The Local Podcast Opportunity

Contributor: Steve Goldstein, founder and CEO, Amplifi Media

When you think of podcasting, it is almost always about national podcasts. That appears to be changing. The next wave of podcasting growth is coming from locally-focused content. While the early days of local podcasting were populated with hobbyists, a larger ecosystem is now brewing with TV stations, newspapers, and outside companies coming into the space. Several radio groups, with plenty of radio stations, have robust national podcast efforts, but in general, modest effort has gone toward creating and selling local podcasts.

Until recently, commercial radio’s role in local podcasting had not been quantified. There was no visibility into what was happening. So, this fall, Amplifi Media joined the RAB (Radio Advertising Bureau) to conduct the first survey examining what’s happening with commercial radio and local podcasts.

The “Local Podcast Opportunity” survey aimed to benchmark the industry and provide insights into challenges, opportunities, and revenue-generating successes. We revealed the results and observations to the RAB board and its members, providing a roadmap on how stations can use local podcasting to attract new revenue, find new listeners, and re-engage audiences spending less time with commercial radio. (RAB members can view the presentation on demand here.)

There were many questions about the findings; we tackle a few here:

Q: It’s hard enough to sell radio in a crowded media landscape. Advertisers are confused and overwhelmed. What’s the value proposition for podcasts vs. our on-air shows? — Kim

A: Podcasts offer the opportunity for an advertiser to reach audiences which can extend beyond their format. If the podcast is a time-shift of broadcast content, the value to the advertiser is reaching a consumer who is passionate and truly engaged with the program delivered. The other thing to consider is that half of all U.S. 25-54 time spent with talk/personality content occurs via podcast. With this growth, it is an opportunity for an advertiser to extend their reach.

For radio stations, podcasting is a growth and retention play. Much of your content is heard by a small percentage of your listeners. Podcasts can extend the reach and unlock great moments. The value proposition is making it easy for your listeners to find content where they want it and when. That’s becoming a real user expectation.

While original audio is the holy grail, a great place to start is with a thoughtful time-shifted content strategy. Either way, marketing your podcasts is paramount. TV stations and networks now promote their shows on channels, apps, and streaming services and monetize by rolling up the total audience or selling each platform separately.

Q: Fragmentation is an objection we’ve heard in radio forever. With millions of podcasts available, how do any of them get attention? — Annie

A: This is an important question. There are millions of podcasts, though fewer are active than you might think. More than half of podcasts are out of production. Even less have produced new content in the last 90 days. The active ones push and pull levers to attract audiences from other podcasts, social media, and various marketing channels.

Even in a high-tech world, word of mouth is the top way people find out about content. It’s true in video and audio. Radio’s secret sauce is its enormous and coveted megaphone to generate awareness and trial. Radio knows how to move an audience and have been doing it forever, and on top of that, the number of local podcast titles is small, improving your odds.

Q: I have a spoken word station, very popular in my market. Advertisers love it. Our announcers are doing podcasts, but their downloads are in the 100’s, not the hundreds of thousands. Meaning they are far less of an audience than our over the air audience. How do I sell that? — Tom

A: This is not an unusual challenge. The main mission is getting more ears, after all, sales dollars chase ears. The issue of low downloads could come from several factors. The content may not be compelling enough, awareness among the station’s cume might be low, and the promos might lack urgency or import. If it is an older audience, they may not know how to listen to a podcast. Sometimes, talented on-air personalities aren’t the right hosts for podcasts. We often find the problem is the content is not of high value. Two key questions to ask before launching a podcast; “what problem are we solving?” and “why us?” Average content does poorly. With the right content and promotion, you will see numbers rise. Here is some proof:

For this study, with the help of Triton Digital’s podcast platform, we investigated a handful of DMAs to see if local podcasts were garnering any audience. It was exciting to see time-shifted podcasts from a Cumulus station at #8 in Dallas, a sports station from Bonneville in Seattle with the 13th top podcast, and a Philadelphia morning show from Beasley at #16 in Triton’s ranker. The bigger news is the number of unique listeners was substantial, which translates to listener growth and retention. There is solid potential here to help the entire station’s footprint.

Q: How do we distribute our podcast? You mentioned Spotify, YouTube, and Apple Podcasts. Can anyone get on those platforms, and if so, how do we get noticed? — Greg

A: Yes, anyone can get on all the major platforms. Podcast downloads and listens occur via an RSS feed, which is an acronym for “Real Simple Syndication.” Any podcast hosting platform – and there are many – will distribute your podcast everywhere podcasts are listened to with a touch of a few buttons. As far as getting noticed, it starts with creating truly valuable local content, we call it HVC – High Value Content, and then using all your promotional assets, including over the air, email, and social, to encourage sampling. Without a significant promotional push, most podcasts are unlikely to be discovered.

Q: My impression is that smaller markets will have much more of a challenge in the podcast milieu. How does a small market make money on podcasts – can we? — Scott

A: While we were revealing the study findings, a station from a smaller market shared they have a vibrant arts community and are doing a local arts update podcast. This is targeted and smart. I love that.

Branded content and sponsorships can be fantastic tools. A local medical center, for example, can create and sponsor podcast content relevant to the community. A local expert about outdoor sports can speak to enthusiasts. We worked with a food podcast. Food is a great, super-local topic. It’s not about generating millions of downloads. It’s not a CPM sell; it’s about connecting your clients with the right listeners. Think of it this way, if you could fill a venue with 750 people to attend a bridal fair, that would be great.

Q: What about having a package where locals can pay to come in and record a podcast in our studios, and post it on our station podcast pages? — Cathy

A: Sure. However, podcast equipment is inexpensive, and many have rigged “studios” in their basement or closet, so the focus would be for your organization to add value – someone on staff who understands how podcasts differ from broadcasts and can help make a better show. You have a sales staff and marketing channels to help them monetize. While listing on your website is good, most listening won’t occur there, so consider using your “owned media” as a promotional asset and charge for that.

Q: The Marconi Award podcasts you showed were all from huge markets. We are in a small market in Minnesota, how do we get noticed? — Dave

A: True, the podcasts that entered the NAB awards show this past year came from larger markets. They may have had the capacity to scale up faster, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they create better content. I was a judge for the NAB’s Marconi Awards panel for many years, and I can tell you any station is encouraged to enter. Great content is being created in markets of all sizes. Regarding getting noticed, I always hoped for food bribes, but it never happened.

There are Riches in Niches
Part of the way forward in on-demand audio involves a bit of a reset for many broadcasters. In the webinar we did with the RAB, we showed the top 24 shows on Apple Podcasts. These big podcasts cover many topics that connect with people, including true crime, self-help, sports, religion, and news. Only two shows in the top 24 were about politics. That is a mindset change for a lot of radio people.

What would resonate in your market?


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