Podcasting has been gaining popularity since the early 2000s, but it has only recently begun to reach real economic significance. What began as a collective of small-scale content creators has flourished into a major media ecosystem. Today, over 100 million Americans listen to podcasts each month, and the medium’s popularity has led to a slew of recent acquisitions and venture capital funding rounds.
However, while podcasting’s listener growth and content expansion has been extraordinary, podcasting as a business has been slower to develop. Companies are struggling to fully monetize the medium’s ongoing swell in popularity, which creates a significant opportunity for new entrants to help develop and define the economic ecosystem for the space.
Podcasting by the Numbers
Monthly Listeners (US): 105 million (up from 86M in 2018)
Weekly Listeners (US): 73 million (up from 56M in 2018)
- 2018 – $479 Million
- 2019(e) – $679 Million
- 2020(e) – $863 Million
Revenue by Genre (2018):
- News and Politics 18%
- Comedy – 13%
- Business – 12%
- Education – 11%
- Arts and Entertainments – 10%
- True Crime – 9%
Revenue by Ad Purchaser (2018):
- Retail (DTC) – 22%
- Financial Services – 21%
- B2B – 14.1%
- Arts and Entertainment – 9.6%
- Telecom – 7.1%
The average podcast listener is affluent, well-educated, highly engaged with the medium, and is relatively new to podcasting
- Gender: 56% male vs. 44% female
- Income: 45% of listeners make $75k or more per year (vs 35% of population)
- Education: 27% of listeners have 4-year college degrees (vs 19% of population)
- Engagement: Average listener listens to 7 different shows per week
- Experience: 65% of listeners started listening within the last 3 years
The Monetization Problem:
Podcast monetization has been a major concern throughout the medium’s brief history. Smaller podcasts are sustained mostly from “tipping” through platforms like Patreon, while more established programs are beginning to gain success through ad sales. However, consumer data collection and ad purchasing infrastructure lags significantly behind traditional forms of media. For instance, programmatic ad purchasing made up 85% of spending on US digital display ads in 2019, while programmatic buying makes up just 2.3% of podcasting ad dollars. Publishers also know very little about their listeners. Until very recently, hosting platforms would only offer listeners’ IP address, a far cry from the plethora of demographics data generated by companies like Facebook and Google. This lack of data and infrastructure has made many of the largest advertisers reluctant to commit significant add spend on the medium.
However, robust listener growth and encouraging podcasting demographics suggest a bright future for podcast monetization. Total podcasting revenue remained relatively small at $679 million in 2019 (Internet and TV advertising rev are both over $100 billion), but the number is growing rapidly thanks in large part to the emergence of new companies working to improve the podcast ecosystem. Startups in the space are taking aim at refining listener data collection, facilitating add purchasing, and creating branded content.
Monetization Methods and Companies:
- Ads & Sponsorships: Midroll ad network with 200 advertisers and 250 podcasts, Anchor Sponsorships connects podcasters with brands (open to all sizes)
- Tipping: Patreon, Radio Public
- Paid Content: Acast sells show passes for exclusive content, Breaker Upstream is a pay per episode/subscription model.
- Branded Content: Gimlet, Mission
- Subscription: Stitcher, Gimlet, Luminary
- Live shows and Intellectual property: Individual podcasters and networks
As podcasting gained popularity, new entrants were coaxed into the podcast publishing business, which helped bolster credibility for the industry. Content creators expanded beyond individuals and small-scale operations to include much larger organizations.
Major Podcast Publisher Categories:
- Media Companies: NPR, New York Times, IHeartMedia
- Podcast only production companies: Wondery, Gimlet, Cadence13, Waitwhat
- Large Indies: Joe Rogan, Sam Harris, Tim Ferris
- Non-Media businesses/non-profits: Cold Call (HBS), Tiny Spark, DuoLinguo
- Hobbyist: Small creators with median downloads per ep at 124
Podcast Industry Deals on the Rise:
One important sign that podcasting is reaching an inflection point when it comes to revenue and profitability is the surge of acquisitions and venture deals in recent months. In 2019 alone, Spotify spent nearly $600 million acquiring publishing and podcast ad marketplace companies.
Major Acquisitions/Funding Rounds in 2019 and 2020:
- Spotify Acquires Gimlet Media for $250 million
- Spotify Acquires Anchor for $140 million
- Spotify acquires The Ringer for $196 million
- Patreon raised $60 million series D (Glade Brook Capital)
- Wondery raised $10 million Series B (Waverly Capital)
- Himalaya Media Raised $100 million in a venture round (Ximalaya)
- Acast raised 25 million pounds in a quasi-equity raise (EIB)
- Waitwhat raised $4.3 million series A (Cue Ball)
- Supercast raised $2 million in a seed round (Tiny Capital)
- Majelan Raised $10 million pounds in a seed round ( Idinvest Partners)
- Dear Media raised $8 million in a series A round (Jeff Berman)
Where Podcasting is Heading:
Looking forward, there are several interesting areas for podcasting to develop. First, we’re beginning to see a shift from podcasting’s original model where platforms offer large, free libraries (think Apple Podcast App) to a premium, exclusive content model. Not only have we seen companies like Apple and Spotify make massive investments in publishing, but we’ve also seen the emergence of niche publishing/hosting companies like Stitcher and Luminary who are making names for themselves with quality, exclusive content.
Second, there remains a large opportunity for companies to help close the gap between podcasting and traditional media when it comes to the ad buying process and the utilization of listener data. Companies like Midroll, Anchor, and Backtracks are making it more seamless for advertisers to purchase ads and get a better understanding of the efficacy of their ad dollars. This is a key hurdle the industry has to overcome in order for revenue dollars to continue to grow.
Finally, podcasting companies could see an important benefit from the rise in audio consumption and the blending of audio categories. A 2019 study conducted by Ipsos found that audio consumption in the US is at an all-time high and the growth is being driven by Millennials and Gen Z consumers. Furthermore, these young consumers are listening to more types of audio from a greater variety of sources than ever before. As the lines become less clearly defined between types of audio, whether it be music, podcasts or audiobooks, all consumer audio outlets stand to gain. For example, the Chinese audio sharing company, Ximalaya, which was featured prominently in Andreessen Horowitz’s recent podcast post, could be a key archetype for this trend. The company, now valued at over $3.5 billion, has achieved enormous success positioning itself as the “everything audio” company. It packages audio mediums including podcasts, music, courses, and film dubbing all under the same umbrella. Podcasting is becoming an increasingly important part of the consumer audio mix with Spotify recently reporting that 16% of its 286 million listeners are listening to podcasts.
The inflection point is here. Podcasting, as a medium, is now squarely in the mainstream and the industry is primed for innovation. There are now countless opportunities for the creation of the infrastructure and the content that will drive the maturation of the industry.