(By Ryan Wrecker) There’s a misperception that producing digital audio is only “worth it” if thousands of people are ready to consume it, but that way of thinking has become antiquated. Many talents justify their passion for producing digital content with an “If you build it, they will come” philosophy, but for our own sake, we need podcasting to become so much more.
“If you look at Edison, they say 57 million people downloaded a podcast in July 2016,” says Bryan Moffett, GM of NPR’s sponsorship division. “That’s about 36 percent of Americans. Over half know what podcasts are and are familiar with the term. There’s a pretty big gap right there who know what it is, but haven’t been doing it.” And Moffett projects the digital space will grow even more.
Think about the investments broadcast operations have made in podcasting. Hubbard Radio invested in PodcastOne (over 100 million weekly listeners), E.W. Scripps purchased Midroll (a podcast advertising network) and Stitcher (ondemand Internet radio and podcasting service), and now larger digital companies are getting into the podcast game.
Moffett says, “Look at Spotify, Google, Pandora, Audible … a lot of these big companies are about to make big bets on spoken word, and put it in front of a whole lot of people. I think that’s going to be the fuel that closes that gap.” And he thinks it will happen very quickly.
Radio’s going to play a role in closing that gap, too. The more we talk about podcasting and regularly create content, the more our listeners will start to use the medium regularly. If Spotify can convert just 10 percent of its 85 million current users to press play on a podcast, it will be a big win for the medium.
Radio is also playing a part: If the radio industry, which reaches 93 percent of the U.S. population, can convince a small portion of its 243 million weekly listeners to listen to a podcast, it would be an enormous influx of people to an audio medium that’s aligned with our identity as an industry.
Lex Friedman, EVP of sales and development for Midroll, looks back fondly on the company’s acquisition. “P&G wasn’t taking calls from podcast companies,” he says. “But they take calls from E.W. Scripps.” As you can imagine, it’s been a win for both sides.
We’ve recently learned that Nielsen will allow up to 16 PPM devices in a single household — something that has many wondering if the methodology is entirely trustworthy. But in the digital realm, we have accurate metrics: We know how many people visit our website, we know how many people watch our videos, and we know how many downloads our podcasts are getting. It’s not perfect, but it’s being perfected.
Podcast advertisers are satisfied customers because they have both data and results. Friedman says, “What happens when you’re in the car and an ad comes on? The reflex is to jab at the preset buttons … it’s the curse of the industry. With podcasts, we already have a leg up because it’s the host’s voice. You’re going to hear the same voice.”
Also, while you might have only a few hundred people listening to your podcast at first, those people are extremely engaged listeners. Pat Flynn is an American entrepreneur, blogger, and podcaster via his SmartPassiveIncome.com website. He already had an audience that followed him through his blog, and as he described his growth on the podcast, it was clear that it’s the same story many radio podcasters could tell. “The thing I realized with the podcast specifically is that people start to build this real relationship,” he said. “People always say, ‘Pat, I feel like I know you.’ Nobody said that from the years of blogging that I’ve done.” So Flynn doubled his output and now has one of the most listened-to podcasts in his genre.
If you’re discouraged, or if your talent thinks it’s not worth their time, you can change that perspective. Flynn says, “Imagine a room of 500 people, and you’re the one they’re all listening to … not just once, but weekly or however you podcast. That’s powerful.” Now imagine if your sales manager could give a pitch to 500 active listeners, and every week you could deliver another 500 people to listen to another pitch. I’m sure you can monetize that much attention for a client. As Midroll’s Friedman says, “I try to hammer our advertisers that these are some of the only ads left that people aren’t ignoring.”
A podcast download is your opportunity to deliver extremely engaged listeners on a regular basis, and you can put a premium on that and let the results speak for themselves. Once you realize the value of a single download, you’ll start to realize the full potential of this new medium. If nothing else, do it because it’s what your audience expects of your station and the talent.
Ryan Wrecker programs WOWO Radio in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for Federated Media. You can reach him on Twitter @RyanWrecker or email him at RyanWrecker@gmail.com