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September 23, 2022updated 26 Jan 2023 1:55pm

Ads, subs and monetising niche audiences: Five UK podcast sector themes from the Future of Media Technology conference

By Bron Maher and Charlotte Tobitt

Digital audio chiefs at the BBC, Financial Times and Evening Standard have shed light on the future of podcasts and believe the UK is heading into a “golden era” for podcasting amid “phenomenal” audience growth.

While the podcast advertising market is projected to almost double in the coming years, publishers are also weighing up future plans to introduce paid podcast subscriptions.

On Wednesday, Press Gazette’s Future of Media Technology conference featured two panel discussions on podcasting. The first, focused on audience growth and chaired by Nigel Clarke, a CBeebies presenter and founder of Dadvengers, featured panellists from the BBC, FT, the Evening Standard and Small Wardour.

The golden era? ‘I think we’re heading into it’

Asked by Clarke whether we are in a “golden era” for podcasting, each of the panellists said there is more to come for their sector.

“I think we’re heading into the golden age of podcasting,” said David Marsland, the Standard’s head of audio. “We have very, very large amounts of money coming into podcasting…

“I think we’re heading into it. I think we’re going to get our first Sopranos. I think we’re going to get our first Mad Men… It’s like the early days of the movie studios.” He added: “It couldn’t be a better place to be.”

Cheryl Brumley, global head of audio for the FT, said: “I think we’re just on the cusp.

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“Some people call it ‘peak TV’ because of the amount of content, the amount of TV that’s out there. And maybe some could argue that we’re reaching that point with podcasts, because there’s so many podcasts out there.

“But actually there’s a growing sophistication and consolidation in the market that speaks to this very exciting moment that we all find ourselves in.”

Chris Burns, head of audio and digital for BBC England, said: “We’re just starting out and there’s much more.”

She added: “What is so exciting about podcasting is there’s much more innovation in that space, and we need to keep that really going alive. So we want those small ideas that appear small ideas but actually could really fly.”

Podcast subscriptions: ‘Maybe 2023’s the time’

The podcast subscription market is growing fast. And panellists from both the FT and the Standard said this trend is on their radars.

“We really just want to take our time with it,” said Brumley of the FT. “It’s quite a big proposition to say, ‘Now you need to pay for something.’ It’s got to be the right project and the right thing that motivates people to pay for it.

“So we’re taking our time. Maybe 2023’s the time that we’ll have subscription-based content.”

Marsland of the Standard said: “Subscriptions aren’t something we’re looking at too seriously at the Evening Standard right now. We are a free newspaper – we give our content away to people and we rely on an advertising model.

“So it’s something I’m keeping an eye on. It’s something I am interested in doing further down the line. But we’re not quite there.”

Danni Haughan, a former podcasts lead at Apple who now works as head of development for children’s podcast maker Small Wardour, said subscriptions are an important option for creators seeking to build their revenue options.

“During my time at Apple, a big part of what I was doing was launching the subscriptions,” she said. “And one thing I really noticed when I was working with these creators was I do actually genuinely think it is a great way to diversify your business.

“I think podcasting, the monetisation piece, has always been tricky. I think advertising rode in on a white horse and everyone was like, ‘Oh, finally we’ve arrived! It’s here, and this is how we’re going to make it big.’ And I think it really works for a lot of creators, but there are plenty where it doesn’t.

“I think this sort of diversification of your business – particularly with the tricky times we’re coming into now and the concerns around the advertising model – if you have got the audience, no matter how small, I think it’s quite a great way to build up your business and build in some resilience. And then hopefully that loyalty and that growth will come.”

Why UK podcasting has experienced ‘phenomenal growth’

Pictured (left to right): Meera Kumar, Kate Lockie, Matt Hill and Chris Stone. Photo © 2022 – ASV Photography Ltd

The conference’s second podcast panel, focused on revenue strategies, was chaired by Chris Stone, executive producer, audio and video, for New Statesman Media Group, which owns Press Gazette. It featured panellists from Acast, Rethink Audio and podcast producers Auddy.

Kate Lockie, Acast’s commercial partnerships director across EMEA and APAC, was asked by Stone to explain why UK podcast ad revenue is projected by PwC to grow from £37m last year to £64m in 2025.

“I’ve been at Acast five years,” she said. “As you can imagine, podcasting five years ago is completely different to what it is now.

“So I think a lot of the growth is around just general development of content, we’ve got new audience come in. It used to be the classic 25-34, maybe, but now we’re seeing a lot of younger voices come in, Gen Z, [and] 55+.

“We’re getting a lot of more diverse voices, which means we’re getting more audiences. And of course, more audience means more revenue.

“I also think as an industry we’re really developing as well – our adtech is developing, we’re getting a lot more capabilities, targeting capabilities… And just more people listening – the growth is phenomenal. It’s one of the fastest growing mediums.”

Monetising niche audiences

Meera Kumar, a freelance podcaster and content development executive at Auddy, revealed that podcast sponsorship can be four or five times more lucrative than using programmatic advertising.

Kumar said sponsors generally want to work with shows that attract 10,000-plus downloads per episode. But she added that there are opportunities for smaller podcasts.

“Sponsors are looking for very niche audiences,” she said. “There is a sponsor out there who is looking for a parenting podcast with a super-engaged group of dads who are looking to parent better, for example. Or a really enthusiastic board game community.

“The difficulty is getting in front of those sponsors. So sometimes you do need a little bit of help, but those sponsors do want to put their money into your show.”

News podcasts? Be patient

Matt Hill, the founder of podcast production firm Rethink Audio and co-founder of the British Podcast Awards, told the audience that podcasts can be affordable to produce for news publishers. But he warned that many podcasts may need to be patient while waiting to turn a profit.

“Particularly for current affairs shows, you may have to get quite a lot under your belt to get a consistent product with an audience,” he said. “Because everyone starts with zero and you can’t monetise an audience of zero. So you have to work on that and build an audience for your show.”

Hill used The Week’s podcast, Unwrapped, which is produced by Rethink Audio, as an example to show how patience can pay off.

“We did about 40 episodes of that before we had a sponsor come on,” he said “And that sponsor in, I think it was the first deal, basically paid for the previous year’s content.

“It is about building an audience, a certain amount of R&D, but then from that point forward, it not only covered its costs but it started to make money.”

Top photo credit: ASV Photography: Pictured (left to right) are Cheryl Brumley, Danni Haughan, Nigel Clarke, David Marsland and Chris Burns

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