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Startup Watch: Podimo

The "Netflix for Podcasts" Theory and Non-US Markets

… aaaand it looks like we have yet another team itching to make a go at the much-vaunted “Netflix for Podcasts” proposition, this time from good ol’ Scandinavia. On Wednesday, TechCrunch ran a piece on a Danish startup called Podimo that has raised €6 million in seed funding to build… oh, you know. That seed round was co-led by and Heartcore Capital. (The latter is Danish, in case anybody was looking out for that.)

In the TechCrunch write-up, Podimo founder Morten Strunge appears to describe a product strategy that pretty much resembles Luminary: the platform will come with free and premium tiers, the free tier will come with monetization tools meant to help podcast creators, the general promise to consumers is a better experience with discovery, so on and so forth. Doesn’t seem like there’s much that’s especially new to chew on here.

So, if you’ve been reading Hot Pod for a while, you probably know my broad spiel on “premium” paid subscription platforms by now: that shit’s really hard. As the proprietor of said platform, you need to consistently beat the infinitely expanding universe of free alternatives — good portions of which are deemed high quality material by good portions of the listenership — and you need to build the right system of incentives for creators to work with you. That’s exponentially harder in a market environment where you’re not hyper-focused on revolutionizing something that actually needs fundamental improvement, whether it’s the business model, the user experience, or the creator experience. (Which is to say, I remain ambivalent, but nonetheless curious, about Luminary, which still has access to sizable warchests. Brew, not so much.)

That said, though… I do find myself curious about my paid platform spiel holds up when applied to markets outside of the US. As I mentioned during the interview I conducted with Wondery CEO Hernan Lopez, one of the prevailing theories on podcasting’s relative under-development in other markets is the slow growth of advertisers willing to buy into shows operating out of those markets. There’s some chicken-and-egg action here: you could argue that advertisers in, say, France — an arbitrary choice of example here, by the way, not imputing anything specific about France — aren’t systematically or aggressively trying out podcast buys because there aren’t enough French podcasts with audience pools worth experimenting with, but I suppose you could also argue that the lack of experimental advertising money greatly reduces the rate at which French podcasts as a media class can produce, innovate, and iterate on itself. Another version of this argument: there are not enough advertisers in non-US markets willing to make experimental buys that could inject growth and incentives in podcast creations within those markets, perhaps in the manner that there were during the early days of US podcasting, which ultimately led to the creation of data points and case studies that reduced the risk for other advertisers to buy in thus allowing for the creation of the US podcast advertising economy we have today. (Squarespace, you pioneers you.)

Which is why I think — I suspect — there’s a pathway, in this moment in time, for paid podcasting platforms to fill in the gap in countries beyond the United States. Here’s how I’m roughly breaking this down in my head:

  • When it comes to creators…. Within the US, these platforms would have to cleanly and consistently define its value proposition to creators in opposition to advertising dollars. Outside the US, where advertising dollars as a podcast business engine isn’t quite as developed, these platforms could step in as the primary business engine for creators, operating as principal buyers of content.

  • When it comes to audiences… Within the US, these platforms would have to compete for audiences within an infinitely expanding universe of free alternatives. Outside the US, particularly if these platforms adopt an editorial strategy that’s rooted in the creator community of their respective countries, they would be creating a pipeline of sharply differentiated products — sharply differentiated, of course, because they didn’t previously exist.

Again, these are broad strokes of a theory, and one should always accommodate for risks. A few that are rolling off the top of my head:

  • Given that one of the internet’s fundamental characteristics is the way that it collapses space, we shouldn’t pretend that the US market and non-US markets are structurally separate or made distinct from one another. Which is to say: listeners in other countries have easy access to American podcasts, so we’re not talking about a complete competitive vacuum here.

  • As Hernan Lopez would say, you still gotta make the hits. And that shit’s hard.

  • I imagine this hypothetical strategy — paid podcast platform as potentially foundational pillar of podcasting in non-American markets — requires radical rethinking if a pre-existing audio streaming platform — say, Spotify — actually becomes a meaningful driver of podcasts in non-American markets. We’ll see.

Alright, that’s it from me on this subject. For now, anyway.