Issue 190,  published January 8, 2019

2019 Scene Setting

Last year was a strange and busy one for podcast-land between the shake-ups and bubble talk and the mergers-acquisitions and launches on launches on launches. And from the looks of it, the next year will likely prove to be equally peculiar one as well. Will podcast audiences and advertising revenue continue to grow? Will non-advertising business models firmly take root across the ecosystem? Will Apple continue to define podcasting by the end of the year? Worth considering, as well, that this community is not immune to the world outside: will or will there not be a recession?

If you’ve been reading Hot Pod for a while, you probably know that I like to kick the year off with some scene-setting that’s supposed to give us some sense of a baseline. That baseline is generally tethered the following line of inquiry: is the industry continuing to grow, and if so, how?

Audience

An estimated 73 million Americans (or about 26% of the population over 12) can be considered monthly podcast listeners, according to Edison Research and Triton Digital’s ever-dependable annual Infinite Dial report, which gives the American podcast industry its clearest number to beat. That’s up from 67 million in 2017, and if you’re looking for a longer time scale, that’s up from 32 million in 2013, the year before the iOS 8 rollout and Serial. Also worth noting: Edison Research has found that the podcast listening audience has begun to look more like the American population as a whole in terms of race, and that the gender gap in podcast listenership is slowly closing.

It’s about time that we additionally extended this scene-setting treatment to communities beyond American shores, given that this newsletter’s focus has sought to be increasingly international over the past year. To that end, here are the relevant numbers to track:

Those are the numbers we’re leaning on. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll continue to get good information from these markets, and that we’ll end up getting good ones from more countries as well.

Revenue

For advertising, the podcast industry’s biggest (and most formally tracked) revenue channel, we’re relying on numbers from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), which has been publishing helpful advertising revenue survey studies since 2017. Those studies are primarily built on self-reported revenues from about 19 participating podcast companies, which are then used to attempt estimates of the wider market.

In the IAB’s second annual podcast advertising revenue study published last June, the self-reported industry advertising numbers pegged revenues to around $257.4 million for the full year 2017, and estimated the wider market to be around $313.9 million. (Whether that’s a conservative estimate is up to you to mull over. I’ve heard execs argue both ways.) Those full 2017 numbers beat the IAB’s earlier projection of $220 million for the year, and it’s up from $119 million in self-reported revenues the previous year.

Did US podcast advertising revenues grow last year, and to what extent? I imagine we’ll find out when the IAB releases its third annual survey sometime in the summer.

Will we end the year in a place where advertising isn’t the only major revenue-related question? If a few things shake out the right way, perhaps. Should that be the case, we would have to start earnestly attempting measures of paid business models (i.e. Stitcher Premium, the upcoming Luminary, and so on) and direct contributions (Patreon, crowdfunding campaigns, and so on). We would also have to grapple with emerging revenues from podcast advertising marketplaces like Anchor, Megaphone, and the like — should those revenues become meaningful, of course — as well as preexisting advertising solutions from streaming platforms working to inch their way into the podcast ecosystem, like Pandora.

But much like how most communities in America are dealing with the inevitable fallout from climate change, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there, and I look forward to untangling the many ways in which those revenue numbers will be framed and spun. (Perks of the job, baby.) For now, we’ll move forward with the assumption that advertising continues to be the heartbeat of the podcast business. And for now, we’ll continue to persist beneath the shadow of an all-consuming narrative: that the gap between podcast listening engagement (which is super strong) and podcast monetization (which, comparatively, isn’t) is one that needs desperately to be closed as soon as possible, and that oh won’t someone innovative save us right about now.