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Back in 2016, we featured an interview with Seth Resler, the “Digital Dot Connector” at Jacobs Media, in which Seth shared his thoughts about online strategies for radio stations (http://globalmediarcp.com/news/5-ish-questions-seth-resler). In the time since, Seth has continued to raise his profile as an expert on radio in the digital space, and has written many articles and spoken at many events about the subject. Now we are excited to have Seth back to chat with us in-depth about one of his favorite topics: podcasting. Podcasting has lately become of great interest to radio stations across all formats, so we hope you find Seth’s thoughts and advice helpful and interesting!

GM: When we last checked in with you over two years ago, I asked what you thought the digital future would bring for radio stations, and your number one answer was “Podcasting.” How has the podcasting scene changed over the past couple of years, and do you expect to see continued growth for the platform?

SR: Podcast growth continues to be slow but steady year over year. There have been a couple of notable developments in the last few years. First, Google, which had long neglected the podcasting space, formed a team dedicated to podcasting led by Zack Reneau-Weeden. He has correctly acknowledged that podcasts have been largely an iOS phenomenon, and that if Google successfully embraces the medium, podcast listening could double. So far, the company has introduced a contextual Android app called Google Podcasts. It hasn’t led to an explosion in podcast listening on Android devices yet, but hopefully the team will keep plugging away at it.

Second, radio broadcasting companies have awoken to and are showing enthusiasm for the podcasting space. Two years ago, Jacobs Media launched the Broadcasters Meet Podcasters track at the Podcast Movement conference. Dozens of radio broadcasters turned out this year. We’ve also seen radio companies like iHeart Radio, Entercom, Cumulus, Beasley, Hubbard, Cox, Corus, and others invest money or other resources into podcasting. While radio is still learning to navigate this space, they’re definitely getting involved.

GM: Podcasting was originally embraced more quickly by National Public Radio than by commercial stations (there are still dozens of podcasts produced by NPR), but are there now commercial stations finding success with their podcasts? Can you give us some examples of compelling commercial radio podcasts?

SR: I think public radio was so far ahead of commercial radio because it’s much easier to repurpose public radio’s content as podcasts. You don’t need to make a lot of changes to an episode of Car Talk or This American Life to make it suitable for download. But for commercial radio stations, which rely heavily on music that by and large can’t be included in podcasts, it’s much harder to adapt the on-air content for download. While there are stations repurposing their on-air content as podcasts, real success in this space is going to require most stations to develop content exclusively for podcasting.

A number of different radio stations are doing interesting things with podcasts. KSHE in St. Louis just launched a podcast that repackages interviews with famous rock artists from the archive they’ve built up over their 50-year history (https://www.kshe95.com/show/the-kshe-tapes/). Other stations have used podcasts as a way to take advantage of the expertise of somebody who is not a regular on-air personality. For example, at KNDD in Seattle, the morning show host, Gregr, teams up with Branden Griffith, who has experience as a scorekeeper for the Seattle Sounders Football Club, for a soccer podcast (https://1077theend.radio.com/podcast/full-90-extra-time). In Phoenix, on-air personalities from two different Hubbard radio stations, ALT AZ’s Ian Camfield and KUPD’s John Holmberg, team up to host a podcast together (http://98kupd.com/ian-camfields-morning-after-podcast-with-john-holmberg/). From mining a radio station’s history to offering interesting crossover opportunities, there are lots of ways for radio stations to take advantage of podcasts.

GM: Many of our readers are overseas, and may be wondering about the viability of podcasting in their countries. Have you seen podcasting take off internationally as it has in the US? Are there any major differences between the US and international podcasting markets?

SR: The U.S. definitely leads the world in podcast consumption. Libsyn, the largest podcast hosting company, reported that for June of 2018, 63.3% of their downloads occurred in the U.S. The U.K. and Canada were tied for number two with 5.3%, followed by 3.8% for Sweden and Australia, 2.4% for Germany, 1.2% for Japan, and 1.1% for France. Apple reports slightly different numbers with around 50% of downloads coming from the U.S.

There are other interesting differences. For example, in China, many podcasters charge money for access to their podcasts, whereas in the U.S., most podcasts are free and monetize through a sponsorship model.

 

GM: What are the primary ways that stations monetize their podcasts? In addition to cross-media partnerships and the like, what are some other non-standard ways that people are using to grow radio in a digital world?

SR: Frankly, most radio stations don’t monetize their podcasts yet. Most broadcasters gravitate towards a sponsorship/advertising model because that’s what they are familiar with. But a podcast needs to get at least 5,000 downloads per episode (some say 50,000) to attract interest from a national advertiser, and many radio podcasts fail to clear that bar. I think radio stations will eventually discover other ways to monetize podcasts, such as charging a subscription fee for access to the back catalog, ticketed live tapings, or selling merchandise.

I think there’s a lot of potential in branded podcasts: charging a company to make a podcast for them. For example, syndicated morning show personality Sheri Lynch co-hosts a podcast called Her Money with financial planner Kris Carroll (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/her-money-with-sheri-lynch-kris-carroll/id1148989597?mt=2). This helps Carroll market his business. I think radio stations could generate serious revenue by producing podcasts like these for local clients.

GM: How are smart speakers (Amazon’s Echo, etc.) and connected cars changing things for radio – especially on the podcasting front? Are there any stations that you think are using them particularly well, and if so, how so?   

SR: Overall, we’re seeing more audio consumption. Smart speakers have brought audio back into the home. Connected cars, on the other hand, are giving listeners easy access to far more content than just their local radio stations. For podcasts, I think the biggest opportunity smart speakers open up is for short, daily podcasts. For example, NPR produces Up First (https://www.npr.org/podcasts/510318/up-first), the New York Times produces The Daily (https://www.nytimes.com/column/the-daily), and ABC produces Start Here (https://abcnews.go.com/US/start-here-daily-podcast-abc-news/story?id=53908103), all of which are ideal for the smart speaker platform.

GM: What are a few pieces of advice that you would give to a radio group (or station) that is interested in breaking into the podcasting world? Are there any “dos and don’ts” that you can share from your experience?

SR: Get in the game now to learn while the stakes are low. Don’t focus on monetization or even growing a huge audience right now. Think of it as R&D – experiment to see what works and what doesn’t. I encourage stations to launch podcasts as “pilot seasons.” Instead of an open-ended commitment, focus on producing a finite number of episodes – say, 10 – and see how it goes. If it’s a success, come back for a second season. If not, tweak it or scrap it and try something different.

Thanks very much to Seth for his insight into the state of podcasting! If you’d like to learn more, you can reach Seth at Seth@JacobsMedia.com, or visit www.sethresler.com.