Corey Elliot The convenience of listening to podcast talk programming anytime and almost anywhere is drawing in a bigger audience and pushing more radio broadcasters to launch such initiatives.
The burgeoning digital podcast space saw “remarkable” growth in 2014, with the number of services expanding and time-spent-listening growing, according to studies conducted by Edison Research.
Industry analysts said radio broadcasters are noticing and are expanding bullishly into this digital marketplace, despite struggling with sponsorship metrics that they hope will make it a profitable endeavor.
The fall 2014 “Share of the Ear” study from Edison Research provides a glimpse of the steady growth of podcasting and the amount of time podcast devotees give to the auditory medium.
Podcast listeners spend an average of six hours and eight minutes each day consuming audio of some kind, according to Edison. Americans listen to over 21 million hours of podcast audio every day, according to the report.
Podcasts, downloadable audio files that can be consumed on-demand by a user, now make up 4 percent of audio consumption on mobile devices, according to the Edison study.
Analysts say the podcasting space is filled with a range of podcasters, from novices — there is a “Podcasting for Dummies” reference book — who record in home studios, to some of the world’s largest media corporations. The equipment essentials needed for podcasting are rather minimal, according to industry analysts, making it an affordable media outlet to pursue. A microphone, small mixer board, some sort of audio recording software and a laptop with Internet connection are the limited technical necessities.
Larry Rosin Analysts point to the growth of PodcastOne, an ad-supported podcasts provider, as an example of why broadcasters now view the podcast niche as worth pursuing. PodcastOne hosts approximately 200 podcasts, including programs from talkers Adam Carolla, Dennis Miller and Larry King.
Podcast consumption is being driven by the convenience of on-demand and the desire for spoken word audio, said industry analysts.
“There has always been a lot of appeal for quality speech-based audio content. The problem is that it didn’t always fit in with the modality of radio. Radio isn’t really appointment listening,” said Larry Rosin, executive vice president at Edison Research.
“Podcasting unleashes that problem. The on-demand capability of podcasting is the key component if its growth.”
As part of its Infinite Dial study, Edison Research and Triton Digital conclude that podcasting is becoming increasingly mainstream. Nearly 90 million Americans, or about a third of the country, have listened to a podcast at least once. Monthly audio podcast consumption grew from some 39 million monthly users in 2014 to about 46 million in 2015.
It’s “not a niche medium,” said Edison Research Vice President of Strategy and Marketing Tom Webster, who adds that these affluent, well-educated listeners are increasingly harder to reach by advertisers because they do so much podcast listening. This “means podcasts will become more attractive to agencies and brands,” Webster said during a webinar.
AT THE FOREFRONT?
Rosin said the popularity of public radio’s “Serial” is driving some growth — the program from the creators of “This American Life” and WBEZ(FM) Chicago, was the first podcast to win a George Foster Peabody Award — but overall interest in talk programming, he said, is also a big factor. And radio broadcasters have a lot of that kind of content.
“The sheer density of podcast material broadcasters have available is formidable. I don’t believe podcasting is disruptive to radio at all. Smart broadcasters are utilizing their content to extend their brands.”
Specifically, National Public Radio has done a good job advancing its podcasting presence and building-in listener loyalty, Rosin said. “It’s not an exaggeration to say that NPR has done more [to promote podcasting] than all the commercial broadcasters combined,” he said.
“Commercial radio has been slow and rather limited in their usage of podcasting and promotion of podcasting. The industry really hasn’t been a major player in the space,” said Rosin.
“I believe commercial broadcasters now see a revenue model they think makes sense. Podcasting is easily the most talked about part of audio at the moment and is likely to be at the forefront through 2015.”
Meanwhile, NPR is making its digital podcast hub easier to use.
Its podcast directory (www.npr.org/podcasts) offers the ability to browse the catalogue by topic and discover similar podcasts within each podcast page. The upgrades also make it easier for listeners to use apps like Stitcher to listen to podcasts.
The medium has grown dramatically for the broadcaster, according to NPR, from 30 million downloaded NPR podcasts in October 2013 to an average of 80 million downloads per month as of mid-May 2015.
NPR is ramping up plans to launch more podcasts on its digital podcast portal. The network’s “Invisibilia” podcast, which launched in January 2015, ranked near the top of the iTunes listings of its top podcasts during May.
“Our philosophy is to make sure we have content wherever our listeners want it,” said Eric Nuzem, NPR vice president of programming. “Whether that is through an app on their mobile phone, the work or home PC or FM radio, in real time or on-demand, we want to be where people want to find us. Podcasting is at the center of that.”
NPR’s podcast directory has become a primary destination for people looking to discover podcasting and new programming, Nuzem said.
Many of the same sponsors that underwrite NPR’s on-air programming have migrated to its digital platform. “Podcasting has developed a reputation as being a very effective means to reach an audience. We are seeing a lot of interest from sponsors. If we build an audience around the podcast directory, underwriters will come,” Nuzem said.
NPR isn’t driving listeners from radio to podcasting, according to Nuzem, who instead believes its digital properties are a parallel universe in which to grow NPR content.
“We promote podcasting not so much on air but in digital spaces where those consumers are searching for material. That is where most of the evangelism and promotion comes from. Podcasting does not appear to disrupt the on-air product. We don’t have evidence of that.”
Nuzem said NPR tracks podcast downloads and other key metrics. “Metrics are important in everything we do. Our research team uses data-warehouse tools to build easily understood internal dashboards,” he said.
NPR publishes podcasts through its digital content management system, said Patrick Cooper, director of Web and engagement for NPR Digital Media. Podcast files are encoded and stored as audio assets within its content management system, according to Cooper.
“The system pushes audio to NPR’s content delivery network and updates all necessary feeds, such as a podcast RSS feed. When a listener downloads a podcast episode, the listener receives the audio from the CDN, optimizing delivery and saving us significant serving costs,” Cooper said.
Metadata — like episode title and images — is paired with audio that are useful to podcast distributors like iTunes and Stitcher, according to NPR.
CBS RADIO’S PLAY.IT
Commercial radio is getting into podcasting, too.
Analysts said “time-shifted audio” is most commercial radio broadcasters’ idea of podcasting. “Most of it is archival of on-demand content,” they said. For example, many major broadcasters make podcasts of morning show highlights from its stations available for download.
CBS Radio and CBS Local Digital Media launched a podcast network called Play.it in January. The initiative brings together exclusive programming as well as content from CBS Radio shows, according to the broadcaster.
Play.it is a unified network that consolidates multiple sites and services, said Ezra Kucharz, president of CBS Local Digital. “We think on-demand audio is an important part of the radio ecosystem, and specifically the on-demand space for spoken word.”
Play.it, which allows for listeners to stream or download content, is advertiser-supported and uses ad insertion technology, said Kucharz, so that advertisers can deliver targeted messages to specific fans of a particular show or across the network.
“We designed a robust advertising program that is completely measurable,” Kucharz said.
CBS, which will consider a subscription podcast service in the future, took the simplistic approach when designing the interface for Play.it, Kucharz said, meaning any IP-based browser can be sued to access materials.
“Smart phone, tablet, laptop, PC … we deliberately took the approach of ubiquity. It has an embeddable player with the ability to embed clips and the podcast into Twitter,” Kucharz said.
Kucharz said diversity of content will be critical to the success of Play.it, which eventually will include archived CBS Radio programming from its radio stations along with original content. The podcast network also includes other major brands, personalities and publishers.
CBS Radio engineers designed and built out a technological platform with infrastructure that archives and deploys material through Play.it, Kucharz said.
Whether podcasts are generating income yet is difficult to ascertain, according to analysts. For instance, the BIA/Kelsey Local Media 2015 forecast does not include podcasting data.
“I am beginning to wonder if we should include it. The challenge would be how stations allocate revenue to those podcasts, i.e., if a spot runs over-the-air first, does all of that revenue get ascribed to over-the-air broadcast,” said Dr. Mark Fratrik, senior vice president and chief economist for BIA/Kelsey.
Corey Elliot, director of research at Borrell Associates, a research and consulting firm that tracks local advertising spending, said advertisers are beginning to take notice of podcast opportunities.
“Podcasting is like the ‘little engine that could’ of the digital audio space. It’s a fascinating little niche of the digital space,” said Elliot. “It’s a relatively new space. Podcasting came around about 2005, and just plodded along, but now it is maturing a bit and radio broadcasters are noticing.”
Podcasting, which doesn’t have to abide by FCC rules for obscene language, is one-on-one listening, according to Elliot, so it “certainly isn’t about scale.” There is “limited monetization of podcasting by the major broadcast companies” to this point, he said.
“You can sell podcast ads, but it is really pennies to the dollar of what you can charge on-air. Is a company like CBS Radio interested in that?” he said. “But the attractiveness of podcasting [to some advertisers] is the ability to target certain types of listeners who are very engaged.”
The “golden nugget” for podcasters is connected cars with their advanced infotainment systems, which will present these programmers even more opportunities to reach their audience, Elliot said.
For an in-depth discussion about trends and personalities of podcasting, read the new Radio World eBook “Podcasting Comes Alive” at radioworld.com/ebooks.