meanwhile, processing speeds have become exponentially faster. What took hours to process a decade ago can now be processed in seconds. With equipment becoming cheaper and online tutorials abundant, anyone can make a podcast quickly and easily now.
But what about money?
Most of the 1,700,000 podcasts out there don’t make any money. So why should local news brands get involved?
The main reasons revolve around the key goals for any media outlet: Audience reach, consumer loyalty, brand expansion, and revenue generation.
Podcasts today reach a demo that is highly sought after for media companies and advertisers. Stitcher reports that the most popular group who uses podcasts are adults 18-34. Podcasthost.org shows that 41% of US podcast listeners have a household income over $75k, which is 10% higher than the US average. Civic Science data shows that 1 in 3 podcast listeners made a purchase after hearing an ad on a podcast. Sound like an audience you want your brand to reach?
As sources of news expand from traditional media to social, OTT, podcast,s and everything else, legacy brands need a way to stay relevant everywhere. By reaching your target consumers in as many distribution channels as possible, you build loyalty to your brand and personalities.
You also reach new people. Podcast listeners are 10% more likely to follow news closely (AudienceScan data), but might not be traditional consumers of your media products. Getting them content in a podcast may remind them of the value your media brand brings, whether that’s through television, radio, newspaper, magazines, or a digital outlet.
And that brings the big challenge: Can you monetize podcasts directly?
It’s about your goals and the audience you want
Most of the time, we think about podcasts with huge audiences in order to generate any revenue. To have a huge audience, you probably need a podcast with a national or worldwide scope, likely focused on a key area of interest (football, for example, or true crime). This seems like a problem for local media outlets, because the audience they are targeting is one of local consumers, limited by the geographic reach of the brand. Unfortunately, too many local media decision-makers get to this point in their consideration, and then stop. They don’t see the monetization model that makes sense for them, so they choose not to do podcasts. They end up missing out on two key opportunities.
First, local interest sponsorships are a big opportunity. Any sales person in a market with a major sports team can tell you that there are advertisers who have key interest in reaching those fans. And every television executive can tell you that weather coverage is a key driver of viewing. Advertisers are actively looking to sponsor great weather brands. Combine these key areas of your media company’s strength with advertiser needs, and podcasts make a lot of sense.
Second, local media often overlook the key interest areas that would expand far beyond geography. Say your market is home to a major Navy base, and you have reporters who are well informed on the base, as one of your biggest employers. Use their expertise to launch a Navy-focused podcast, and suddenly you have the potential of a worldwide audience. Maybe instead of military interest, you have a sports team with a worldwide following. Or maybe you have Civil War experts or auto manufacturing or shipping companies as huge parts of your market. Starting podcasts around those areas can tap in to the national or global interest, and build a large audience that resonates with advertisers, and provides outreach for you to grow subscribers to your own products.
Where to start?
Once you see the value podcasts can bring to your newsroom, you need to know how to grow the reach of your podcasts. Using social media, youtube (the second largest search engine) and your own websites are all key. So is having a partner that can distribute to every platform at once. POST by Futuri is perfect for that; you can post to multiple platforms at once, and they can instantly turn your audio podcast into video, for maximum reach. The Futuri team even has tools to help you monetize your podcasts.
The US is expected to have 100 million podcast listeners this year. If your newsroom is truly committed to reaching and serving your community, it’s time to get into podcasts. You can’t afford to miss out on this audience.
Tim Wolff is Vice President of TV and Digital Publishing Innovation at Futuri. He has 20+ years of experience as a digital and broadcasting leader who’s led top-performing teams across the country at companies including Gannet, Belo, and Cox Media Group Ohio, which includes three daily newspapers, three radio stations, WHIO-TV, and more. Wolff, who holds a Master’s in Journalism from the University of Missouri, also makes a mean green chile stew.