Weekly Roundup: Taking stock

Hello podheads, decided to take a short break last week. I spent the whole time watching the paint dry on my freshly painted wall. A terribly unexciting endeavor but a rewarding one nonetheless. Roundup #16. 

Podcasts to paid subscriptions

Whenever I read a sentence which has the words “podcasts” and “audience acquisition” in it, alarm bells go off in my mind. Digiday ran a piece last week titled “The Financial Times sees podcasts leading to paying subscribers“. Before you jump to any conclusions, this is not another one of those stories about a publisher betting on podcasts for salvation and deliverance. FT is one of the most successful publishers in the world and that’s saying something given the rising body-count of digital publishers. It is one of the few publishers to successfully transition from print to digital. 

It is soon set to hit 1 million subscribers and with more 3 quarters being digital subscribers. That’s an insane achievement. 

Coming back to the topic at hand – can podcasts be a source of paying subscribers? Well, that’s what the hope. 

“The majority of listeners to our current podcasts are not subscribers, but they are taking the time to spend 20 to 30 minutes a day on FT content,” said Alastair Mackie, head of audio for commercial at the Financial Times. “One of the challenges subscriptions businesses have is to engage people to the point where they convert. So to have a fertile hunting ground [for conversions] of highly engaged people, many of whom listen to 70-80 percent of the podcasts, is good.  You’ll see a lot more of us trying to refine that. There is a big opportunity in using it to drive subscriptions.”

Alastair Mackie, head of audio for commercial at the Financial Times

Now, it’s a good thing that FT isn’t viewing podcasts as a panacea for falling revenues and setting itself up for disappointment. This is one of the biggest mistakes of other publishers, most recently Buzzfeed which shut-down it’s in-house podcast operations. But converting engaged podcast listeners to subscribers is easier said than done. Nobody has demonstrated this successfully so far. Thriving podcast operations don’t mean an increase in paying subscribers and I think they should maybe disassociate themselves from the notion and look at podcasts as another medium to engage users. 

With a roster of 12 podcasts and 60% of the audience in the age group of 22-37 years, goldmine is an apt description. On the flipside, FT has proven its mettle by building a solid and thriving subscription driven publishing operation with an intense focus on continuous improvement. Its analytics team measures every single interaction on the site and in their quest to drive subscriptions and the numbers speak for themselves. If anyone can figure out the podcasts to paying subscribers puzzle, my money would be on FT. 

Also listen: Decoding the FT’s new audio documentary.

Skip that shit!

Steven Goldstein‏, CEO of Amplifi Media published a post which shows that podcast listeners don’t like long starts in their podcasts. Apparently, people are skipping these segments straight into the meat of the podcast. There are plenty of podcasts that have intros between 2-5 minutes and in this digital world, that’s an eternity. 

TV to podcasts

While podcasts being adapted to TV shows and movies is the trend in the US, it’s the opposite in the UK. TV show production and distribution company Fremantle announced the launch of a new podcast label called Storyglass

Created as a partnership between Fremantle’s Shotglass label in the UK and the company’s Global Drama division, the new label will commission and develop original scripted ideas from a range of storytellers from around the world.

That’s an excerpt from the company’s release. Storyglass will be launching with two projects: Baby, It’s Cold Outside a show about a man’s struggle with homelessness produced in association with the homeless charity CRISIS and Director’s Cut (w/t) a dark comedy set on a haunted film set. 

A Digiday piece notes that the shows will have a distribution window on Acast where they’ll be monetized through ads before they are opened up on other platforms. 

Ultimately, Fremantle, part of RTL Group, will try to take some of these podcasts to TV. “There’s a quiet intention there to look for and test material to grow into screen formats, but we want them to first have success on their own terms,” said Delamere. He pointed out that it’s not yet proven, particularly in the U.K., that there’s a viable audience for scripted drama podcasts.

This makes a lot of sense and I am really curious to see how this turns out. 

Also Read: Why Amy Schumer—and Everybody Else—Wants Their Own Podcast

On a side note, Spotify for podcasts is getting popular. Here are searches for Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Pocketcasts, and Castbox

Continuing with the TV theme, Travis Andrews, the pop culture reporter at The Washington Post published a piece analyzing the success of Homecoming

Alexa, what’s in the news? umm…I don’t care! 

Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism published a study of voice controlled devices and their implications for news. The bottom line of the study is that users aren’t big fans of listening to news on smart speakers. 

The Future of Voice and the Implications for News by Nic Newman

Although the report focussed on the implication of smart speakers on new, it did have some interesting data points and mentions of podcasts. Here are the highlights: 

  1. 14% of US, 10 of UK and 5% of German adults now own a smart speaker. 
  2. A majority of users expressed high levels of satisfaction with the devices. 32% of UK based users have bought additional devices. 69% of uses said they they would be willing to upgrade devices when necessary. 
  3. Smart speakers are most popular in the age group of 35-44.
  4. Just 1% of users said that news was the most important function of the device compared with 61% who said it was playing music. 

The bottom line for podcasts is that not a lot of users are consuming them on smart speakers but the report does find that organizations are devoting resources to creating them. Here are the podcast related highlights:

We also find that podcasts do not yet attract significant usage on smart speakers (15% UK,22% US). Some consumers are unaware that podcasts are available or how to ask for them, while others prefer to consume them on the go (e.g. while commuting, exercising). Speakers are often in the wrong room, they say, or podcasts are too personal to share with family.

  1. Radio native broadcasters are repacking radio news bulletins as podcasts in a bid to secure an early mover advantage. These players are now starting to create custom content. 
  2. Newspapers wary of spending are investing in daily current affairs podcasts. 
  3. Users are more likely to listen to podcasts later during the day. 
  4. Younger audiences, especially  25– 34-year-olds are more likely to listen to podcasts. 
A example of an usage pattern of a smart speaker owner

The study also found that technological and content limitations had restricted publisher to 4 formats: news briefings, live streams and podcasts, Q&A, and interactive experiences. 

The study had a section which anaylzed why podcasts weren’t a big hit on smart speakers. 

Podcasts are used less in smart speakers than one might expect and much less than live radio.Our survey shows that just 15% of smart speaker owners in the UK and 22% in the US say theyhave accessed a podcast in the last month. Publishers told us that typically only around 1–5% ofpodcast listening was typically coming from smart speakers.

  1. Smart speakers are currently disproportionally owned by older people, podcasts are much more likely to be used by under 35s.
  2. The discovery of podcasts can be challenging. Users are not aware of the commands to use or whether they need to install a special app.
  3. Podcasts are often niche and personal. They don’t always work within a shared space at home.
  4. The majority of podcast listening is out of home (when commuting, exercising, etc.) where smart speakers are not relevant.
  5. Even at home, the smart speaker is often in the wrong room for podcasts (e.g. the bedroom rather than kitchen). They are not portable.• The speaker is often not of a good enough quality when compared with the hi-fi already in the living room.

The report is a treasure trove of data and smart speakers are well on their way to becoming a vital part of people’s media diet. 

For heavy users, voice is now the first and final contact point with technology (often replacing the smartphone or radio in the bedroom). This suggests that voice could become a critical gateway to media going forward.

That’s a rather surprising find from the report. If you are at all interested in the future of podcasts and the role of podcasts, I’d highly recommend you check out the full report

To add on, this recode piece on smart speakers has lot of interesting data points. 

Until we invent something that wouldn’t be possible without voice, we’re just repurposing online content for our ears.

Diversity in podcasts

Good news! Podcast listeners are becoming more diverse. The good folk at Edison Research published new data on the ethnic makeup of podcast listeners. Here’s the slide with the good news:

Podcasting and race: the state of diversity in 2018

Popculture moment for podcasts

You know something is in vogue when SNL decides to make fun of it. Well looks like podcasting is in the big leagues because here’s SNL’s awesome parody of podcasting. 

But…what does this mean for the image of podcasts? Here’s an interesting opinion by Steven Goldstein. 

In the spotlight

Google in partnership with PRX had announced the Google Podcasts Creator Program in October. The goal of the program was to increase the diversity of voices in podcasts by providing intensive training and seed funding. Here’s a Q&A about the program with Kerri Donahue (Director of Training, PRX) and Zack Reneau-Wedeen (Product manager of Google Podcasts).  


Techcrunch media columnist Eric Peckham who wrote this awesome post a while ago on the future of podcasts compiled this super reading list on all things podcasting.

The legendary Terry Gross, host of NPR’s Fresh air offers tips on having better conversations.

An analysis of the October Podtrac numbers by Rainnews

Micheal Mignano, CEO of Anchor clarifies the company’s terms of service in this post.

Amira Valliani unpacks the idea of a Netflix for podcasts


The duopoly of Facebook and Google have been a nightmare for digital publishers. Depending on the estimate, Google and Facebook capture between 60% to 90% of all digital spends. They have played a huge role in the demise of countless publishers, both print and digital. Today a single algorithm change from either of them can potentially mean publishers going out of business. 

Jesse Knight, the former CTO of Vice Media, published a piece in Neiman Lab on why it is time for publishers to adopt a common publishing platform. In the piece, he provides a lay of land of the biggest players in content management systems (CMS). He touts a lot of benefits such as the ability to block ad-blockers, withstand changes from Google SEO and others. But I think this is the overarching pitch – fight the duopoly.

If media could consolidate around a common publishing platform, it would allow players of all sizes to cut costs as well as better compete against Facebook as a media union, taking action collectively, and once and for all addressing their biggest revenue challenges.

Well, this whole piece has a the feel of an idealistic manifesto. But stranger things have happened in world. 

Coincidentally, Jonah Peretti, the CEO of Buzzfeed in an interview with New York Time nonchalantly suggested a series of mergers with the top 5-6 digital publishers as a solution for all the ills that plague digital publishers. 

Such an utterance would have been considered as blasphemy 4-5 years ago when all these digital publishers on a venture capital money induced high. Several fire sales, write-offs, and restructurings later, the tune, tone, and tenor have completely changed. 

Adversity has a truly funny of forcing people to reckon with issues. 

Well, making predictions is always a fool’s errand. But true to the proverbial Chinese curse, we truly live in interesting times. 

Posted by Bhuvanesh

A podcast junkie on a mission to make podcasts great.

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