2018: The Year Ahead in Podcast Content & Marketing

“I feel like we have reached a critical mass of cultural penetration in the U.S. and podcasting has become a mainstream media form.”
-Erik Diehn, Midroll CEO

Frankly, the overall growth of podcasting’s audience and revenue is already an old story. The fresh story for 2018 is just how the industry grows–in other words, where growth will come from. Midroll’s management team weighed in on this question, sharing their insights on what lies ahead.

First up: our take on where marketing and content are headed this year. Up next (in a later post): sales, revenue, measurement and what we’ve got in store for Stitcher.

Marketing That Builds Awareness

Stitcher GM Todd Pringle points out, “Historically, we [as an industry] haven’t done a lot of marketing. There’s a huge body of content that people don’t know about. Content that people who don’t listen to podcasts now would love.”

“The key,” says Amy Fitzgibbons, Midroll vice president of marketing, “is to help new listeners understand why they should be interested. While leading producers have gotten good at marketing new shows to podcast fans, the task now is to identify the interests of new listeners and provide useful suggestions for content.”

In Fitzgibbons’ view, most people need just one recommendation to get started, but it has to be the right one and come from a trusted source. For example, someone who is a Financial Times and Economist reader becoming a fan of ‘The Daily’ (from the New York Times) and then trying out other shows from there.

From a marketing perspective, her team is excited about trying new and different ways of attracting fresh ears to podcasting, especially through paid advertising. “We don’t necessarily need to focus on expensive out-of-home campaigns, but the goal should be to get more listeners to podcasting broadly. Then we all benefit.”

Diversity of Content Builds New Audiences

Midroll CEO Erik Diehn is also a fan of “The Daily,” pegging it as an indicator of the continuing diversification of content, another key growth driver. In podcasting’s early days many news organizations took a shot at a daily news show, but the results were disappointing. As a result, “I had written it off as a terrible format,” Erik says.

“But the New York Times proved us wrong by making something true to the medium. It’s intimate and engaging in a way that other editorial products are not. That’s what inspired us to do a deal with Vox for an afternoon daily news show.” That podcast debuts in February.

Diversification also attracts new audiences, argues Midroll chief content officer Chris Bannon. “It feels to me that podcasting as a whole will end up a lot like TV,” he explained, “with a listenership more like the American public at large. Their tastes will drive the medium as we approach 100 million listeners.”

For Midroll, this means it’s important to tailor the format of each show to the material, the hosts and the audience. Chris is looking forward to exciting scripted shows in 2018, including the Marvel collaboration on “Wolverine: The Long Night,” and “GOSSIP,” hosted by popular YouTube star Allison Raskin.  He reports that, “the Marvel project is innovative and I’m excited about both the production team and talent. I was recently in the studio, watching production, and it was tremendous fun to watch an old format like radio drama reinventing itself right in front of me.”

“Wolverine” will debut first on Stitcher Premium before its free ad-supported release. This builds on the windowing strategy that proved successful for the 2017 hits “Missing Richard Simmons” and “Heaven’s Gate,” which brought in substantial new audiences to both podcasting and premium audio.

Chris is also enthusiastic about how many podcast companies are growing the pie. He cites the successes of political talk shows like “Pod Save America,” shows that highlight writing like Gimlet’s “Heavyweight,” and the resurgence in investigative journalism, inspired by the success of “Reveal.” And then there is Oprah. “When someone like Oprah decides podcasting is worth her time, we’ve crossed a threshold.”

Erik agrees. “I feel like we have reached a critical mass of cultural penetration in the U.S. and podcasting has become a mainstream media form.”

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