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Podcast Profits On The Rise In The UK + 5 other stories for June 3, 2022

This week on The Download: Podcast profits on the rise in the UK, white noise podcasts prove profitable, and the first Sounds Profitable Business Leader's Summit is headed to Podcast Movement.

As is true of many episodes of The Download, we start with an article published on Tuesday. Bron Maher of the Press Gazette published “The Economist considers audio paywall as podcasts reach 3 million people a month.” 

The lede is somewhat buried, as the interesting information lies not in the framework of The Economist’s future plans to paywall podcasts, but in just how much traffic those free podcasts bring in. Prior to the launch of the publication’s flagship podcast The Intelligence, The Economist had seven full-time employees dedicated to podcasting. As of 2022 that number has ballooned to thirty of the paper’s nearly 320 staff. Quoting the article: 

The Intelligence gets approximately 350,000 downloads an episode. In a month, Prideaux said the podcast can now reach as many as two million listeners. During peak coverage of the invasion of Ukraine, the figure hit two and a half million. Across its entire podcast stable, The Economist is now being listened to by more than three million people a month. That compares against 1.2 million print subscribers – while its digital circulation in the second half of 2021 was 995,228, according to its ABC report.”

John Prideaux, director of podcasts for The Economist, notes that the podcasting wing’s success brings an unexpected level of familiarity with one’s audience. The Economist’s longstanding policy on not publishing bylines does not extend to their shows, allowing parasocial relationships to blossom where they wouldn’t in articles of identical information without an author attached. Maher quotes Prideaux:

“I mean, it’s a bit of a surprise – some of our people, who are on the podcast, they suddenly get not exactly recognised, but internet famous in a way that is new for a place with no bylines. And some of them find that a bit alarming.”

Regardless of whether the publication paywalls previously free content, nearly two decades of embracing podcasting has lead The Economist to a point where a fraction of its staff bring in more impressions via podcast audience than the actual published paper. 

Jacob Kastrenakes, writing for Hot Pod Insider, covered several iHeartMedia higher-ups appearing at Tuesday’s J.P. Morgan Global Tech, Media, and Communications Conference. The main takeaway of the talk? iHeart believes there’s a finite window in which one can determine if a podcast can be made successful purely through promotion.

“First off, a show has to be good, according to Bob Pittman, iHeart’s CEO and chairman. ‘We can’t make something that’s not a hit a hit,’ he said. From there, it comes down to marketing. ‘What we can generally find is probably in two or three weeks, we can see if we've got a hit or not with heavy promotion.’”

Though, unlike radio, a lack of success during launch window doesn’t spell death for the product. Kastrenakes quotes Pittman as saying podcasts have “unlimited shelf space.” Without a limited amount of bandwidth on which to program, iHeart is able to take risks on relatively cheaper production costs and - even if it doesn’t take off in the 2 to 3 week launch period - allow the product to exist on its own in hopes outside forces lead to a free resurgence in popularity. 

Once again we circle back to the global story of podcasting doing well everywhere, not just in the North American markets. Quite well, in fact, according to Aisha Majid’s article on the latest Digital Publishers’ Revenue Index for the Press Gazette. 

“Among the sample of 12 publishers included in the report, which was produced by the Association of Online Publishers (AOP) and Deloitte, audio revenue hit £4.2m in the first quarter of this year. This was six times what they made in the first quarter of 2021.”

Deloitte’s Dan Ison claims daily podcast listening has caught up to online radio in the UK, growing to the point one in ten adults under 25 pay for at least one form of premium podcast subscription. 

AOP managing director Richard Reeves, as quoted by Majid, said: 

“We’ve seen revenue for digital audio grow steadily over the last few quarters, driven in part by what’s being deemed the ‘golden age of podcasts’. The 500% revenue growth reported for this channel in Q1 2022 demonstrates that publishers are now successfully monetising this type of content.”

This next bit of news is home-grown as it comes direct from Sounds Profitable founder—and former host of The Download—Bryan Barletta. In partnership with Podcast Movement, the first Sounds Profitable Business Leaders Summit will take place August 23rd in Dallas, Texas

“On its own, a one-day business-focused event would be a hard sell to just about anyone, even in NYC or LA. But as an industry, we absolutely need one. A day dedicated to the real tough conversations that the industry needs to have in order for us to drive the progress that leads to a $4bn US podcast advertising industry and then some. So, for an event like this to thrive, it would need to be attached to the undisputed leading podcast industry event in America.” 

The summit is slated to kick off with the Sounds Profitable quarterly research report. 

“Measurement, video, and programmatic are words we hear in conversation every single day. Sometimes positively, occasionally from a negative perspective, and most often from a place of curiosity. So we’ve gathered the best and brightest to make sure we’re all on the same page, as each of these three topics continue to grow in popularity and importance.”

While the quarterly report will be available publicly, the rest of the Summit - keeping in line with a key goal of fostering candid conversations on where to take the future of podcasting - will only be accessible to members of companies that sponsor Sounds Profitable. 

For our last full story of the week we turn to Ashley Carman’s Bloomberg piece from Wednesday: Spotify Podcasters Are Making $18,000 a Month With Nothing But White Noise

Carman’s brief journey into the world of white noise podcasting reveals a surprisingly healthy field of competing products all fundamentally designed to serve up calming soundscapes to put audiences to sleep, all while running occasional ads to their slumbering subscribers. Quoting Carman:

“Those who did respond to interview requests say they are making good money, winning over fans and marveling at the power of podcast distribution. Collectively, the shows represent a burgeoning and lucrative podcast genre.”

Take, for instance, the story of Brandon Reed: a man whose podcasting career started by using Anchor more as a file hosting platform for white noise to soothe his own son rather than intending on distributing the files globally. Three years later things are extremely different. Quoting Carman again:

“His inadvertent hit has also made the charts on Apple Inc.’s Podcasts app and has reached over 26.6 million total listens, he said. Reed now offers a $2.99 monthly subscription, which gives paying customers access to additional sounds and the ability to request new ones. When a chiropractor needed railroad clacking for an anxious patient, Reed went out and captured it. So far, he’s made over $10,000 through subscriptions.”

At the risk of reigniting years-old social media arguments as to what it means for a piece of media to qualify as a podcast, these snippets from the world of calming noise serve as a reminder that restrictive views of podcasts both in format and content can leave niches unserved. 

And finally, befitting of a short episode we only have one article for our semi-recurring segment spotlighting articles worth reading that didn’t quite make it into the episode. This week The Download recommends The Podcast in Quebec in 2021 by Bruno Guglielminetti. 

Fair warning, the post is in French, but it contains statistics relevant to The Download’s ongoing coverage of podcasting’s growth in global markets. Time to dust off that vocab textbook from college. 

The Download is a production of Sounds Profitable. Today's episode was hosted by Shreya Sharma and Manuela Bedoya, and the script was written by Gavin Gaddis.

Bryan Barletta and Evo Terra are the executive producers of The Download from Sounds Profitable.

Evo Terra edited today's episode. Special thanks to our media host, Omny Studio.

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