2014: A Big Year for Podcasting, and for Midroll Media

Call it a renaissance, a breakthrough, or a tipping point. Whatever you call it, 2014 was a big year for podcasting. It was a big year for Midroll Media, too. The company was formed at the end of 2013 from the marriage of the Earwolf podcast network and the Midroll ad network. That happy union then produced its first offspring this year, the Wolfpop network.

Before I dig into some of our major milestones I’d like to set the stage for just how big 2014 was for both podcasting and Midroll in 2014. For instance, the websites of our two owned-and-operated networks, Earwolf and Wolfpop, together served over 20 million page views to more than 1.9 million users.

Next, let’s zoom out to see all the shows Midroll represents to advertisers, which adds another 130 podcasts on top of the Wolfpop and Earwolf line-ups. Collectively these shows racked up 300 million downloads in 2014 across all platforms, including iTunes, SoundCloud and YouTube. There’s no denying that is a lot of listens.

(More Than) Double the Shows & Advertisers

Having that many podcasts in the Midroll roster results from more than doubling the number of shows we represent to advertisers. Midroll also more than doubled the number of active advertisers. According to Lex Friedman, EVP of Sales and Development, “We have more inventory than ever and more advertisers than ever.”

“The list of advertisers is growing dramatically,” observes Erik Diehn, VP of Business Development. “The fact that so many of those are renewals means they’re also finding results.”

Some very big shows joined Midroll in 2014, from StarTalk Radio with Neil deGrasse Tyson to podcasts from gaming MCN Machinima. In October we announced an exclusive ad partnership with Nerdist Industries that begins in 2015.

StartUp, from This American Life and NPR veteran Alex Blumberg, was one of the most talked-about new podcasts this year. That show is also exclusively represented by Midroll. Erik Diehn, VP for Business Development, says there was immediate success with the show, selling out all ad spots, “almost immediately when we began to sell it. This shows that demand has picked up for big properties.”

Blumberg, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Nerdist CEO Chris Hardwick and President Adam Rymer were all guests on Earwolf’s The Wolf Den podcast, to discuss the business and strategy of podcasting. Blumberg even revealed his plans for the podcast startup company that would become Gimlet Media, months before it was covered elsewhere.

Strong revenue for all our podcasts is obviously good for the company, too. CEO Adam Sachs says, “We exceeded our revenue goals. And we set relatively aggressive goals.” Revenue for 2014 is nearly triple that for 2013.

This allowed Midroll to invest in the company during this past year, particularly by hiring staff in key areas, from production and technology to sales and business development.

Houston, We Have Wolfpop

Launching a new network of thirteen shows–nine of them new productions–is no small feat. Adam says, “Wolfpop is a personal milestone for me.”

He explains that, “I looked at my notes and saw we had initial discussions about the network on July 27. Then we launched November 4, just three months later. All of the shows were in the iTunes top 100 that first day.”

Erik agrees that it’s a significant milestone. “Wolfpop showed that with owned-and-operated shows we can execute quickly and maintain a high degree of quality,” he says.

Even so, launching with thirteen shows was an ambitious undertaking. Adam notes that wasn’t the initial strategy. Originally the plan was to have four to six podcasts, with a combination of new and existing shows. However, “we got more yeses than we anticipated,” from the talent who were approached to join the network.

At the same time, Adam says that starting big brought attention to the network. “It wouldn’t have been as newsworthy without a ton of shows. It was like we pulled back the curtain.”

A Smooth Transition

In the midst of this rapid growth, Midroll passed a significant milestone in June when founding CEO Jeff Ullrich stepped aside to become Non-Executive Chairman and Adam transitioned in as the new chief executive. At the time Jeff said, “As a founder, you never plan on firing yourself. But given Adam’s ability to grow our business while protecting our great culture, I realized I had that option.

"He has twice as much experience as a CEO as I do and I trust him completely. The company is at a stage where founder’s intuition isn’t enough to realize our ambitions. It’s time for us to have a CEO who can provide managerial leadership in both day-to-day operations and overall strategy.”

Reflecting on the transition, Adam acknowledges that it could have been “disruptive and jarring.” But as it turned out, “we didn’t let it slow us down as all.” In fact, plans for Wolfpop were being drawn up only about six weeks after the transition announcement.

Crucially, he and Jeff found a good working relationship. “Jeff has made a real effort to embrace his new role,” Adam says. “That’s not easy for any founder.”

Now they have a monthly full-day offsite meeting. Adam calls these, “our version of a board meeting,” because as a small, privately held company, Midroll does not have a board of directors. He says these meetings are valuable because he and Jeff can spend most of their time discussing big picture strategy.

“Jeff has as much–or more–experience in the podcasting space than just about anybody,” Adam notes.

With such an amazing year behind us, it’s clear that Midroll Media and the podcasting industry together are poised for even more propulsive growth in 2015. We’ll explore that more after the new year.

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