I spoke today at Podcast Day 24, a big online podcast event that spread across Australasia, Europe and North America, and as the name suggests, ran for 24 hours!
My piece was on Podcast Trends, and is a bit of an update of something that I delivered back in 2019 when the last physical event took place.
I promised viewers on the Podcast Day 24 stream that I would share all my slides on my website, and I believe that the organisers will – in due course – make my video available. I will also share that at some point.
In the meantime, I hope that this is useful. I’ve also included my loose “script” for the slides below the embedded presentation. It should be downloadable via LinkedIn as a PDF.
(If the LinkedIn embed above is a bit finicky, then click through to my post over on LinkedIn. The presentation can be downloaded as PDF either by putting it into fullscreen mode and looking for the download link at the top right, or grabbing a copy from Google Drive).
Hi, I’m Adam Bowie, Business Development Manager at the BBC World Service. And this is my Top 10 Podcast Trends in 10 Minutes!
At the BBC World Service, we produce a wide range of podcasts in a multitude of languages including the massive popular Global News Podcast, 13 Minutes to the Moon and most recently, the excellent Lazarus Heist.
I’m here, live on tape from my living room, with a proper podcast microphone and everything!
I’m going to spend the next ten minutes running you through the trends I’ve been looking at in podcasting over the last year or so.
Everyone watching today knows that podcasting and audio in general is fast moving at the moment, so this is only a top ten, and not a definitive list!
There are sources for everything on the slides, and I’ll have a link at the end if you want to download the deck.
With that – let’s get started.[‘Pick of the Pops’ audio briefly plays…]
I’m sorry! That’s copyright music, and as we all know, there’s basically no good way to have commercial music in podcasts.
Before we get into our top ten, a word on internet consumption. I know that today’s event is very much a European/North American/Australasian event, but while most of us in those parts of the world have had internet access for as long as we remember, that’s not true for everyone.
The International Telecommunication Union – or ITU – says that by 2019, 51% of the world’s population had access to the internet. And while that will have no doubt increased in 2020, that 51% represents around 4 billion people. That also means that around 4 billion people don’t have access to the internet yet, never mind have access to podcasts.
We’ve still got an enormous mountain to climb.
But let’s get onto the first trend in our top ten…
10. Android v iOS
There are around 4.9 billion mobile phones in use globally. (As a reminder, the population of the world is something like 7.7 billion people)
Of those, around 3.8 billion are smartphones.
If you’re into podcasting, broadly speaking, that’s our addressable audience.
And despite what you may see amongst your peer groups or in your country, most of those phones are Android phones. And that’s a consistent proportion.
That remains important, because it doesn’t really reflect most podcast consumption stats.
Which brings us to number 9…
9. Apple v Spotify v Everyone else
The platform “battle” is often described as Apple v Spotify.
And lots of people are producing lots of stats.
I suggest you be a little wary of both these things.
While Apple and Spotify probably are the two biggest platforms, it will depend very much where in the world you are. South Korea? Probably not. Nigeria? Probably not. The UK? Hello BBC Sounds. You see what I mean?
Here are two sets of numbers that Podnews referenced recently. The first is from Libsyn, the long-standing podcast host who regularly update us with stats on their own The Feed podcast. They show Apple Podcasts way out ahead…
Then there is Buzzsprout, another podcasting host who provide some completely different figures…
A recent edition of the Podnews newsletter dove into those numbers, and found that because they look at things slightly differently you can’t easily compare them. But even then, they probably have different types of podcasts hosted on their platforms.
So the things to note here are that:
- Different sources provide different numbers, and they aren’t really comparable.
- Apple Podcasts probably still is the leading platform… (although there will definitely be places where that’s not true)
- But more people use Android phones, and Apple Podcasts isn’t available on Android … at least not yet
- And finally a thought. If Google were to bundle Google Podcasts into their “Google Mobile Services” it would appear by default alongside apps like Gmail and Google Maps on billions of smartphones. This is something they’ve not done. But I guess they could…
8. There are many podcasts
Well it depends…
According to Podcast Industry Insights, as of the date of recording, there were just short of 2.2m podcast series on Apple Podcasts. That number will have gone up by now.
Those series represent around 52 million podcast episodes.
Podcast Industry Insights reckon only around 35% are still active (based on new episodes in the last 90 days).
And obviously this ignores any podcasts not on Apple – a growing number as we shall see later.
But does the actual number matter?
How many songs does Spotify have? Does it make a difference if it’s 30 million or 70 million? (It’s 70m according to their press site)
And in the UK alone, there 188,000 published titles (books and periodicals) in 2018. Goodness knows how many remain in print?
It’s a BIG number. But does it actually matter?
7. Celebrity podcasts
Do you know a celebrity?
Do they have a podcast? Are they going to have a podcast?
Renegades with Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen from Spotify is perhaps the ultimate celebrity podcast. Although Harry and Megan are perhaps a close run second!
Let there be no doubt that there have been a lot.
But is this a good thing or a bad thing?
The writer and critic Fiona Sturges recently wrote a very good piece for The Guardian asking if celebrities are ruining podcasting? (I should in fairness note that she probably didn’t write the headline. Sub-editors at the paper tend to do that kind of thing to get readers to read the articles).
But she’s not the only one with a bit of a bee in her bonnet about it.
A certain Adam Bowie, wrote this on his personal blog at the end of last year!
Look – it’s unfair to tar everyone with the same brush. There are clearly excellent podcasts produced by celebrities. Some of the very best indeed. Fiona’s piece highlights a number of them – as does mine.
But there has certainly been a flurry of them.
One celebrity interviewing their celebrity friend without anyone being especially ruthless with their editing software isn’t really doing anyone any favours.
And I get it that during lockdown, making a podcast was for many in the entertainment industry, the only real work available. If you’re a comedian, you can’t tour and many regular TV or radio shows are no longer available to you.
Let’s run through some of the pros
- Celebrities broaden the appeal of podcasts. Their fans perhaps discover a medium they didn’t know existed.
- You’ll find celebrities in every other medium, so why not podcasts?
- Comedy and Entertainment are two of the most popular categories in survey after survey, so it makes sense.
- And there was (and is) the pandemic…
The downsides are:
- These podcasts suck up so much of the oxygen. If a podcast doesn’t have a famous name attached, will it get any PR?
- The money these famous people are getting will no longer be spent on less famous people. Budgets aren’t infinite – even Spotify’s!
- [Whispered] Many aren’t actually very good…
I suspect that many of those who discover this, or find out that there isn’t quite the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that they were expecting, will move on in time.
6. Social Audio
And by this, I mean Clubhouse
Exploded onto the scene last year, before its growth seemed to stall a bit.
Perhaps it didn’t help itself by not managing to produce an Android version of its app until last month.
Everyone is doing it:
Some I’ve probably forgotten.
But what’s the problem? These aren’t podcasts? A few may be turned into probably not very good podcasts, but that’s about it.
Well Netflix CEO famously said that his company was basically competing with sleep
And for podcasting, I think that Mark Mulligan from MIDiA Research was on the money in a recent report they published. All of these audio spaces do compete with one another. You can’t do them all at the same time.
When some of these rivals launch, the picture will probably become clearer.
5. Shifts in Advertising
I’m not going to dwell on this area too long – others can probably do a better job – but just to highlight a few things that seem to be happening.
We are beginning to see a move away from Direct Response advertising towards Brand Advertising. In other words, slightly fewer “offer codes” in the ads.
And similarly, there is more dynamic advertising and a bit less baked in advertising. Although I still hear far too many ads in podcasts for products that aren’t available in the UK…
As those things grow, I suspect that while they won’t disappear, there may be slightly fewer Host Reads. They’re hard to scale if you’re dynamically inserting them. You can’t expect your host to read dozens or hundreds of them… can you?
And then there will be the rise of programmatic, with everyone in audio being concerned that we don’t see a race to the bottom with CPMs that other parts of the digital advertising industry has seen in the past.
4. Thinking Beyond English
A quick one. This is an English language Podcast event, and many of think almost exclusively about podcasts in the English language.
But there’s a whole world out there.
A lot of companies are finally beginning to think beyond English language.
Wondery has long been in the game of translating its podcasts, while more recently iHeartMedia has been looking at it too.
Spanish is obviously a key market with speakers across the Americas, but the big European languages are also opportunities.
Of course at the BBC World Service, we very much think about these audiences offering podcasts in many languages too.
Of course it had to be subscriptions. The new big thing in how to monetise your podcast.
I say “new” but effectively it has been around for a while.
Patreon has offered a route to podcasters reaching out to their biggest fans and giving them exclusive episodes, ad-free episodes or early episodes.
And then companies like Supporting Cast have offered solutions.
So now we have a new selection of companies offering subscriptions.
Each has its own revenue and data models.
So bundles of cash all round?
Hold on. The world is very full of subscriptions right now, and this area is untested. What should the price be for your offering? How many podcasts or bundles of podcasts is one subscriber likely to pay for?
This kind of detail is going to take a while to tease out to find out how big the opportunity actually is.
And then there are ALL the other media subscriptions I already have. This is just a few of them.
And then there are non-media subscriptions I might also have…
That list gets very long, very quickly…
So yes – RECURRING REVENUES – are brilliant and what every VC funded business is looking for today, but the economics are untested at this point.
You might also want to consider how important it is to you to know who your subscription listeners are versus how easy it is to get let them buy a subscription on a particular platform.
Finally – a plea from me. Don’t equate the cost of your subscription offering to a cup of coffee! Do you know how many subscriptions I have and what that equates to in coffee? And anyway, coffee isn’t cheap! (I’m actually a tea drinker!)
I think that this can be simply summarised by these two images:
- This is what you phone looked like a while ago if you wanted to listen to any podcast in the world. You had a podcast app – probably Apple Podcasts – and that was that.
- Today you need a host of podcast apps if you want to listen to the full range of audio programmes. Spotify is notably going into podcast exclusives, but the BBC does it here in the UK, sometimes with windows and sometimes with full exclusives on BBC Sounds. Luminary’s whole reason to exist is based on exclusives (although I understand that they’re going to be using Apple’s Subscription offering too). Audible has a lot of originals, and Stitcher has in the past. It seems entirely possible that Amazon Music may in the future following its purchase of Wondery. There are many more tiles I could have had here. I can’t get the Sirius XM app in the UK, but they’ve recently done a Marvel exclusive.
This does of course bring us to that philosophical question that has been asked by our greatest minds for generations…[Image of a great philosopher ruminating on the great question: “…but what is a podcast?”]
I don’t have time to answer that here.
But this does bring us to our number one podcast trend for 2020-2021.
Mergers and Acquisitions…
Spotify is the big beast here.
It had already bought the likes of Gimlet, Anchor and Parcast.
Then it went shopping for more including ad firm Megaphone and Betty Labs which will help it out with its social audio platform.
And that’s on top of some of its exclusive licencing deals with the likes of Joe Rogan.
But lots of the big guns have been getting their cheque books open.
Sirius XM had already bought Pandora before picking up others including Stitcher last year, and then more recently 99% Invisible.
iHeartMedia has bought a lot of tech including Triton and Jelli, as well as podcast stables like Stuff Media.
And then Amazon got into the game recently with Wondery.
Again, these are the just the tip of the iceberg.
It’s not really surprising that big commercial radio groups have been nosing around podcasts.
And there are others on the block. Many mid-sized media companies – like Vox or The Athletic – have decent podcast stables. Indeed there at time of recording there are rumours of the New York Times running the ruler over The Athletic including its sports podcasts.
So expect more of this to follow.
It won’t always work of course, but not all acquisitions do.
The challenges to smaller players will be the oxygen of publicity – with big companies having big PR budgets – and visibility. If you own your own platform where you place your podcasts exclusively or non-exclusively, then you have a massive advantage over those who don’t have that luxury.
Anyway, my time is up, and these are my Top 10 Podcast Trends in 10 Minutes.
Thank you for listening and enjoy the rest of the day!