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Video killed the radio star, or so goes the famous Buggles tune. Maybe a more current update would ask if podcasts will kill what’s left of radio.
It seems the humble podcast, once the realm of rambling hosts and public radio personalities, is getting seriously into business. Sure, there are loads of great podcasts already, but total ad revenue in the market was just $314 million last year versus almost $14 billion for commercial radio. Now everyone from Spotify to Amy Schumer is jumping in, and the revenue growth should be rapid.
At one end of the new podcasting era, you have the big companies. Google just introduced its own podcast app for Android a few months ago—complete with a program library, suggestion engine, and search function. Just as important, or maybe more important, Google (GOOGL) also started a program to train and incubate new podcast hosts from diverse backgrounds. Called the Google Podcasts creator program, the effort is accepting applications through December 2 overseen by an advisory committee headed by two podcasting heavyweights: Jenna Weiss-Berman, co-founder of Pineapple Street Media, and Amit Doshi, the frequent startup player whose new venture, IVM Podcasts, obviously focuses on this space. Winners will get seed funding, training, and likely some pretty heavy promotion.
Apple (AAPL) has been obviously in the game since before the iPhone. The most recent wave of business interest comes after Apple introduced sophisticated analytics for producers starting at the end of 2017. The 2018 data shows a growing audience with advertiser-desired demographics that is devoted to their favorite podcasts—and rarely skips commercials.
Other big movers lately include Spotify, which added a podcast section with thousands of programs to its app a few months ago and is sponsoring a lineup of its own shows, as well. Pandora, soon to be part of Sirius XM (SIRI), is rolling out a podcast recommendation engine that’s based on its famous Music Genome Project, but with a roster that’s limited to shows from partner publishers such as NPR, The Ringer, and Gimlet. “Inclusion depends on a series of discussions and negotiations,” notes Nicholas Quah, whose weekly newsletter Hotpod is a must-read if you want to follow the industry.
But it’s not just big companies. As you may have read in the recent New Yorker article on podcasting that was one of our recommended weekend reads last Friday, this is a genre that doesn’t require huge backing to succeed—at least not yet. Weiss-Berman’s company, Pineapple Media, gets the profile treatment in the New Yorker, but there are many other startups. Plus, a growing number of celebrities are monetizing their fame, and often large followings on social media, via podcasts with notable examples including Gwyneth Paltrow, Anna Faris, and Dax Shepard. Of course, the large and small players can also cooperate. One of Spotify’s (SPOT) first deals to sponsor a podcast was with Schumer, who was recently a guest on Shepard’s show, Armchair Expert.
All the attention and investment will hopefully bring more quality programming, but it’s no guarantee. Most of the video that killed the radio star wasn’t so great. It took decades for our golden age of television to arrive. But there’s no stopping the powerful forces now getting into the podcasting business. Or as The Buggles might say: “In my mind and in my car, we can’t rewind we’ve gone too far.”