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Podcast audiences are climbing, but the medium faces growing pains

February 22, 2017 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN @Randeloo

Podcasts are earning a strong foothold in digital media. The popularity of podcasts such as “Serial” and “This American Life” aided the medium in reaching new audiences. In fact, Edison Research reports an estimated 57 million Americans over the age of 12 listened to a podcast in January and February of 2016.

The Knight Foundation recently made several investments to support podcasting programming and on-demand audio formats. In the report “From Airwaves to Earbuds,” the Knight Foundation partnered with Lutman & Associates and Dot Connector Studio to identify and assess the impact of these investments. To date, the Knight grantees are successful in growing their audiences and finding new ways to attract younger listeners as well as revenue.

The grantees in the digital transformation of audio content include:

Project Carbon supports the development of a seamless digital listening platform across all NPR affiliates and available through all digital devices.

Radiotopia helps independent media makers develop audiences and revenue for their work.

Gimlet Media develops and release podcasts for its network.

New York Public Radio develops and share the Discover app, WNYC’s mobile app for on-demand listening.

RadioPublic PBC helps listeners discover, engage with, and reward creators of stories, podcasts, and other audio.

The research identified 10 key themes:

  1. Podcast audiences are growing. At least one-fifth of U.S. consumers (21%) have listened to a podcast compared to 12% in 2015 according to Edison Research. As you can see from the chart, the podcast audience listens to less radio and more podcasts than the average.
  2. Digital-first companies are building podcast audiences without a need for legacy broadcast systems or audiences to maintain and are more agile to develop strategies to capture useful audience data.
  3. On-demand listening offers new and creative ways to offer local news stories.
  4. Racial and gender diversity is needed in podcast hosts, only 22% of podcasts are hosted by women, although that’s up from 12% in 2015.
  5. Public Radio is a key talent pool for the podcasting medium.
  6. Podcasting is a great space for experimenting new skills, styles and techniques.
  7. Data standards and methods of shared metrics are needed in on-demand audio and podcasts.
  8. Identifying new revenue paths is important. Podcasting recently used CPMs to enlist advertisers.
  9. Podcasting and on-demand audio formats are partners in the radio space. Leveraging this synergy could prove a positive move
  10. Podcasting can offer a powerful discussion. It presents a unique experience because the content evolves in the mind of the listener.

The report raises several questions about the future growth of the medium: Is there enough scale in podcasting today to be a profitable medium? Can it serve as a medium for interesting and original brand integrations? At this stage, there’s no one-answer-fits-all for how podcasting should generate revenue. However it is clear that podcasting offers a level of engagement with audiences that offers an opportunity to experiment with new forms of revenue generation.

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