When I wrote my first “year in podcasting” post some twelve months ago I didn’t anticipate that we would end 2014 with nearly every local, regional and national news source in the English-speaking world having written breathlessly about podcasting, as has been triggered by the breakout success of Serial. But, as Radio Survivor readers and podcast fans know full well, the pressure for this breakout has been building for a while now. The rally around Serial is really just one unavoidable indicator of how podcasting reached a new maturity this year.
Thirteen months ago I launched the weekly Podcast Survivor feature with the proposition that “the business of podcasting is the future of podcasting.” It’s a statement that seems glaringly obvious now, but was still a little tentative then. I say that with confidence, since the lede for all the “podcasting is back” stories this year has essentially been, “hey, you can make money with podcasts? Who’d a thunk it?”
All About the Benjamins
For me the success of podcasting has always been about sustainability. It’s about the ability of podcasters of many stripes to be able create and distribute their shows without the requirement that this be only a hobby or in support of another enterprise. Some podcasters are happy covering their costs, others are thrilled to make a little extra scratch, while others want to make a living. I want all of these scenarios to be possible. In 2014 this became so.
The rise of ad networks, and the influx of interest from advertisers, provided new opportunities for shows with audiences large enough. Crowdfunding has become a reasonable and reliable method for podcasts, too. Kickstarter has certainly been a go-to platform, with the caveat that these campaigns are time-intensive and stochastic.
Not every podcaster is able to raise 99% Invisible or Radiotopia levels of financing, but many podcasters have mounted smaller campaigns to keep their shows in production. For instance, Colin Marshall has conducted five successful Kickstarters to fund seasons of his excellent Notebook on Cities and Culture podcast.
The Patreon crowdfunding platform introduced a method perhaps a bit more suited to podcasting, by giving donors the ability to fund creators over time, more like being a public media subscriber than a one-time donor. The most well known Patreon-funded show is probably Tom Merritt’s Daily Tech News Show which is funded to the tune of $13,000 a month, or $156,000 a year.
On the ad side we only have to look at Serial to see how the show’s unique approach turned “MailKimp” into an internet meme. But underneath there is a serious business, that helped former This American Life Producer Alex Blumberg raise over $1.5 million to fund the Gimlet Media podcasting company he founded with Matt Lieber, as documented on the company’s StartUp podcast.
These high profile wins only underscore the less well-reported fact that in 2014 hundreds more podcasts are generating revenue with advertising than in 2013.
Podcast Acquisitions Plant Seeds for 2015
The seeds for even more growth in podcasting were planted in 2014 with two acquisitions. In July Apple acquired the podcast listening app Swell for $30 million. Then in October the global #2 streaming music service Deezer bought Stitcher. Following that news, in November a developer reported to TechCrunch that a podcast feature is “buried in the code for Spotify 2.0.”
What this all means is that major players in digital audio are making significant investments in podcasting. Importantly, both Apple and Stitcher have a strong presence in the car, while Spotify has a strong presence across many different devices, from mobile to home listening. Deezer has a similarly strong footprint outside of the US and it’s making similar inroads here.
The Road to Ubiquity
These are all important developments because podcasts have to shed their association with iPods and become on-demand audio. That shift happens when programs are nearly universally available, in the way that you can get Netflix on your laptop, tablet, smartphone, smart TV, Blu-Ray player, Apple TV, Roku box or Chromecast. Netflix isn’t the only streaming video platform, but every other one is certainly mimicking its strategy.
Podcasting’s critical advantage compared to video and text is that the medium is well suited to driving. Automotive innovation moves more slowly than computers and consumer electronics because people get new cars much more slowly. While the ability to plug in an MP3 player or smartphone to your car stereo has been around for more than decade, an even more mass adoption of podcasting is imminent. That moment happens when podcasts are just another selection on the in-dash display, next to AM/FM and satellite radio.
With Apple’s CarPlay and Stitcher’s smart dashboard integration combined with the roll-out of in-car 4G internet we’re closer than ever before.
In just one year podcasting has become a tremendously more sustainable and lucrative medium, with an influx of talent and interest. Yet, the future is not sealed. In two weeks I will gaze into my gorilla glass ball to predict and prescribe podcasting’s future in 2015. In the meantime I encourage you to check out Metafilter founder Matt Haughey’s “Ten Years of Podcasting: Fighting Human Nature.” He accurately diagnoses many of the speed bumps in the way of podcasting’s acceleration and suggests ways–some quite novel–to smooth out the road.
For next week I’ve invited my friend Jenny Benvento and my brother Kyle Riismandel to once again offer up their top 5 podcasts of 2014.