Music streamers, TV and radio broadcasters and even software developers are binging on podcasts.
Spotify Technology SA (SPOT) has been the most prolific buyer lately. The Ringer, the Bill Simmons sports-mad podcast and media group, is the streaming company’s fourth podcast-related acquisition target in the last year. Meanwhile, old-school broadcasters iHeartMedia Inc. (IHRT), Entercom Communications Corp. (ETM) and E.W. Scripps Co. (SSP) and enterprise software developer RingDNA Inc. have purchased podcasters. The spoken digital audio segments are increasingly important to Apple Inc. (AAPL) and Alphabet Inc.’s (GOOGL) Google.
“Over the past decade, video was considered to be the business world’s hottest storytelling medium,” RingDNA chief marketing officer William Tyree explained in an email to The Deal, following the company’s purchase of sales podcast Accelerate! in late February. “Podcasting is the medium of choice for the next decade.”
Podcasting revenues haven’t cracked $1 billion, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau. However, Spotify, The New York Times, iHeartMedia and others tout the increasing time that users spend with the medium.
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“The appeal is due in large part the level of engagement, the pure, raw listening hours that are happening, which has is certainly a catalyst for folks like Spotify and New York Times and others to look at the space,” one media banker said.
Moreover, the stories behind the downloads can translate into other formats at a time when media companies such as Netflix Inc. (NFLX) and Walt Disney Co. (DIS) are in an arms race for exclusive content franchises. “Podcast companies are really sort of seen as really interesting incubators around great stories and great IP that can be converted into television, film or what have you,” the banker said. “We live in a market today where great stories are at a premium and are desired by kind of all kinds of media companies.”
More than half of Americans have listened to a podcast, research and polling company Edison Research reported.
“That is a significant number because once you get over the halfway mark, the adoption rate exponentially increases,” Kerri Hoffman, CEO of radio and podcast nonprofit PRX, told The Deal.
PRX is the fifth-largest podcast publisher based on monthly listeners according to Podtrac Inc., which collects data on podcasts and their publishers. The Boston group publishes podcasts such as “The Moth,” distributes a broader portfolio that includes “This American Life” and develops podcasting publishing and advertising technology. The organization merged with Public Radio International in 2018. PRX had more of the weekend programming and podcasts, while PRI brought daily news programs.
“The best podcasts follow empathy through story or serve a very specific need,” she said. “That need can be ‘I’d like to learn something, please teach me’ or ‘I’d like to understand something that’s an esoteric concept. I need a way in.'” She pointed to the podcast “Smart Passive Income” by Pat Flynn, which instructs listeners about how to generate income with minimal active work. “The purpose of his podcast is literally to educate people on how to earn smart passive income,” she said. “There is no confusion about it.”
A radio program such as “This American Life,” which is produced by This American Life and Serial Productions in coordination with Chicago NPR station WBEZ and distributed via PRX, is a natural bridge between radio and podcasting. The show brings more listeners to podcasting but also inspires future podcasters.
“A thing that’s so amazing about a show like ‘This American Life’ is there are so many copycats out there and some of them build on it and do something different,” Hoffman said.
Not surprisingly, the top podcasters have experience telling stories. NPR is the largest with an audience of 26,000 monthly users, according to PodTrac. Then comes radio behemoth iHeartMedia, with 23,000 monthly users, and New York Times Co. (NYT), which has about 11,000 monthly users and publishes “The Daily,” the top podcast.
Radio group iHeartMedia bought Raine Group LLC-backed Stuff Media LLC for $55 million in 2018, and operates a prodigious podcasting operation that uses its stations to promote its digital audio titles such as “Stuff You Should Know.”
“iHeart has a five times audience lead over the No. 2 commercial broadcast radio company,” chairman and CEO Bob Pittman told investors during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call on Feb. 27.
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