More than 1,700 creators and podcast industry professionals gathered in Los Angeles at the end of March for Podcast Movement Evolutions.
With three concurrent session tracks and multiple networking parties and mixers each day, the conference hall was always abuzz with conversation.
Here are 6 of the biggest learnings for podcasters that we took away from the show.
1/ There’s still plenty of room for growth in podcasting.
- Lex Friedman, Head of Podcast Partnerships at Wondery, stated plainly that he doesn’t believe podcast saturation is real. He talked specifically about the massive potential in getting more kids listening to podcasts but also felt there were growth opportunities across the board.
- Oren Rosenbaum, Talent Agent at UTA, agreed with Lex that saturation isn’t real. He went on to point out that platforms like Amazon, YouTube, and Spotify entering podcasting in a serious way is great news for the industry because they will expose new people to podcasts and help grow the overall market.
- All signs point to subscription revenue growing this year, said Emily Rasekh, SVP of Podcast Business Development & Operations, Sony Music.
- Ray Chao, GM of Audio at Vox Media, said the thing he’s most excited about for the coming year is “untapped markets”—including new geographies as well as new listeners in the US.
What it means for you: If the big players are excited about growth at their kind of scale, that means there’s also plenty of room for smaller podcasts who don’t need to reach nearly as many listeners to build a thriving business.
2/ Podcast subscription revenue complements ad revenue beautifully.
- Jon Schnaars, Chief Business Officer at Pushkin Industries, said that for them subscriptions smooth out any volatility in ad revenue.
- Pushkin is also running experiments with subscriber bonus content, where they offer subscribers exclusive access to the content for 3 to 6 months but then push the content to the public feed where they can further monetize it with ads. A win all around.
- Donald Albright, co-founder and President of Tenderfoot TV recommended plowing as much subscription revenue back into your marketing and production budgets as you can. He said this way you’ve got resources to grow your audience, which should then grow your ad revenue … and your subscription revenue too. Smart.
- You don’t want to put your entire podcast behind a subscription paywall. The freemium model is critical for people discovering your content, said Emily at Sony. And it means you’ve also got content you can run ads against.
- Jay Shifman, host of the Choose Your Struggle podcast, offered a cautionary tale about relying on ads alone to monetize a show. His podcast about overcoming drug addiction recently featured a special episode that dove deep into a guest’s story of addiction, assault, and jail time. All his sponsors pulled out, leaving him high and dry.
What it means for you: Subscriptions are a smart way to diversify your podcast revenue and can provide a backstop against volatile ad income.
3/ Extending your podcast into other media is a smart move.
- Vox Media is thinking in terms of podcast “franchises”—how they can take a successful podcast and build businesses around it.
- Vox GM of Audio Ray Chao shared the example of the Pivot podcast with Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway, which has now spun off into a conference and a video channel, with more to come.
- Vox’s vision is to develop 12 of these franchises “rooted in audio” in the next 5 years.
What it means for you: Vox’s “franchise” concept is another name for a thriving podcast-led business with diversified revenue. We spoke to Juleyka Lantigua on how to think about spinning off other media from your show on the Supercasters podcast.
4/ There’s no one-size-fits-all with subscription perks.
- A panel discussing podcast subscription featuring Emily at Sony, Donald at Tenderfoot, and Jon at Pushkin, unanimously agreed that subscription perks aren’t one-size-fits-all and must be tailored to the show and the audience.
- Donald at Tenderfoot said subscriptions super-serve (a phrase we’re hearing more and more) your hardcore fans while not over-serving the rest of your audience by cluttering their feed with stuff they may not want. We like this concept of right-sizing to your audience needs.
- Jon at Pushkin dubbed early access to content a “binge drop” and says it has worked especially well for them on episodic shows though they then struggle with subscribers dropping off once all the content is consumed.
- Keeping it real, Donald said podcasters need to “try sh!t and be OK with failure” when it comes to finding out what your audience wants. For Tenderfoot, bonus content that's more of what the show offers works better than the host doing something new.
5/ The big players appear to be thinking narrowly about subscription perks.
- Having agreed that subscription perks need to be tailored to the audience, it stood out to us that the only subscription perks Emily, Donald, and Jon discussed were ad-free feeds, bonus content, and windowing (early access).
- The panelists seemed to agree that bonus content was resource-intensive to create.
What it means for you: By thinking creatively about the subscription perks you can offer, you can stand out against the bigger podcasts and build more intimate relationships with your audience. Here are 23 ideas for perks and bonus content to offer your podcast subscribers.
6/ Quality is key for standing out.
- Quality is critical for your podcast, said Lex at Wondery. Get comfortable with defending it and don’t be afraid to say no. For example, if a guest wants to record with their Airpod mic, help them find a higher quality solution… or let them know they can’t be on the show.
- When developing new content, Steve Raizes, EVP of Podcasting & Audio at Paramount, asks himself whether the content is good enough to knock another podcast off a listener’s playlist. If the answer is no, he doesn’t do it.
- When Vox is evaluating new podcasters for their roster, their top evaluation criteria is whether the creator is committed to high-quality content.
- Latif Nasser, co-host of Radiolab, says your podcast needs to sound different. Most interview podcasts consist of three tracks: the host, the guest, and a bit of music. A Radiolab episode typically has dozens of tracks, sometimes up to one hundred, that layer on music and sound effects. He understands not every podcast can afford that kind of sound design but what if you added even two or three new elements?
What it means for you: If the top podcasts are obsessing over quality, you should too. Even small improvements can help set you apart from others in podcasting's long tail.
Want to join other podcasters learning together about how to grow their shows and revenue? Hop into the Supercasters community by becoming a free subscriber to the Supercasters premium podcast.