I argued in my recent post What’s Next for Podcasting? that we’re at a pivot point where podcasting is becoming a mainstream content format for all types of shows and creators as Hollywood enters the fray. There’s a surge of interest by both creatives and businesspeople in podcasts right now, so I’ve compiled a reading guide to help newcomers get up to speed on the state of the podcasting market.
[We are experimenting with new content formats at TechCrunch. This reading list is one of those experiments. Provide feedback directly to the author, Eric Peckham, our columnist focused on the intersection of media, technology, and finance.]
I. Background: The Rise of Podcasting
Timeline of Podcasting | October 2015 | Vanessa Quirk created an interactive timeline to highlight the development of the podcast as a new content medium (on behalf of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University).
Audible Revolution | February 2004 | Ben Hammersley wrote about the rise of this new “online radio” format back in 2004 for The Guardian, featuring early efforts by then-startup Audible to focus on it instead of audiobooks.
The Future of Podcasting: A History Lesson | July 2017 | Justine Moore and Olivia Moore from VC firm CRV outlined the rise of podcasting up to 2017 as part of a 5-part series on the format. From the initial development of RSS feeds and coining of the term to initial hype, a lull for many years, and then a resurgence in 2014 as Apple launched its Podcasts app and the premiere of the hit podcast Serial.
II. Background: Data on the Current Market
The Future of Podcasting: Where Are We Now? | July 2017 | Justine and Olivia Moore highlighted data on the state of podcasting in summer 2017, looking at consumer awareness of the format and demographics. They also note barriers to growth.
The Podcast Consumer 2018 | April 2018 | Edison Research’s widely-cited annual report on who is listening to podcasts and how. They also create the more broadly focused annual report The Infinite Dial (in US, Canada, and Australia versions) that puts podcasting in the context of music streaming, radio, voice interfaces, and general consumer audio trends.
There is additional country-specific research out there for Canada (Canadian Podcast Listener), the UK (Ofcom Communications Market Report), Germany (Bitkom), and Sweden (EGTA). James Cridland, editor of podnews.net made a 15-minute presentation comparing podcasting internationally as well.
Full Year 2017 Podcast Ad Revenue Study | June 2018 | The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) released this report on the size of the US podcast advertising market. These are the stats most news articles and industry experts refer to as the “market size” of podcasting but they are only the podcast advertising market. The overwhelming majority of revenue in podcasting is certainly understood to come from ads, but there are also many podcasts collecting Patreon donations, selling merchandise, generating touring income, and–in a few cases–getting royalties from books/films/shows based on their podcast or charging paid subscriptions.
Mind the Gap: Part One | August 2018 | Alex Taussig, a partner at Lightspeed, outlines the growth trajectories of both podcasting and voice interfaces (like Alexa) to highlight how monetization of new technologies or mediums typically lag consumer adoption.
III. Key Players: The Key Companies and Shows
One-Sentence Reviews of the Entire Podcast Listening Landscape | May 2017 | Erik Jones wrote short descriptions of the numerous podcast streaming apps out there in spring 2017. Even more have launched since but it’s a helpful guide for becoming aware of many of the players in the space.
Podcast Industry Audience Rankings | updated monthly | PodTrac ranks the 20 most listened to podcast shows and the 10 most listened to podcast publishers.
Podcast charts | updated hourly | Podcast analytics company Chartable has charts for the most downloaded/streamed podcasts for four top podcast players: Apple, Spotify Stitcher, and Breaker. Charts are global and by country.
What’s really the top podcast hosting service? | August 2018 | Podcast analytics company Chartable shared data on the market share among podcasting’s feed generators, feed redirection services, and media hosting services.
How People Listen to Podcasts | November 2018 | New podcast creation app Anchor shared their September 2018 data on podcasts that were distributed via Anchor, framing Apple Podcasts continued domination of market share but the rapid rise of Spotify as the clear second-place.
IV. Business Model
MailKimp, SchmailChimp: Podcast Ads are Rambling and Unpredictable. So Why Do Sponsors Love Them? | December 2014 | Alison Griswold chronicles how the intimacy of host-read ads on podcasts appeals to advertisers, even if it means the host doesn’t stick to an exact script.
Guide to Podcasting | December 2015 | Vanessa Quirk of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism published a report on the history, market, and business models of podcasting, including case studies on the implementation of different business models.
The Future of Podcasting: How Do Podcasts Make Money? | August 2017 | Justine and Olivia Moore evaluate how podcasters make money, mainly focusing on ads/sponsorships (which are mostly direct response) and early efforts at paid subscriptions.
FOMO in China is a $7B Industry | September 2018 | Marketplace China correspondent Jennifer Pak wrote about (and recorded a podcast episode discussing) China’s $7.3 billion market for paid podcasts. Unlike in the US, it is the norm to pay for podcast content in China. This the inverse of other content formats where paid subscriptions are common in the US but not the norm in China.
What’s Next for Podcasting? Subscriptions and Exclusives | October 2018 | Eric Peckham framed the current state of the podcast business, the opportunity for a much greater diversity of show formats, and the rapidly growing interest by music streaming services and major Hollywood players. I argue that podcasting is in the early days of shifting from a model of free, ad-supported content available on every media player toward a model more like that of streaming TV, with paid subscriptions and exclusive shows.
‘A pain in the ass for users’: Subscription publishers wrestle with delivering exclusive audio | May 2018 | Max Willens at Digiday chronicled the frustration of media companies who have tried offering podcasts exclusively to paying subscribers, given the lack of technology infrastructure for doing so.
Why podcasting companies are getting more into scripted shows | September 2018 | Max Willens at Digiday notes a feeding frenzy of popular podcasts getting optioned for films, TV shows, and books and the growing focus on producing narrative-style podcasts. He points out that the current advertising model for podcasting makes generating a worthwhile ROI on high-quality narrative shows tougher.
V. Other arguments and predictions
Where Does Podcasting Go Next? A Manifesto for Growth | August 2018 | Tom Webster, the SVP at Edison Research who co-authors the annual Infinite Dial report on the podcasting market, notes that podcasting’s growth has been slow-and-steady, not an explosion, and emphasizes the challenges podcasting still facing in mainstream consumer adoption. He argues in favor of more entertainment podcasts that reflect what’s popular on TV and argues in favor of dropping the term “subscribing to a podcast” because it causes many people to misunderstand that they have to pay for podcasts.
IAB’s Podcast Measurement Guidelines | December 2017 | The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) is the leading trade organization in the US for advertising and advertising-reliant publishing companies. In 2016, it released its first technical guidelines on how to measure podcast performance in order to create an industry standard and reduce double-counting. It updated them in 2017.
To Make Real Money, The Podcast Industry Needs to Stop Calling Them Podcasts | March 2016 | Venture capitalist Hunter Walk argued that podcasting needs to generate “listener revenue” in order to scale as an industry–not just rely on brand sponsorships–and needs to abandon the term “podcast” to do so because people firmly associate podcasts with free content.
Can Podcasts Rescue Spotify’s Business Model? | November 2018 | Tim Ingham argued in Rolling Stone that the fundamentals of Spotify’s business model prevent it becoming a profitable company (unless it can somehow cut out the record labels), and that’s why Spotify’s executives have decided to make such an aggressive push into podcasting over 2018.
State of Podcasts 2018 | July 2018 | Building off their 2017 assessment, Justine Moore and Olivia Moore a CRV outlined the pain points the podcast industry in still changes, the biggest changes under way, and where they see opportunity for entrepreneurs.
VI. News Sources
Nieman Lab – a popular news and analysis site run by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, focused on the news publishing industry but also tracking the development of podcasting.