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We’re Entering the Era of Big Podcasting (vulture.com)
61 points by imartin2k 63 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 70 comments



Has anyone here listened to the newest episode of Startup? https://gimletmedia.com/shows/startup/6nhr5r/our-company-has...

Listening to that has made me doubt that we're in the era of "big podcasting."

Here's a quote from Alex Blumberg:

"Just nine months earlier, we at Gimlet raised a big round of funding, 15 million dollars. The plan was to invest a lot of that into making more shows, hiring more people. We wanted that big chunk of money to last for a while: two and a half years. Meaning, we wanted to burn about 6 million a year. But at this meeting, Jim is telling us that right now in early 2018, it's looking like we're going to burn a lot more than that: 10-11 million a month."

He goes on to explain why:

"And that's because a lot of the things we assumed would happen, didn't. We assumed audiences would grow, but instead they plateaued. Our launches had not done as well as they had in the past. And some of our biggest shows, with the largest audiences, still weren't making money because we couldn't sell ads on them."


There biggest issue was that all of their podcasts are expensive and overproduced while the most profitable podcast are unscripted, with interesting hosts. Relay FM isn’t struggling and the most popular Apple related podcasts - The Talk Show and ATP bring in enough money for their hosts to make a good living.


Yeah it's kind of a stretch to call some of them podcasts. They are basically radio shows.


Oh wow, I'll have to listen to this episode! I love when a podcast can go in depth to business going-ons.

Speaking of burning cash, the thing that baffles me about the investment in podcasts is the immaturity of the revenue stream. I'm a heavy podcast listener, but I'm only going to buy so many Casper mattresses, quip toothbrushes, and FreshDirect meal services in a year. It's always amazing when podcast episodes don't even post their promo codes with their episode descriptions. The likelihood that I will purchase something from a podcast episode is 1%, but the likelihood that I will retrace through the episode, pinpoint the ad read, and use the promo code that is also available online from 100 other sources is .001%.

For anyone keeping track, the number of mattresses, electric toothbrushes, and meal delivery services I have used in 2019 is 0.


They list 30 shows on their site [0].

Wildly assume the number of shows in that list that aren’t being produced anymore (but are still creating revenue) is equal to the number of shows they’re currently paying to produce, but haven’t released.

How do you spend $4M+ every year per podcast?

And not to take anything away from them or their valuation—the ongoing value of the library they’re creating and IP they can license is huge—just want to understand the expense side.

[0] https://gimletmedia.com/shows


> How do you spend $4M+ every year per podcast?

I mean the same way any big company blows unfathomable amounts of money. Too many people doing too little (or doing the wrong things), paying too much to consultants/outside agencies, thinking the money will never stop flowing.


>And some of our biggest shows, with the largest audiences, still weren't making money because we couldn't sell ads on them.

Maybe I'm just thinking about this whole thing in too simplistic a fashion, but if the content is such that you can't make money on a podcast, why exactly are you spending money on producing it?


Because you can dump the company on Spotify for $200m before running out of runway.


Many of the bigger German podcasters earn finance their podcasts entirely without ads by their listener’s contributions. The podcasts are usually people talking about topics they really enjoy with people they like.

Why do people do open source software for free at times?


A lot of podcasters make money off of live shows and merchandise too.

If they had a large, devout audience, but couldn’t make money, it seems their main issue was relying on the wrong form of monetization.


It's an interesting episode, and I've really enjoyed the previous Gimlet seasons' candor. He discusses part of the solution in that episode, though. Many of the really huge podcasts have much lower production costs, because they're just a compelling host (or small group of hosts) and they don't take a ton of time or money to make.


He also mentioned that its hard to compete on cost. The podcast audience is still growing, but its hard to compete on cost when Gimlet's series tend to have very high production values, often involving a team doing research and information gathering for months before releasing a season.

Meanwhile, theres been a lot more big podcast that basically just bank on the personality of the host (e.g. Joe Rogan's) that can pretty much cost nothing to produce, and can churn out episodes after episodes talking about random stuffs.

Bummer though, coz I enjoy Gimlet's model of podcast a lot more.


High production values fail to compete with serviceable amateur content.

Sounds like the porn business when digital video got decent.


Great episode, but I thought it was 10-11 million a year


Spotify agreed to buy Gimlet for $230 million.


We'll know we hit big podcast when they take away the 'skip forward 15 seconds' button. Advertisers will demand this like they did with video.


I'd be interested to see stats on how often people skip over the ads during a podcast. I admit I do occasionally, but most of the time when I'm listening to a podcast I'm simultaneously doing something - like driving, exercising, mowing the lawn - that makes it inconvenient open my phone, navigate to to the app, and press the skip button a few times. Coupled with the fact that the adds are generally not too long, I don't find it to be too intrusive to the episode.


It’s probably one of the best features having an Apple Watch: flick of the wrist, couple of taps, bye bye ad. If I had to pick up my phone, I probably wouldn’t skip the ads, either.


Depending on your podcast player, what would be "next track" in a music app is "skip N seconds." I double tap my headphones and skip the ad.

It doesn't work in the basic Apple podcasts app, but that app stinks and Pocket Casts is now free to use.


Oops, sorry; yeah, I forgot to specify the app being Overcast. Though without firing up the machinery to confirm, I believe on the watch it's just using Apple's Now Playing? Or maybe not. Anyway, to be specific, on the Apple watch there are buttons on either side of play/pause; one goes back 30 seconds, one goes forward.


Overcast is an interesting case study on optimizing for listeners vs. creators.

The app developer, Marco Arment, is also co-host of Accidental Tech Podcast. One cool feature in Overcast is chapter markers: You can embed ID3v2 chapter frames in your RSS feed's MP3 files indicating when different segments start. This lets the listener jump between segments, it's a pretty slick experience.

Unsurprisingly, ATP uses this functionality. Advertising chapters are labelled as such, but the timecodes are always deliberately skewed so that skipping to the next chapter after an ad still gives you the last 15 seconds or so of the ad read.

I suppose this is a slightly better user experience than disabling the Skip Next button altogether on an ad segment, but it still irks me to be on the losing end of a conflict of interest.

...says the guy (me) complaining about a free podcast being played in a free podcast app.


Even as I typed my follow-up, I was thinking, "ya know, I wouldn't put it past Arment to just replicate the Now Playing UI and then season to taste." So, yeah, bad example.

a free podcast app

Arment's attention to little details is one of the reasons I <cough> paid whatever trivial amount he wants for an app I use daily. ;-)


Does anything besides Overcast actually respond to chapter markers?

...says the guy (me) writing a self-hostable podcast platform.


Apparently I was wrong about how podcast chapters are embedded: It's not in the RSS feed itself but encoded as ID3v2 tags in the MP3 file.

Apple Podcasts added support in iOS 12, here's a Google Sheet of the rest: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1c2L14UVH1xtN4iDG4awh...


Dunno about the watch, but in Pocket Casts +30 works with CarPlay and my car's physical controls.


I think that's one of the reasons NPR bought Pocket Casts - to get this data. Where are users skipping? When are they dropping out of a podcast? Etc.

Personally I skip forward past ads all the time.

I have half a mind to write a podcast player that skips ads for me. It doesn't feel like an insurmountable problem.


Should always have access to the volume or mute/unmute button. Then give yourself 15 seconds of silence. Check if ad is still going and if so give yourself another 15 seconds of silence. Recollect your thoughs during the silence.


The next button on my steering wheel maps through bluetooth to skip ahead in my podcast app. So even driving isn't immune.


Yeah, agreed. They don't seem as unwelcome as other ad forms.


What podcasts do you listen to? I’ve never encountered one with advertisements. Well I guess hardcore history does. But the rest don’t, they’re all on Patreon.


App idea:

Community-run data API for podcasts that people mark the beginning and end of audio ads. This way most of the community can skip them.


This already exists for YouTube videos (it's called SponsorBlock). It is available as a browser extension that skips them automatically for you.

I think it would be harder with podcasts because of the diversity of available podcast players.


Dynamic Ad Insertion wreaks havoc with this. Podcast eps can have different lengths and segments can have different start times depending on the ad profile of the listener.

And that's just at a single point in time: It's not uncommon for episodes to be re-edited and re-uploaded, or ads to be changed up (with different lengths) over time.


i miss analog buttons so much...


I remember when the folks at TWiT were still trying to make "netcasts" happen and shared they had hit over $1 million in revenue and it feeling like the medium was going big. Pretty crazy to look at the numbers 10 years later and seeing how much further it's all come.


I did like their term of "netcast" because podcasts grew way beyond the iPod. But like with many terms nowadays it seems Podcast was the one to catch on as the generic term. Leo Laporte even mentioned that they gave up on "netcast" because it was obvious it would never happen and it was causing a lot of confusion with new listeners.


the mechanical cash register sound effect is still used to represent money in media despite the fact that the kids these days have never seen a mechanical cash register and have no reason to be able recognize that sound from real life.


I’m 38 and I doubt I’ve ever seen a “cha-ching” style cash register in active use either. Didn’t those get phased out in like the 60s?

Maybe when you say “kids” you’re talking about me though!


I didn't mean "kids these days" to be taken exactly literally. I'm not at all sure in which decade digital cash registers became overwhelmingly common.


I wonder what percentage of the world's population was born after new computers stopped shipping with 3 1/2" drives. Probably at least 25%.


The one that comes to mind for me is the floppy disk icon for Save.


and it's called "floppy" even though they weren't "floppy" anymore!

And we still call "hard drive" that because they weren't floppy even while floppies weren't floppy!

And we call it a "drive" after the tape drive motor from reel-to-reel tape storage!


The actual magnetic media encased within the hard plastic 3.5" shell was "floppy".


One of the things I like most about Podcasts is that they don't overtake my time. They are just interesting enough without being too involving. Games, TV shows and books seem able to really grip my attention and displace everything else including sleep, but podcasts not so much.


I hadn't realized this, but it's so true. Thanks for the insight.


I have noticed this as well. I keep a set of "mildly interesting" podcasts for when I want to occupy mind enough to help me fall asleep, usually on airplanes.


You're right. It's the perfect form of media in terms of consumption addiction. It's completely opt in, and easily opted out of.

I wonder what we can learn from that.


I’m a longtime podcast listener. The podcasting world did change a lot. The last two years the companies I’ve worked for both decided that it would be a great idea to release something for marketing purposes.

The reason why podcasting works was because it was its own little internet within the internet. People with great stories, content that was just different en often more specific and niece then sites and video.

We’ll see where it’s going to end up, but I do worried about the current fight of who is going to be the podcasting platform. The power for me was the sense of independence the creators had making it feel more like a labor of love then a marketing machine.

Some of my current favorites:

S-town: powerful storytelling, makes you wonder how much power the storyteller has. It’s a non fiction story about an interesting individual, explaining more would be a spoiler.

White vault: thriller show, starts off a bit clunky with the voice acting. But as a horror lover the story itself is well written and it just works so well as a podcast.

Benjamin walkers - theory of everything: it’s on a league of its own. The creator is just as historied as the brains behind the npr and gimlet podcasts. It’s interesting because you start to understand that the lines between what is truth and what is fake is so thin. I think there is even an episode over this exact subject.

The big loop: great fiction storytelling most similar to the truth podcast but it takes more tune to tell the story, the little bit of extra space give the story a much deeper dimension.

Darknet diaries: fiction podcast about hackers, gentle deep dive in the hacker world with some amazing stories. The author really does understand the world and you just feel the amount of research that goes into each episode.


For Darknet Diaries I think you meant “non-fiction”! Those are true stories! (I love this podcast as well)


The thing about Darknet Diaries... the host, intentionally or not, imitates Ira Glass to even the level of his verbal ticks. It's so close a match that it's creepy.

I wondered if "Jack Rhysider" might actually be Ira Glass, so I google image'd him. Try it -- he has somehow polluted google images with his name such that google images shows myriad different faces to his name. Cool trick -- not sure how he managed it.


> he has somehow polluted google images with his name such that google images shows myriad different faces to his name

I don't think he had to do anything, I have a rather unique name, yet Google also shows a bunch of faces. I think it's the algorithm detecting that you're search for a person, and therefore shows you faces. If there aren't enough photos of you, it'll show other results.


Love Benjamin Walker’s Theory of Everything as well. Regarding how the podcasts trend will end up, honestly I think big players will try to bring it to the lowest common denominator and will make money but the original imtimate niche type of podcasts will stay the same, labor of love type of thing with various levels of financial success..


Yet the user experience is a mess.

Podcasts need to be published on so many different platforms manually. Ratings and reviews appear to be non-existant outside of the Apple ecosystem. You still can't export your subscriptions from some major applications, and good luck exporting your listening history from any.

I feel like creating something 10x better is such a low hanging fruit, I'm surprised nobody has done it. Make a player that syncs across devices and platforms, exports/imports to/from other podcast apps/platforms (using scraping if necessary), aggregates and gather reviews, provides a basic recommendation system, allows subscribing to keywords (people, topics), etc. If it supports audio books, YouTube subscriptions (those channels with long talks and conversations and lectures that aren't strongly visual), and saved bookmarks/Pocket/Evernote article via text-to-speech, that's even better.

When I commute, walk, exercise, cook, wash dishes, stretch, brush my teeth, take a shower, do laundry, mow the lawn, shovel snow, stop looking at a screen and go to bed 1h before sleep, I want to hit play and be fed a customized audio diet.


I think some of the shortcomings you point out, such as listening history sync and export to other apps, are caused by lack of financial incentives. Sync is a feature a lot of users would pay for (see Pocket Casts and PlayerFM). Export listening hisotry would just allow for other apps to take over their user base, though I think Podcasts Addicts has such a feature for backup/restore purposes.

As for reviews, podcasts are so decentralized that I'm not sure where one would start with aggregating reviews. And smaller apps probably don't want to deal with the trouble of moderating ratings and reviews on their own platform. See: https://www.theverge.com/2019/8/28/20835812/podcast-review-b...


Only one platform matters - Apple’s directory. Most other independent podcast players use Apple’s free API to their directory.

And, in this case, Apple is on the side of the angels. They don’t rehost your audio or your RSS feed. They simply index it for search.

Also, their is a standard for importing and exporting subscriptions - OPML. Overcast uses it.


I think you would love PocketCasts.


Thanks for the recommendation. For others looking, I was very happy with DoggCatcher for many years on Android, and am moderately happy with Downcast on iOS now. Downcast does offer iCloud sync with multiple switches for various settings you wish to sync, and import/export (terrible name for something that makes me happy, tho).

The thing that I liked about DoggCatcher is that, as I remember (beyond usual features like search and discovery) it was relatively easy to hook it up to whatever source you wanted. I had lectures in a Dropbox link, and I could point DoggCatcher at the folder and it would pick up my audio files, while being seamlessly integrated with “normal” podcast feeds.


This exists, several times over. I use Podcast Addict.


Maybe selection bias, but as a long time podcast listener, ever since the medium exploded, I've noticed more and more old podcasts that predate popularity surge getting canned. Creators that regularly cast for years fail to pivot to monetization their passion into a career, get demotivated and burn out. Maybe they're losing ears to plateuing audience and ad money to competitors. Maybe they're just getting old, starting families, have busy careers. Kind of a bummer either way, patronage is good for the arts to a degree, but extrinsic motivation (money) is also less resilient than internal motivation (passion). Also I miss quirky geocities pages.


To be honest, I can't comment on if there's a "big era of podcast" ahead. But I live in a non English speaking country, and what I'm observing is that podcasts _are_ percolating the news, specially in HN, that's where I consume quality content.

I had recently, after getting tired of listening to music on my commute (A 12 minute bike ride, or a 25 minute walk) from home to work started to listen to podcast that I find normally here (My other source of content is reddit, but the quality is not the same).

What I see, is that usually what gets named is really, really good; or at least very interesting. the other thing that I like a lot is that the duration of the episodes is more or less my commute. If it were longer I'd have the possibility of listening to a couple of them, or listening to a longer episode. When I tried to consume podcasts before they were always long, and that was annoying because they demand too much attention from you, and the UX of a podcast is not the same as television.

I wont provide links but as probably is going to be asked I'll provide the episodes that got me hooked on different podcasts:

"This American Life": Episode about a guy and his years long enterprise of outrunning an antelope.

"Planet Money" and the Indian non-cash experiment.

"99% invisible" and an interview with the writer of "Invisible women" a book about gender bias in daily life (This one was so good that made me scream in anger several times in the street!)

Sorry but I don't remember much about another one, that was about a dirty cop that decided to go live in the wild because he was going to jail, and ended up living alone for more than 20 years (And hr got pardoned when he turned himself up)


> But I live in a non English speaking country, and what I'm observing is that podcasts _are_ percolating the news

Sorry but my comment is crap here. This 2 ideas are separated one from the other. I live on a non english speaking country so I can comment on that (The big era thing).

But even then, all the rest and blah blah blah. sorry about my lack of writing skills (And proofreading).


Gimlet is interesting because it was a successful startup - start, get some investment, big exit for the investors and presumably founders. I suspect its shows are expensive because (for a time, still?) it's a core of former NPR people and NPR does a lot of production.

Other podcast networks like 5by5 have mostly withered to one or two successful shows, though that example is due to a shift of focus from podcasting to providing tools for aspiring podcasters (Fireside). Kind of like running the general store in a gold rush town.


Here's a great podcast by the creator of Javascript Jabber, Ruby Rogues (and ton of other popular ones) on the Future of Podcasting:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=eaPmW2O5o1c (video version)

Or audio version:

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/podcasting-adventures-...


The sad reality is anything that is funded through advertising is going to hit plateaus in the coming years. We've just been oversaturated with it, its become a burning pot for companies to throw money into with no ability to properly attribute it. I can't remember _ever_ buying something as a direct result of advertising.


That isn't the point of (most) advertising. The point is to get the brand or product into your mind and make it familiar. That way, when you are in the market for Product X, you'll think of Brand Y due to their podcast ads.


I don't really understand how there is a future for ads in podcasts. All the UIs have +30/-15 buttons making it trivial to skip the ads. Unless my hands are full I always skip them.


What I struggle to see about this new era of podcasting is: why now?

Would someone with more insight help me to understand?


The radio to podcast transition is an S-curve driven by smartphone adoption.

There is a slight offset from the smartphone adoption curve because you need a bigger market to support niche productions long enough to work out enough standard formats that it can be easily replicated in non-niche segments.

Once you have non-niche shows that are nicely formatted, and you’re past the tipping point for smartphones, the curve stands up.


Really? I think we're exiting the era of podcasting at this point. Both my wife and I switched to audiobooks a couple of years ago. We mostly get audiobooks from our local library. What's not available there we get on Audible. If you're going to spend the time, might as well spend it on something better than instantly obsolete drivel made up on the spot.


Podcasts are great. I think Michael Lewis has really nailed the niche.




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