When considering the global potential for podcasts, the prospects of non-American podcast companies and publishers — like the BBC, Louie Media, the Australian (I guess? what a week for that organization), and so on — only make up half the story. The other half revolves around the relationship between American publishers and their non-American audiences with which they theoretically have easier access, given the physical space-collapsing nature of the internet. It’s very much still early days on this front, but for some publishers, the tangible advertising opportunities provided by international listenership are beginning to make themselves loud and clear.
HowStuffWorks, the veteran Atlanta-based company behind shows like Stuff You Should Know and Atlanta Monster, is one such publisher. Jason Hoch, the company’s Head of New Initiatives, tells me that non-American downloads for its podcasts currently trend within the 15-25% range (the proportions differ from show to show), with the top three international markets being Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. To put a point on it, Hoch noted that that listenership from those three regions typically amount to over 20 million monthly ad impressions. In its pursuit to not leave money on the table, HowStuffWorks has forged ad sales partnerships with ad sales companies local to those three markets: The Podcast Exchange in Canada, DAX in the UK, and Whooshkaa in Australia.
Other podcast companies are seeing similar numbers. Here are some examples of publishers thinking through the international question:
- Market Enginuity, which handles ad sales for PRX, tells me that they “do see an incremental revenue opportunity in the international markets.” PRX sees a fairly wide range of non-American audiences across its show portfolio, with most podcasts averaging around a 15% share. The company has not signed any exclusive representation deals in any non-American market just yet, but they have been cultivating relationships with a few key international partners and have lightly engaged in geo-targeting campaigns for the UK, Canada, and Australia.
- Midroll Media sees an average non-American audience range of about 10-30% across its US-based programming. Again, the proportion differs from show to show based, I’m told, on “the prominence of the brand” and “the portability of the subject.” The company isn’t currently working with any third-party to monetize those audiences, but they are actively examining their options and expect to increase their focus on the revenue channel over the next year.
- Gimlet Media tells me that international monetization makes up for “a small percentage” of its annual revenue, but they are actively tracking the segment. “Listenership in English-speaking countries is growing year over year, but we haven’t even scratched the surface on bringing content to market in other languages,” said Anna Sullivan, Gimlet’s head of sales. The publisher’s non-American inventory is currently being repped by An Ideas Company, a firm founded by Matt Curtis, the former Director of Global Partnerships at TED.
Meanwhile, back in Atlanta, it’s full steam ahead for HowStuffWorks’ offshore adventures. “The scale at HowStuffWorks is allowing us to take a leadership position in the international market, especially as we’ve learned more about this audience,” said Hoch. Some of these learnings, Hoch tells me, are surprising: like how they’ve been getting premium ad rates in other countries that often outperform what they’ve been seeing in the United States… at least, for now.
Hoch is also closely watching how the recent introduction of Google Podcasts will affect non-American listening, given the product’s theoretical ability to open up greater volumes of podcast consumption on Android. (It’s worth remembering, as always, that Android continues to dominate the global smartphone market, particularly outside of the United States. Here’s a report from the Axel Springer-owned eMarketer reminding us as such.) “Looking at Eastern European countries, we’re seeing Android market share in the 70-80% range. Overlay that with Google’s push for Android adoption of podcasts and we think new audience consuming podcasts overseas will significantly expand in the coming years.”” said Hoch, carrying the thought to its logical end.
This is a pretty interesting — and not to mention exciting! — trend to track, but at this point, two qualifiers should be flagged:
Firstly, keep in mind that this story is largely limited to non-American audiences in Western English-speaking countries. (Well, two Western countries plus an Oceanic one, depending on how you view Australia, I guess.) To state the obvious, the opportunities and challenges for American podcast publishers are substantially different in countries where English isn’t the primary language and where the publishing ecosystem hails from a completely different economic, historical and political context. That said, some publishers, like the New York-based reVolver podcast network which boasts some Spanish-language programming, may well be better positioned than others. I’m curious to see what will happen on the non-English language frontier, if anything will indeed happen at all within the next few years.
And secondly, it’s also worth taking a few steps backwards to view any potential push towards international monetization runs alongside the actual fundamental ongoing challenge of the industry: to better serve American advertisers that still seek more effective and efficient ways of using podcasts to reach American audiences.