Listening Numbers Are Booming, But Even Spotify Doesn’t Know If It Will Make Money From Podcasts.

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I’m a bit old school. While podcasting occupies much of my time each day, a long-established habit of slowly leafing through the pages of newspapers continues to be a source pleasure. Print discoveries are made without digital nudges from algorithms.

Among my favorite finds last week was in the “C-Suite Strategies” section of The Wall Street Journal and a surprisingly revealing comment by Spotify CFO Barry McCarthy.

Asked by a reporter “why is podcasting an important medium for the company to expand into?”, McCarthy answered: “It remains to be seen whether or not it becomes an important medium.”

Huh?

His company spent approximately $400 million this year on three podcasting firms, in the expectation that these investments would increase Spotify’s growing subscriber base.

As more people discover the many rewards of podcast listening, many content producers and distributors are allocating a growing part of their media budget to podcasting. And for good reason.

“Frankly, if Spotify didn’t get into podcasts it would risk losing share of the audio listening market to other platforms,” said a recent post by the financial advice site, Motley Fool.

Despite soaring revenues from music subscriptions, the fast-growing streaming giant operated at a small loss during the first quarter of 2019 and for all of last year.

Podcasting is a big bet and McCarthy admits that “there’s a fair amount of uncertainty” about whether it will have a positive impact on profitability, “which is probably troubling to investors.”

Assuming that consumers will pay for podcasts that have, until now, been free may be a risky investment. While the most popular shows reach hundreds of thousands of listeners, most expensively-produced podcasts don’t make a profit. And compared to other media, podcasting’s share of the advertising pie is slim indeed.

One industry projection forecast that by 2020, U.S. podcast advertising would grow to $659 million, while in 2018, radio ad sales were $17.8 billion.

Overall digital advertising revenue last year surpassed $100 billion!

The numbers beg the question: How well-deserved are big podcast investments by venture capitalists and others? Will millions of listeners pay for monthly subscriptions to Spotify, Luminary, Pandora and other platforms?

While podcasters celebrate expanding opportunities, growing media coverage, dazzling new shows and a steady rise in consumer acceptance, the industry’s producers and investors must broaden their horizons.

“Some fear that podcasting has become a community talking to itself— a coastal thing like electric scooters and avocado toast,” wrote Gerry Smith in Bloomberg Businessweek.

Yes, the pod potential is huge. But competition is increasingly fierce. Obstacles remain. A little more caution and humility may be in order.

Richard Davies is a podcast consultant, media coach and former network radio journalist. His weekly solutions journalism podcast is “How Do We Fix It?

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Daily podcasts are booming. But here’s why some will fail…

In an increasingly crowded field of Monday-to-Friday podcasts, “The Daily” from The New York Times is still the most popular news show, with about 1.75 million downloads per episode. According to one estimate, the number of daily podcasts has more than tripled in less than two years. The competition now includes news shows by NPR, Vox, Axios, ABC News and The Washington Post.

Ever since its launch nearly two years ago, The Daily” has been my daily habit. Here’s why:

The host, Michael Barbaro.

He’s my pal. A buddy in my ear at the gym, in the car, or on morning walks with our dogs.

I’ve never met Michael Barbaro, but he sounds like a genuinely curious, charming and friendly guy. Writing in The New Yorker, Rebecca Mead calls him the “winning, accessible interlocutor of his news-gathering colleagues.”

He has soul, and that’s surprising perhaps, because over the years The Times has been called “the gray lady”, and is widely considered to be a redoubtable pillar of the elite, mainstream media.

Unlike the newspaper, “The Daily” is informal, even intimate, with moments of spontaneity and humor, as Barbaro lifts the curtain on the bench strength of diligent, hard-working Times reporters who cover their beats with dedication, humility, and street smarts.

Unlike many radio or TV anchors, he never pretends to know what he doesn’t. “The Daily” host is also an ombudsman for listeners as he guides us through the latest perplexing twist of the Mueller investigation or the unfortunate saga that is Brexit.

Barbaro gives us this wonderful sense that he’s hearing each reporter’s insights for the first time.

Same thing with “Serial” host Sarah Koenig, who, despite all her research and carefully constructed scripts, manages to sound is if she’s uncovering the story with you right alongside her. At times we think she’s bemused or even a little surprised as she stumbles across another twist in a complex, tangled web of facts.

The journey is the thing. We know where Koenig’s coming from and that’s a huge reason why “Serial” continues to be wildly successful.

Podcast producers can put too much emphasis on building a show with interstitial music, sound effects, and a multi-layered story arc. But the best storytelling on earth can stumble at the final fence if the narrator or host doesn’t connect with listeners.

And so it is with daily news podcasts. Successful shows need heart and soul as well as a good elevator pitch or a sense of mission. Without them they will fail.

The same is true for small, independent productions who have limited budgets and a relatively small following.

“I cannot tell you how many podcasts I’ve listened to where the host rambles and rants on about their life, their misery, their week, or their kids and family,” laments John Dennis in his recent article in Podcast Business Journal. “You can’t expect to grow, or even retain, your audience if you’re wasting their precious time.”

In addition to adding value or benefit to listeners, podcast hosts must be willing to be vulnerable, revealing something of themselves as they answer the crucial question: “Why am asking you to share some of your precious time with me”.

Richard Davies is the co-host of the weekly solutions news podcast, “How Do We Fix It?” and a podcast consultant and media coach at DaviesContent.com.

Let 550,000 flowers bloom. The stunning variety of podcasting is also its charm.

I was kind of giddy last weekend after that SNL podcast skit. The one that made fun of our emerging industry. In the send up, a bearded and bespectacled Liev Shreiber (who played Michael Barbaro) said that podcasts “are like delicious little whispered documentaries.”

Wow, SNL is making fun of us! We’re on the map. One more step further away from being a narrow niche medium that people have heard about, but don’t listen to.

Great!

“Our time has come,” I happily tweeted out, without much more critical thought than @realDonaldTrump gives to his early morning Twitter blasts.

But then came Tuesday, and my friend and wise counsel, Steve Goldstein, firmly brought me down to earth.

Thud.

“While it was fun to watch, it was also disconcerting and may help explain the slow growth of podcasting,” wrote Steve in his blog about the SNL skit. “With all of the buzz and noise, it feels as though podcasting should be exploding more like Smart Speakers and yet the growth is relatively slow.”

And then the “ouch” line…

“In many ways, the SNL bit reinforces what lots of people already think about podcasts — an elite niche with self-important story tellers telling oddly obscure stories.”

Is this why three-quarters of Americans are not regular podcast listeners?

Are we over-populated with earnest public radio types?

Perhaps we are. But it’s worth noting that during many years of commercial radio stagnation, loyal, well-educated, and often affluent public radio audiences have steadily grown — just like the committed audience for podcasts. And today, NPR and Radiotopia are champions for our business, repeatedly sponsoring panels and showing up at marketing, advertising and podcast conferences.

Instead of merely speaking to their own narrow commercial interests, Kerri Hoffman, Jarl Mohn and other public radio executives spread the message about the general joys and benefits of podcast listening. We appreciate their support.

And it’s worth remembering that podcasts are about much more than “buzz and noise”. 50 million people are listening in the U.S., or double the estimated number five years ago. 50 billion downloads have been made on Apple Podcasts.

In 2018 alone, we’ve seen the launch of Google Podcasts, and after years of resisting podcasting, online audio rivals Spotify and Pandora are jumping on board.

Lost in the media coverage of podcasts are many independents, who are quietly connecting with a vast range of niche audiences. From “The Lonely Palette”, the delightful show that “returns art history to the masses, one painting at a time”, and Hagerty Sidedrafts, a show about classic cars and the people who made and collect them, to New Books Network, a consortium of more than 80 serious author-interview podcast channels, podcasters are finding passionate, switched-on listeners.

At last estimate there were 550,000 podcasts in production. Hooray for that. The flowering of podcasts is a joy to behold. In the language of gardening, we are hardy perennials, here to stay.

Our ground cover continues to deepen and grow.

Richard Davies is a journalist, podcast consultant, media coach and co-host of the weekly news solutions podcast, “How Do We Fix It?”

Marketers are listening. At last, podcasting is a thing at Advertising Week.

Finally it’s happening. Advertisers and marketers are waking up to the great potential of podcasting.

At this week’s Advertising Week conference in New York, there’s interest, even excitement, about audio– both music and speech. Unlike previous years, when our industry was virtually ignored at this annual event, an entire morning of panel sessions has been devoted to podcasts and audio.

“We view voice as the natural next step in technology’s future,” said Julia Chen Davidson, Head of Google’s Partner Marketing this week, at the well-attended Future of Audio Summit. “It’s still very early in the adoption curve.”

“Voice is the new touch,” enthused Pandora’s VP of Ad Innovation Strategy, Claire Fanning.

Podcasting is along for ride, with Anna Bager of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) forecasting 110% growth in annual U.S. podcast advertising revenue until 2020. Many podcast listeners like the advertising they hear “and see it as a service,” she told the audience of marketing, brand and ad professionals.

“These strong numbers speak to advertisers’ increasing recognition that podcasts provide a powerful platform for reaching and engaging audiences,” said Bager in a news release. They are “tapping into the medium’s highly engaged audience.”

Interest in podcasting is enhanced by three recent broader consumer/tech trends:

– Excitement about new research and development of Artificial Intelligence and voice-activated search.

– The explosive growth in sales and adoption of smart speakers.

– Innovation and expansion of voice-assisted technology (VAT) in cars and trucks.

Dramatic changes in automotive center stacks and consoles “is going to radically change media consumption,” Tom Webster, Senior Vice President of Edison Research told a breakout session at Advertising Week. “VAT will cause an incredible spike in podcast listening.”

And yet there are obstacles, despite steady gains in overall Podcast listening.

At Podcast Movement last July, Webster, Amplifi Media’s Steve Goldstein and others righty voiced concern about problems with discovery. While most Americans are aware of podcasting, many find it difficult to find shows, or even understand how to download or subscribe to podcasts.

One promising initiative discussed at Advertising Week is Pandora’s soon-to-be-launched Podcast Genome Project, designed our help listeners find shows based on what’s being discussed. Panelist Lizzie Widhelm of Pandora told a session that its Genome will be able to recommend other podcasts based on the content of an episode.

“There will soon be a time when our podcasts will find us, instead of the other way around,” says the online music and speech radio company’s Chief Product Officer, Chris Phillips. “If we know you care about a particular topic, we can find the podcast (the needle in a haystack), and put it in front of you.”

This project along with growth in voice search and AI could prove to be next big audience accelerator for podcasters.

Richard Davies is a podcast host, producer, consultant, and media coach. He runs DaviesContent.

The f-word podcasters think the most about is….

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Friction is the thing.

It’s not as easy, convenient or simple as it should be to discover podcasts, or find shows that fit your range of interests. Confusion and complexity are holding us back.

The first barrier for wannabe podcast listeners is the prompt. iTunes and other platforms suggest that you “subscribe.” But this is a lousy name for it. Sounds like a loyalty program. Subscriptions involve paying for something, but podcasts are free.

That’s the first piece of friction.

Search is also a big problem. Our news solutions podcast, “How Do We Fix It?” is a show that asks experts about what works to improve civic and political life. But someone who searches for “how to fix it,” “solutions,” “fixes” or “what works”, won’t find our shows. Other podcasters have similar problems.

More friction.

Smart speakers are a huge thing these days. But the vocal prompts for podcasts are not as easy as they should be. Friction!

All this presents a problem and a great opportunity.

Podcasting needs its own industry association or trade group.

Investments should be made by Audible, Spotify, NPR and other big players to produce witty, creative and catchy public information videos and radio spots that would reach out to the tens of millions of people who engage online, but haven’t got a clue how to listen to podcasts. Facebook, where many non-millennials gather, is an obvious place to start. Then advertise on the next Super Bowl!

Big podcasters should launch a contest with an enticing prize for the best five YouTube videos that show folks how to engage with podcasts.

Fight friction with fun.

More than 550,000 podcasts are on iTunes– and the number is growing all the time. Two- thirds of Americans have heard of the term “podcast,” but fewer than one-in-five  are regular listeners. With nearly 50 million regular listeners, podcasting has come a long way in the past few years. But it’s time to take it to the next level.

The launch of the new Google Podcasts app may go a long way towards this goal.  Until now, Apple has been the dominant player. Google says its goal is to help listeners and make it “easier for them to discover and listen to the podcasts they love.” If the search giant uses AI to improve podcast script and voice search, this would be a major breakthrough.

At Podcast Movement in Philadelphia last week, Tom Webster of Edison Research said: “The key to moving from 48 million weekly podcast listeners to the 100 million mark is understanding why those people familiar with the term “podcasting” have never listened.”

48% the “I have’t heard a podcast” crowd say they’re not sure how to listen. A similar number believe, incorrectly, that podcasts cost money and suck up a lot of data. 37% don’t understand what they are.

The challenges are great, but so is the potential to reach into new, and often marginalized communities. Most early podcast adopters were white men. It’s time for industry leaders to be more diverse, and to reflect the country at large.

Fewer than one-in-four podcasts have a woman host. Thanks to Kerri Hoffman of PRX, Laura Walker at WNYC and others, positive, powerful efforts are underway to correct this.  Ethnic, racial, class, viewpoint and geographic diversity are also needed to boost the authenticity, reach and range of podcasting.

Nearly one-in-five Americans own smart speakers. They’re the fastest growing electronic devices since most of us got a smart phone. Smart speakers introduce a different way to listen. Others may be in the room with us. We are not on ear buds nor headphones. Podcast listening might become more social, and in some cases less intimate.

The future for podcasting may include more short quiz shows, games and drama.

How about a 12-minute soap opera with revolving characters that has audiences coming back for more every day? It’s already been tried in the U.K. “The Archers”  has been running for nearly 70 years, with nearly 19,000 episodes under it’s belt. It’s the world’s longest running radio soap opera.

With podcasts, what’s old can be new again.

“Can Podcasting Save The Planet” is the latest episode of “How Do We Fix It?’

Richard Davies is a podcaster, consultant and media coach. He runs DaviesContent.

 

The beauty of asking dumb questions.

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How to ask questions (2). The third in a series on podcasting.

As soon as I published some thoughts on how podcasters can do even better interviews than they record already (my previous blog), I started getting friendly feedback.

Some of it comes from close to home.

Miranda Shafer, the senior producer of “How Do We Fix It?” — our weekly news solutions show — has several smart ideas that I include here.

While editing and improving the audio quality of our podcast, Miranda excises the “ums” and “ahs” from each interview. So, perhaps this one is aimed at me! “Don’t make small affirmative noises like “uh huh” or “right.” Nod instead,” she says.

Agreed. The people you interview know that you’re interested in what they are saying. There is no need for affirmation from the host in the middle of an answer. More than one or two “uh huhs” during an interview can be irritating for listeners.

If you think a response from you is a good idea, follow up with another question. Or simply say, “tell me more.”

There’s this from our friend and podcast consultant, Donna Papacosta: “Have you ever experienced premature interview termination?”, she asked in a recent post. “At the end of an interview… you thank the subject, snap your notebook shut and switch off your recorder. In the chatter that follows, your interviewee utters the most quotable quote of the last half hour.”

Ouch. That’s happened to me more times than I can count. Donna suggests: keep the recorder running, unless you need to go off-the-record.

When planning an interview, podcasters should try to think of how each question can build a story arc. You might want to begin a podcast conversation with an anecdote or an amusing aside that warms up the guest, lifting the curtain on the subject for your listeners.

Or you could start out with a few basic questions on why your guests are interested or passionate about what they do and what they have learned along the way.

Ask dumb questions, especially if the guest uses acronyms, slang or fancy words. Ask him to explain or define any term that the audience might not be familiar with. During an interview the host should always be on the side of the listener. What would she want to hear? What subject interests him the most?

Brief questions are often best.

Don’t spend a lot of time with your opinions, because the guest may respond with a simple yes or no answer. Then you have to come up with another question right away!

Don’t be afraid to appear dim. Before the recording begins, you can say: “I’ve read your book and understand the topic, but I’m going to ask you some basic questions for the audience.”

One more tip from editor/producer Miranda: Record on two channels. That makes your interview easier to edit and often results in better audio quality.

Richard Davies is a Podcast host, consultant and media trainer. Learn more at DaviesContent.com

“Thats a really good question” and other silly things guests say during podcasts.

This is the first of several blogs on making better podcasts. Today: how to be a great guest.

The other day I was interviewing a young woman who wanted to work on a podcast project with us.

About half of her answers began with the all-too-frequent comment, “that’s a really good question.” I wanted to reach into the phone, wag my finger and call her on it.

We all love compliments. But most of the time it’s important to mean what you say. Or, at least convince the person on the other side of the microphone that you’re sincere.

This is especially important when being interviewed on a podcast. Any experienced host can tell when you are using flattery to mask the truth.

Another frequent mistake made by podcast guests and panel members is giving long answers to questions. An interview should be a conversation, not a monologue. Keep you answer to less than 60 seconds. An interesting or provocative comment should invite a follow-up from the host.

One way for podcast guests to be more succinct is to avoid repeating their main argument twice.

A great many professional speakers, professors and authors feel the need to make a point, then say it a slightly different way, and sum-up their long-winded answer with a third version! You’d think they’d know better. But surprisingly few publishers or public relations firms offer media training to authors and clients.

A few more do’s and don’ts:

– If you’re podcast or radio show guest, beware of tangents. When possible, make your main argument first, and then give an illustration or anecdote during the second half of the answer.

  • Be direct and avoid overstating your case with words such as “amazing”, “incredible”, or “that’s so important”. Avoid bravado. Be humble.

– Listen carefully to the questions and fully engage with the host. If it’s a face-to-face interview, use eye contact to establish rapport with others. Humor is also a highly effective and often undervalued way to break the ice and establish authenticity.

  • Before an interview, ask if the show is live. With an edited, prerecorded podcast, feel free to ask for a “do over” if you’re unhappy with your answer.

– Journalists — and podcast hosts — love people who speak in sound-bites. Prior to an appearance, write down three or four brief sentences that are core messages. Rehearse them.

Good prep before an interview improves your performance. As part of this, ask yourself what you really want to say. Skilled guests know all about framing. They also understand the difference between simple repetition and finding several different ways to make a similar argument.

One way to be the guest who keeps getting invited back is to remember how friends, readers or clients responded when you first discussed a project that you were working on. If they found one particular phrase to be of interest, so will podcast listeners. They are usually hearing your “pitch” for the first time.

Next: How to ask good questions.

Richard Davies is a podcast host, consultant and media trainer. Learn more at DaviesContent.com.

Sometimes I love riding with NYC subway…

A number one train in motion

…Yeah, I know it’s a pain— especially in rush hour, at the weekends when there’s limited service, or if the guy sitting next to me is manspreading.

But there are also times of unexpected delight on the New York City subway, when a stranger makes you smile.

Friday nights are often the best time, with trains full of happy young people, heading out on dates, parties or planning to start the weekend at a bar. Their laughter and energy are infectious.

Then there are those times such as 9:30 this morning on the number 1 train heading south, when a young woman in her mid-twenties, wearing a shiny light blue cloak with a Columbia University logo, hopped on.

This was her graduation day and she could barely contain her smile.

The people sitting nearby all congratulated her. “It’s a big day— a real milestone”, one middle-aged man said, perhaps thinking of his own kids.

The young woman with long blonde hair was positively beaming. Just before she left the train at W. 116th Street, I asked about her degree. “Masters in International Relations,” she said, almost embarrassed that she was smiling so much.

Someone else nearby said: “Go make the world a better place. I think we need it.”

So, best of luck to her and all graduates who are launching new lives in this commencement season of possibilities. May they find not only work and a way to pay the bills— and the crazy high costs of student loans— but also purpose and a belief in the abundance and blessings of life.

We need their hope, energy and optimism to make the world a better place.

And sometimes we also need the subway and other public places to introduce us to the unexpected.

Richard Davies is the co-host of the news solutions show “How Do We Fix It?” and a podcasting consultant. He tries to listen to at least one new podcast each week.

Professors on Podcasts: A Rant.

It’s baseball season, thank goodness. So before I get into my windup and start hurling metaphors, let me say that I love interviewing professors on our podcasts .

These learned souls are almost always thoughtful, highly intelligent, and often funny. Their bases are loaded with interesting ideas. Professors understand nuance and are good at reminding the rest of the world (including Donald Trump) that most issues are far more complex, and indeed more interesting, than they first appear.

This is the nature of the human condition, and why it’s so difficult for data experts to design algorithms that take account of all the delightful complexity of human behavior.

The recent rush to judgement over self-driving cars, universal health care and privacy on Facebook are just three current examples of how so many current debates are poorly framed.

Professors have the luxury of escaping from the daily pressures of the business world, taking a long-term view of the subjects they study.

But they are usually different… especially tenured professors.

What is it about one-YEAR sabbaticals? Say what? For the rest of us workers, small business owners, gig economy freelancers, and salaried professionals, a one-MONTH break would be a total luxury.

And try interrupting professors. Good luck with that! The preferred platform for many university lecturers is neither a chat, seminar nor a brainstorming session. They speak from behind a lectern.

Before each episode with a professor on our weekly solutions news show, “How Do We Fix It?” my co-host, Jim Meigs and I do some podcast batting practice.

Jim starts the interview with a very polite warm-up, telling guests what’s about to happen.

“We’re a fast-paced show,” Jim explains in a somewhat professorial, yet almost apologetic tone. “We try to keep the answers to questions to under a minute. We may jump in.”

Sometimes, this approach actually works. We are able to ask lots of questions and enjoy bantering with our guests.

But in many cases, professors, who give “talks”, and “presentations” aren’t entirely comfortable with the back-and-forth of conversations. They’d rather give five examples than three.

But don’t get me wrong.

Before I get too deep in the count, let me say with as much force as I can muster: Academics are among our favorite podcast guests.

If you’re looking for someone to add intellectual heft, who could be better?

And in our age of distraction, we need to listen more carefully and at far greater length to deep thinkers.

Professors know their subjects inside and out. And many are happy to venture forth with contrarian opinions that challenge the dominant zeitgeist.

However, Jim and I agree: among our absolute favorite podcast guests professors who have also spent some time in careers outside academia— in business or journalism. Not only do they know their stuff, these women and men understand bullet points and deadlines. They tend to be both clear and disciplined in their thinking, and have learned the art of sound-bites and relatively short declarative sentences.

If you are a podcaster or broadcast host, before inviting a professor on your show, get ready to step up to the plate and take a few swings at interrupting your guest.

And also make sure you’ve taken some batting practice first. Read their book before you open the mike.

Richard Davies is a podcasting consultant, producer, interviewer and host. DaviesContent makes podcasts for companies and non-profit groups.

Podcasts: When The Missing Ingredient Is Soul.

If you want to start a podcast, the barriers to entry are low. Good equipment is cheap and there are plenty of smart, simple “how to” guides to get you and your organization in the game.

But what most experts and consultants won’t tell you is that to be successful, your podcast needs soul. You must say something real.

The medium’s intimacy and authenticity are keys to its success. That’s why your podcast has to be three dimensional— not like one of those old Hollywood film sets with nothing behind the nicely painted fronts of stores and houses.

Your host needs should be honest, hilarious or, at the very least, a brilliant faker.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the hit show “Pod Save America”. But what the smart-ass uber-liberal hosts do have is soul. Their mission— delivered with passion and a dose of humor— is to save America from Trump and his fellow travelers by trashing anyone who doesn’t agree with their view of the world. You know where these guys are coming from.

Your podcast doesn’t have to come with a passionate or political point of view. But the hosts must believe what they say.

Millennials— the target audience for most podcasts— come with finely-tuned B.S. detectors. They know when they’re being duped or played.

Bragging or reminding your audience what makes you special simply won’t cut it. Deliver the goods, and do so with the minimum of fuss.

Unlike You Tube Channels, TV or even broadcast radio, podcasters don’t need bells and whistles to be successful. Most listeners start at the beginning and will stay with you for the entire show, especially if the episode is under 25 minutes.

From Dan Carlin’s “Hardcore History” to “Armchair Expert With Dax Shepard”, top-rated podcasters know that a simple interview format can work just as well as “The Daily”, “Invisibilia” and other intricately-produced programs.

Podcasts are wonderful ways to enhance your reputation as a thought leader or innovator. But when you open the mike, make sure you speak from the heart.

Richard Davies is a podcast host and consultant. His firm, DaviesContent, designs, produces, and edits podcasts for clients.