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What the Australian Broadcasting Corporation can teach podcasters everywhere

October 24, 2019 | By Corinne Podger—Director, Digital Skills Agency @corinne_podger

Research presented at Australia’s fourth national podcast conference offers some good news for media outlets that have yet to put a toe in the podcast waters. Ozpod, convened annually by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Australia’s public broadcaster, commissions a national podcast survey each year to accompany the event.

ABC’s 2019 Podcast research found that nearly 90% of Australians have now heard of podcasting, although just 19% listen to a podcast once a week. However, the number of regular listeners – people who listen to a podcast at least once a month – is growing by about 30% year-on-year.

Kellie Riordan, head of ABC Audio Studios, says that represents enormous opportunity for growth. “Because once people do start listening, they listen a lot. For example, if they’ve listened in the last week, they’re listening to more than one show, and consume between six and 10 episodes, so that’s fantastic in terms of growth,” Riordan says.

She says that about 80% of people who start listening to a show go on to listen to it all the way through. This is a particularly promising statistic for outlets keen to scatter advertisements throughout a podcast.

Search and discovery

The survey also looks at discoverability. According to the results, the most popular way of choosing a new podcast is via word of mouth, with 71% of respondents saying this was their favorite method of finding fresh must-listen content.

Riordan says the ABC takes advantage of this by cross promoting its own podcasts. It also uses its broadcast and social media channels to ensure the audiences who are most likely to want to listen to a particular podcast hear about it.

This approach “makes it a very sticky platform for us. For example if you listen to Richard Fidler on Conversations and he tells you we’ve got a great new true crime podcast, or we’ve got Ladies We Need To Talk, you’re going to go and check it out,” she says.

Spread the good word

There are plenty of pathways to build word-of-mouth momentum around a new show, even for outlets that don’t have the advantage of being a public broadcaster, Riordan adds. “You can leverage it through social media, through newsletters, through making short-form videos – and if you’re an independent podcaster who can’t lean on the ‘network’ effect’, you can tap into communities and influencers in your genre.”

Riordan says the ABC has done this successfully with No Feeling is Final. To promote the award-winning show that explores suicidal feelings, ABC asked national organizations like Beyond Blue and the Black Dog Institute to let their audiences know about it.

She says some audiences are also underserved, particularly children. This is particularly the case at a time when parents “are increasingly looking for ways to get kids off screens, and also to share in co-listening experiences with their children”.

In response to audience research, the ABC launched a children’s ethics show, Short & Curly, in 2016. It’s remained one of the broadcaster’s most popular podcasts ever since, and has been made into a book and a collaboration with WNYC in New York in 2017. “Building on this success, the ABC has created a whole suite of family shows that both kids and adults can enjoy, from Fierce Girls, to Animal Sound Safari, Imagine This, and Classic Kids,” Riordan says.

Make a splash

Just over half the survey respondents said they felt ‘overwhelmed’ by the increasing choice of podcasts. And, at first glance, the finding appears to give weight to suggestions that the podcast market may have peaked.

Riordan acknowledges that creating a splash in a crowded market isn’t easy. She urges outlets preparing to get into podcasting to thoroughly research their target audience and design a truly differentiated product. “People get it wrong if they think they have to pump out a podcast every week. You really need to think what your true podcast value is, what the audience is, and whether a [time-limited] series is a better fit,” she says.

She also points out that the gap in podcast awareness and listening, particularly among older audiences – who comprise just 8% of regular listeners in Australia – means podcast creators still need to explain to potential listeners how to find, subscribe to and download their show.

That’s echoed by the Australia-based editor of Podnews James Cridland, who presented the survey results at the OzPod conference. “My biggest recommendation is to have a big bang launch, and I’m not talking about an ad on page 5. I’m talking about ads throughout the day on your website, a strap on your newspaper for the week. Or, if you’re a radio station, it means promos every hour for the whole day of your launch, and instructions that make it easy and obvious for people to find and listen to it,” he says.

“If you do this, then you almost guarantee yourself a good position in the charts. Because podcast charts are trending charts, there’ll be some momentum because lots of people are subscribing to you for the first time.”

Building on a legacy

Cridland also has advice for legacy brands that are considering their first move into podcasting. “Firstly, use your brand and your talent,” he says. “There’s a temptation to launch a new brand around podcasts, rather than using your legacy brand. But if you do that you end up not having any heritage, and more importantly no points of difference from all the other podcasts out there.

“So if you are, let’s say, ‘The Sun’, you might launch a podcast called Bizarre – which is their big show business page – or a podcast with a star columnist, because your brand is your main asset here.”

Cridland says there’s also work to be done by many advertising departments on how to sell podcasts. He recommends approaching an agency that can provide specialist advice on how to sell a new podcast product to potential advertisers.

“People who sell full page ads in newspapers find it quite difficult to go out and sell audio, so having sales people and teams that understand the specifics of selling this kind of content is absolutely essential,” he says.

About the author

Corinne Podger is the Director of The Digital Skills Agency, which provides consultancy and training in mobile journalism, digital multimedia, social media and digital return on investment for newsrooms all over the world. She serves as a judge for the WAN-IFRA World Digital Media Awards, and as an advisor to the European Journalism Observatory at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

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