By PERRY MICHAEL SIMON in LAS VEGAS: WEDNESDAY’s session schedule for audio content at the NAB SHOW is centered on podcasting, podcasting, and more podcasting.
On tap are an all-day track of podcasting-oriented sessions looking at the medium’s rapid growth, content development, origin stories of popular shows, newcomers to the form, the viewpoints of a panel of podcast veterans, and growing an audience. Podcasting will also be part of another panel focused on radio’s future.
Attendance at the convention was down from the previous year, with the NAB announcing 2019 total preliminary registered attendance of 91,460, down from 2018’s 92,912. This year’s show drew 24,096 international attendees from 160 countries.
“Once again, NAB SHOW is the premier showcase for the latest advancements that are reshaping the world of media, entertainment and technology,” said NAB EVP of Communications DENNIS WHARTON. “We thank our exhibitors, program partners and speakers for making NAB SHOW a must-attend event for content creators, producers and distributors from around the world.”
The day’s podcasting track opened with a two-part look at the business prospects for the medium, with AMPLIFI MEDIA CEO and ALL ACCESS contributor STEVE GOLDSTEIN moderating part one and STITCHER’s ERIK DIEHN, MEGAPHONE’s BRENDAN MONAGHAN, UTA’s OREN ROSENBAUM, and PARCAST’s MAX CUTLER on the panel. The panelists recounted their companies’ histories and business models, and, in some cases, why they changed or morphed their plans to focus on their present missions (STITCHER bringing its three primary brands under a single umbrella name, MEGAPHONE leaving the content business to focus on technology and sales); ROSENBAUM noted the increasing attraction podcasting has for name-brand talent as well as developing its own stars. “It’s very early on,” ROSENBAUM said. “We’re experimenting with the medium… it’s very exciting.”
GOLDSTEIN wondered aloud about the plethora of podcasts and asked “where are we going?,” to which DIEHN responded that as long as there are listeners, “there is no cap to the number of shows”; CUTLER said that he would consider 3,000-5,000 podcasts as competition for his company’s shows. MONAGHAN pointed to technology, including search and transcription, as likely to continue to play a significant role in helping people discover podcasts, while ROSENBAUM suggested that celebrity talent will bring in new listeners. Both MONAGHAN and GOLDSTEIN added that cross-promotion on other successful podcasts is effective marketing as well, while CUTLER stressed naming shows with clear and obvious titles to aid in search (“SERIAL KILLERS,” “CULTS”).
The panel also discussed the potential for subscription models versus ad-supported networks (ROSENBAUM contended that there is a public desire for premium paid content but not if it sits next to free content from the same source, but CUTLER suggested that subscription models like LUMINARY’s “might be a little early”), measurement issues (MONAGHAN noting the need for a standard for defining what a download is), and the effect of smart speakers on the medium (CUTLER saying that his company is developing shorter shows tailored to how people use the devices).
From The Creators’ Perspective
Part two of the opening session featured podcast creators offering their insight on the medium, including CRIMINAL PRODUCTIONS’ PHOEBE JUDGE and LAUREN SPORHER, the “INSIDE” shows’ MARK RAMSEY, and PINEAPPLE STREET MEDIA co-founder MAX LINSKY, discussing with moderator SARAH VAN MOSEL of MARKET INGENUITY their backgrounds, public radio’s influence (“strictly transitional,” RAMSEY said, due to public radio being “where the storytellers are”), their process, monetization and working on spec, HOLLYWOOD’s interest in podcasting, podcasting’s diversity deficiencies, and paywalls (“it scares me,” JUDGE said, “because I’m happy when anyone listens to our podcast”; SPOHRER added, “I don’t think we’re good enough yet… podcasts aren’t good enough for people to pay for them”).
A Different Future
While PODCAST MOVEMENT’s DAN FRANKS interviewed “UNDISCLOSED”‘s RABIA CHAUDRY, “TRUE CRIME OBSESSED”‘s PATRICK HINDS, and PARTNERS IN CRIME MEDIA and NEW HAMPSHIRE PUBLIC RADIO’s REBECCA LAVOIE in a similar panel on how they turned their podcasts into careers, and MARVEL and STITCHER offered a look on the creation and development of the “WOLVERINE” podcast, another panel focused on the radio medium’s future, with TRITON DIGITAL’s JOHN ROSSO presenting selected data from the INFINITE DIAL and SHARE OF EAR studies and NIELSEN figures, including the alarming numbers showing the share of audio listening time devoted to radio at 64% among those 55+ but only 27% for those 12-34, whose online and podcast listening has grown. “We’re still reaching them 91% of the time,” he said of radio, “but we’re not reaching them as frequently.”
ROSSO’s numbers set up the panel discussion, with JACOBS MEDIA’s FRED JACOBS, the INTERACTIVE ADVERTISING BUREAU’s JENNIFER LANE, BEASLEY MEDIA GROUP’s LORI BURGESS, and PODNEWS’ JAMES CRIDLAND talking about radio strategies for mobile apps (including BEASLEY’s “Experience Engine” that allows for user customization of its stations’ apps), smart speakers (CRIDLAND’s contending that radio streams are better suited for the devices than other audio options, LANE pointing to the ability to use skills for more interactivity with advertising and brands), podcasting, and connected car listening.
CRIDLAND also expounded on the differences between the approaches to radio inside and outside NORTH AMERICA, with the rest of the world thinking of radio as audio content that comes through many devices, but in NORTH AMERICA, the industry thinks of radio as purely AM and FM. He asserted that if SIRIUSXM were added to the definition of radio, the industry would be seen as vibrant and growing.
The New(ish) Players
The influx of new players on the corporate end of podcasting took the spotlight in an afternoon session with FRANKS returning to host and podcaster PAM COVARRUBIAS moderating. The panel included representatives of two of the companies generating a lot of talk in the business, ZACHARY DAVIS from new subscription podcast platform HIMALAYA MEDIA GROUP and WILL PEARSON of iHEARTPODCAST NETWORK, who joined that company from HOWSTUFFWORKS when iHEARTMEDIA bought HSW last year. Also on hand was former iHEART executive OWEN GROVER, CEO of POCKET CASTS, which was acquired by a group of public radio companies including NPR, WNYC, and CHICAGO PUBLIC MEDIA/THIS AMERICAN LIFE last year.
The discussion ranged from diversity and inclusiveness (“it makes a ton of business sense,” PEARSON said), monetization (DAVIS said that there is no single way that applies to everyone but added “there is an appetite” for subscription plans like his company’s; the conversation covered the debate over whether podcasts benefit from being widely available versus behind a paywall), apps and exclusivity, and experimenting with content (DAVIS suggested that erotic podcasts could develop into a formidable category.
They’ve Seen It All
The second half of the session brought three of the most experienced and well-known podcasting experts, VOXNEST/SPREAKER’s ROB GREENLEE, RAW VOICE/BLUBRRY’s TODD COCHRANE, and LIBSYN’s ROB WALCH, to the stage to offer their views on the industry.
“It’s a mass medium with niche content,” WALCH said of podcasting’s present, adding that “we haven’t tapped ANDROID yet… we haven’t even tapped half of the market.” 63% of downloads in LIBSYN’s numbers, WALCH said, are via APPLE, and the RSS feed, contrary to popular perception, is growing in use and represents over 90% of downloads (including via APPLE). The study released TUESDAY claiming that YOUTUBE is the largest source of podcasts took hits from the panelists, who noted that the study failed to define podcasts and allowed users to include any on-demand content, including video, as “podcasts.”
The panelists were skeptical of walled-garden premium plays like LUMINARY, with WALCH saying that subscription plans that are specific to a show have succeeded where aggregator paywalls have failed because people want to give their money to a host they like rather than to a corporate entity.
On the low barrier to entry for podcasting and the simple technology of ANCHOR attracting a flood of attempts to podcast, the panelists noted that most of the easily-created, free-hosting shows have zero listeners and give up after a few episodes. “There is no technological barrier to entry,” WALCH asserted, “but there IS a content barrier to entry.” He added that when asking those who gave up their LIBSYN accounts why they quit, the primary reasons were because they weren’t making money and because they didn’t have the time to commit.
Radio’s incursion into the podcasting world, COCHRANE praised “some amazing talent in the radio space… (they’ve) been doing audio from the beginning of time,” and added that while “nobody wants to hear three hours” of a show, shorter content like interviews is “great content.” GREENLEE, on the other hand, saw greater opportunity in extending radio’s brands with original content (“they have to look at it as something unique from radio”). WALCH echoed GREENLEE’s preference for original content over repurposed radio bits, suggesting that podcasts can be used to develop talent as well as allowing hosts to do shows about topics they can’t talk about on the air.
“Here’s the beauty of podcasts,” COCHRANE responded to one audience question. “There are no rules.”
Recipe for Growth
The podcast track sessions closed with a final panel of podcasters making presentations about how they grew their podcasts from zero to success. Chef ANNETTE WHITE (“LET’S VEG ABOUT IT”) spoke of her survival from Stage Four cancer and her zeal for vegetables as disease fighters, and offered advice centered on allowing the audience to participate and influence the show; Veteran podcaster DOT CANNON (“OVER COFFEE”) spoke on building a community with live events (and networking at other events by offering your services for free), guests, and listeners; and “COACHING THROUGH CHAOS” host Dr. COLLEEN MULLEN and NAB VP, Digital Marketing and podcaster GAGAN NIRULA offered their experiences and advice.