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Further Notes on the Revenue Study

The revenue breakdowns by genre are worth a closer read.

The top-line finding from the IAB/PWC Podcast Revenue Study was always going to be the data point that travels, and in this specific case, we’re talking about the 53% increase in podcast advertising revenues between 2017 and 2018.

Of course, that jump was never really going to be a surprise — we know for a fact that podcasting as a media category continued to buzz within that 2017-2018 period — and for what it’s worth, the pertinent question for me has always been the meta-one: does this report give us an adequately representative sense of the actual size of podcast advertising? From what I’ve been hearing since these studies started being published, the general feeling among podcast folks has been: it’s adequate enough.

Anyway, the section of study that I most like spending time thinking about is the revenue breakdowns by programming genre. It’s always a productive reminder that not all podcast genres are equal, and not all podcast genres are monetized equally.

According to the report, here are the three biggest revenue drivers by genre in 2018:

  • News/Politics/Current Events (18.4%)
  • Comedy (13.9%)
  • Business (12.8%)

Meanwhile, here are the three fastest growing revenue drivers by genre between 2017 and 2018:

  • Children’s Programming (500%, from 0.1% to 0.6%)
  • Games & Hobbies (385.7%, from 0.7% to 3.4%)
  • Scripted Fiction (344.4%, from 0.9% to 4.0%). Shout-out to the entire fiction podcast community.

Three things that I’m thinking about:

(1) One should keep in mind that these are the podcast genres as conceptualized and categorized by the team that prepares the report, and that it isn’t merely a one-to-one mapping of the rubric established by the Apple Podcast directory system. (Which is changing, by the way. More on that in a bit.)

Making these categorical decisions is a tricky process, and a political one, because it’s essentially an attempt to lay a kind of interpretative structure over a system that can often be described as creatively chaotic. (How, for example, would you categorize Jon Mooallem’s Walking — “Games & Hobbies”? “Lifestyle”? Indeed, where would you sort something like Ear Hustle? “Current Events?” “True Crime”?)

All of which is to say, the report tells a story in broad strokes, and as such, one should take it as a broad guide.

(2) This one caught my eye: the “Sports” genre appears to have fallen by 73.7%, from 3.8% to 1.0%. Which is surprising to me, given the deep popularity of the genre, and more immediately, given that sports publishers make up two out of the ten slots in Podtrac’s Top 10 Podcast Publishers ranker. (That’s ESPN and Barstool Sports, for those who opt not to click through. Barstool Sports, by the way, being the company that said it brought in $15 million in podcast revenue last year, per Digiday.) I feel like there’s a story here.

(3) The report singled out that five genres make up 65.7% of the ad revenue captured in 2018: “News/Politics/Current Events,” “Comedy,” “Business,” “Education,” and “Arts & Entertainment.” As it stands, the spread makes sense to me — but I imagine it’ll even out over time. That said, we’re about to roll into an election year here in the US, so I’m guessing that the News/Politics bucket is probably going to hold at the very top for at least a few more report cycles.

Okay, a few other things that I found interesting:

  • The majority of ads are now bought and sold on a quarterly basis. In 2017, the majority were sold on an annual basis.
  • “Supplied ads” — that is, pre-produced advertising experiences that aren’t handled by the podcast creators themselves — is still a miniscule slice of the ad type in 2018 (at 1.7%), but it did jump from 2017 (0.5%). I’m not going to go into my whole rant about supplied ads being antithetical to the effectiveness of what we currently understand as podcast advertising, but know that the rant exists, and I’m aggressively playing it out in my head.
  • Branded content continues to be on the rise: 10.1% in 2018, up from 1.5% in 2016. Meanwhile, direct response ads are going the other direction: 51.6% in 2018, down from 73%. So holster your basic quips about podcast advertising and, well, Quip.

And that concludes Read-Along Time with Nick Quah.