New York Public Radio is setting the standard for excellent online content creation these days with a slew of interesting, high quality new programs. Some, such as Radiolab, rank in the top ten most downloaded podcasts on iTunes, while others offer a remarkable host of guests and really great content that other broadcasters would do well to take a look at.
While there’s often debate about the quality of broadcasters’ online content offerings, such is not the case at WNYC.org. Each week, Alec Baldwin hosts Here’s The Thing, a weekly talk show in which Baldwin interviews well known and interesting people such as Billy Joel, George Will, David Letterman, Peter Frampton, Herb Alpert, Kathleen Turner – the list is interesting and impressive, as is the show.
WNYC also produces and airs Radiolab – the podcast of that program ranks third in the iTunes list of most downloaded podcasts. The show is so popular they even charge $2.99 for their mobile app. All of the programming that WNYC creates also becomes part of the NPR portfolio of content, along with content created by other stations such as All Things Considered, This American Life and Morning Edition.
It’s not news that NPR does an excellent job offering excellent news and talk programming to its audience. It’s an impressive online offering that would challenge anyone’s idea that podcasting is dead. As NPR could tell you, it’s alive and well on their platform…
70 million Americans have listened to or watched a downloaded podcast, according to a recently updated report by Edison Research: The Current State of Podcasting. That’s 23% of the population, a number that’s increased just one percent from a year ago.
Awareness of podcasting is sitting steady at 45%, up just slightly from last year’s 43%. That’s not the kind of growth that inspires hope that the medium will spread like wildfire. Podcast listening and/or viewing just hasn’t gone mobile – 71% of people who listen to podcasts do so on their desktop and that number has actually increased from last year, according to the study.
So while cell phone usage has soared, podcasting usage has gotten stuck on the desktop, which is one possible explanation for the stagnant growth of the audience. Smartphone streaming has made downloading audio files for listening on mobile phones unnecessary.
It looks like streaming is taking a bite out of podcasting at this point. Online radio’s audience is 70 million monthly (Arbitron/Edison’s Infinite Dial Study).
Podcast consumers tend to be early adopters and social networkers, according to the study. They tend to respond to sponsor ads – 71% said they had visited a website because of an ad they had seen or heard in a podcast.
With wifi and 3G, and soon 4G access more readily available to consumers who want to stream and listen on demand, it’s looking more and more like podcasting is an interim audio technology that has limited long term audience growth because it’s replaceable by audio streaming.
It happens – radio stations change formats and suddenly popular personalities are out of a job. And Arbitron’s new PPM audience measurement technology has caused station owners to take a harsh look at what’s working and what’s not. But that’s not all bad for several displaced radio personalities who have found that podcasting is a great way to reconnect with their audience directly.
Early last year CBSRadio changed the format of LA’s KSLX to all hits, and radio personality Adam Carolla was out of a job. By March, he was producing shows for downloads and making the top ten on iTunes. And in September he announced a partnership with CBSRADIO that had them promoting the show, handling ad sales and letting Carolla program his own Web radio station.
In Chicago CBSRadio took Steve Dahl off the air, following some format shifts in that market. Not long later, he was producing daily podcasts, this time in partnership with CBSRadio from the get-go.
Now we have displaced DC dj Mike O’Meara, who lost his gig at CBSRADIO owned WJFK when they switched programming to Sports Talk, and is generating 15,000 downloads a day with his weekday show. (Which doesn’t involve CBSRADIO apparently)
It turns out, personality driven radio makes for perfect podcast content. Radio personalities have fans and followers with strong affinities for their shows, which means they’ll go to the extra effort to subscribe, download and listen loyally. Personality driven podcasts are a nice enhancement for radio broadcasters to offer their listeners. The nature of podcasting means those listeners are registered, so it’s easy to target ads to them, and they’re engaged and loyal, which makes them very appealing consumers for advertisers.
As radio stations begin to understand that their broadcast is simply one distribution channel for their content, more and more will create ways to extend relationships with long time radio personalities, even if they’re off the broadcast dial. Podcasts are a good place to start.
Um, Mr. O’Meara? CBSRADIO called while you were out…
Wizzard Media, the largest podcast network, has made it easier for broadcasters to monetize podcasts with its newly announced partnership with Ando Media for ad measurement and ad insertion. Wizzard provides hosting and ad insertion services to podcast content providers, and broadcasts millions of podcast impressions each day. They currently distribute about a third of the top 400 podcasts on Itunes (the main source for podcast content).
“Podcast audiences comprise the smartest, most product-aware consumer demographic in the world, with most downloads passingthrough Apple’s iTunes service. We’re excited to work with Ando Media and their ad partners to target specific products to the right buyers,” said Wizzard CEO, Chris Spencer. Non-intrusive advertisements will be stitched to the beginning, middle or end of participating audio podcast programming in the Wizzard network that now includes over 17,000 content producers and over 1.2 billion download requests per year.
Interest in listening to podcasts is growing, according to research by Pew Internet and American Life Project. Nearly one out of every five adults (19%) have downloaded and listened to a podcast, and that number is up from 12% in 2006. (See chart from my earlier post here.) Wizzard Media hosts content and received an average of 2.75 million requests for podcast episodes per day in 2007, a nearly 300% increase over the daily average in 2006. WCBS sees 700-800,000 downloads a month and significant revenue from its podcast content. (reported earlier here.)
Podcasts are an excellent opportunity for broadcasters, who already produce lots of unique content, to connect with their audience in a highly engaging form. Because the listener selects, subscribes, and downloads the content to listen, the content-to-listener connection is greater. Podcasts should be sold as a more engaging, hyper-targeted medium. Distributors like Wizzard Media provide easy platforms for audio content to be distributed and monetized.
Because podcasts are downloaded onto a personal device before being listened to, the actual delivery of the commercial can’t be confirmed. This creates a challenge in a world where buyers are looking for actual delivery measurement, as they are with interactive media in general.
Volomedia has just launched a product that works with iTunes and appears to be able to deliver and confirm delivery of the podcast content beyond the download to the actual opening of the file. Assumably, once the file has been opened, the audio commercial has been delivered. This makes sense and seems acceptable.
The fact that the Volomedia plug-in will interface with iTunes is great news. ITunes is the main gateway to podcast content, generating the vast majority of the podcast download traffic that any content provider receives. But it’s been a struggle for those content providers to confirm that traffic and quantify delivery to advertisers – and therefore monetize their podcast content.
According to Volomedia, besides enhancing podcast advertising and audience measurement, the product has been built to enhance the podcast experience for consumers. Now, podcasts that contain the VoloMedia plug-in will feature three clickable buttons, identified as “Share,” “Bookmark” and “More” – which allow users to automatically spread podcast content much like they do with video content that is played via the Web. Since awareness of podcasting is still relatively low, this viral function could boost audience as well.
The revenue model for podcast content is different than that of Internet radio – we’re talking about a smaller but highly engaged audience. Fewer impressions, more targeted and more valuable. For more info on this read my post Podcasts Are Engaging. Volomedia’s ability to confirm delivery of the content and commercials should help publishers to monetize their podcast content.
There’s some debate as to whether podcasting – that is, the consumption of podcasts, is a significantly growing area worth investment of time by producers of audio content. Read Kurt Hanson’s summary of the debate here. I’d like to weigh in with some thoughts from a business perspective.
The appealing thing about podcasts is that they provide audio content that the listener controls. In order for a listener to want control over audio content it has to be good. It has to be good enough for me to want to download, sync, and carry along for times when I can’t listen live OR it has to be good enough for me to want to listen to it instead of what I can listen to live.
We live in an age where pursuit of and control over content is desirable. Podcasts are not mass marketing tools. But they are by nature highly engaging. The fact that I go to the effort to find, download and sync several podcasts on a weekly basis demonstrates that I am engaged with that content. Actively, not passively. Advertisers are looking for of engagement. So, podcasts are an opportunity for content producers to increase the effectiveness of a campaign.
Where’s the Money?
So what’s the revenue model? Audio ads must be embedded or stitched into the content. The Wall Street Journal podcasts open with a tease or headline after which the audio ad runs. This is ideal for the advertiser because they are within the actual content. There is some debate about whether a downloaded podcast equals a listen – since once it’s on my ipod no one actually can verify delivery of the ad impression. BUT ITunes cleans off podcasts I have listened to every time I sync. So if I subscribe but don’t listen, I do not continue to receive that podcast and count toward more and more impressions.
Podcasts are valuable for the degree of engagement that they have with the listener. It’s not about the number of listeners who are reached, but how they are reached. The business model for podcasts relies on understanding and selling through that value at higher cpms, either as standalone campaigns or blended with other station offerings. This gives advertisers exposure to the audience in a highly engaged format and can increase a campaign’s ROI. Which is of course the bottom line.