When the President of the United States takes time out of his schedule to do an interview for a podcast, it’s fairly safe to say that the medium is no longer a niche art. And while we know that awareness about podcasting seems to have exploded in recent years, an esteemed group of experts rebuke the notion that we’re in the midst of a podcast upwelling.
“There isn’t a podcast resurgence,” said Rob Walch, VP of Podcaster Relations at podcast hosting company Libsyn, during Nielsen’s Audio Conference in Washington, D.C., last week. “Rather, there’s been a podcast media coverage resurgence.”
Rob Greenlee, head of content at podcasting platform Spreaker, elaborated, saying that the podcast space has grown steadily over the past 11 years. And over that period, the medium has evolved from needing to be synched with a physical device to one that’s more about content and access. In short, tech advancements mean podcasters only need a voice and a desire to get their word out.
“Now, you can get to it easy, sync it and listen anywhere,” Greenlee said. “In the next phase, we’ll see it grow into homes and cars—and the phone will be the conduit for that.”
That growth is something that Rob Kass, VP of Product Leadership at Nielsen, says is going to continue, particularly as third-party measurement progresses and content creators look to monetize their efforts. And measurement plays a key role in the revenue aspect, which is why he says the digital audio realm—including podcasts—is a big part of the Total Audience picture.
“We can approach measuring digital audio like radio where we report average quarter hour, or we can report on a minute-by-minute level. So we’re really looking to the industry to give us guidance around what it wants and needs. It’s going to be a team effort, and Total Content Ratings is our goal.”
While traditionalists might view podcasts as being rivals of traditional radio, much of the panel on podcasting focused on ways that radio programmers can tap into the podcast growth stream, particularly as consumers become more embedded in on-demand media lifestyles.
“I am addicted to TV, but I haven’t had a cable subscription in five years,” said Seth Resler, Digital Dot Connector at Jacobs Media, who moderated the session. “Consumers are coming to expect on-demand in their video, and I don’t think audio is far behind. People will want to listen when, where and on what they want. Podcasting and on-demand audio fit that need.”
So how should radio programmers get started? Should they just start creating new content or should they start with what they’re already creating?
Rob McCracken, a director in the digital solutions group at Scripps Media, suggested that re-purposing and re-packaging existing content is a good first step for programmers. From there, they can think about broadening their horizons by creating content that on-air formats can’t accommodate, such as long-form segments.
In fact, length can play a big part of a podcast’s success. While many on-air radio segments are 10 minutes or less, Libsyn’s Walch noted that podcast listeners often like it longer, commenting that 65% of the most downloaded podcasts are 50 minutes or longer.
“The best thing about podcasting is that it can be anything,” Walch added. “Find something the host is passionate about and find an audience for it.”
In addition to stressing that podcasts can be a great creative outlet for on-air talent, the session zeroed in on an angle that’s currently not part of the podcasting landscape: engaging local listeners.
“There is a huge opportunity to create podcasts that can reach and appeal to a local audience,” said Spreaker’s Greenlee. “Podcasting right now is purely a global medium, but radio stations have the tools to make it a local medium.”
But before programmers start thinking about things like encoding, reach and monetization, the panel wholeheartedly agreed that planning and focus are critical in the quest for long-term success. They also acknowledged subtle misconceptions that can lead to poor execution.
“I emphasize that programmers need to have a digital strategy,” said Nielsen’s Kass. “That’s much different than having a digital presence.”