After nearly three decades as Saga’s Executive VP and Group Program Director—from 1986 through March 2015—Steve Goldstein heard the call of a new opportunity, in the land of podcasting. As founder & CEO of Amplifi Media, he specializes in the development of on-demand digital audio, with an ear on recruiting and developing talent, while adapting audio content to a time-shifted, on-demand environment. Goldstein spoke with Inside Radio about the burgeoning podcasting arena, as well as his veteran perspective on terrestrial radio.
After three decades in broadcast radio programming, what attracted you to podcasting?
I have actually been programming for—gulp—close to 35 years, with 28 at Saga. For most of that time, radio has had a wide moat around it. It “owned” the car and was part of a limited local media environment. But that is changing now and I wanted a front row seat. What is occurring with video is happening, albeit a bit more slowly, with audio. The irrefutable future is on-demand content. Think about TV: Nobody channel surfs anymore, they record shows or go to Netflix and YouTube. Overall, audio listening is increasing, which is great, but radio will continue to lose share as other forms proliferate.
In the eight months since launching Amplifi Media, how has the business grown and what types of clients are you working with?
I'm working with stations, station groups and radio networks to develop strategies and content. I’m working with some individual podcasters and also made an investment in a startup in the space. I’ve also done a lot of speaking engagements.
How big is radio’s on-demand audio/podcast opportunity?
It can and should be big. Edison data shows AM/FM is still dominant with 55% of audio listening. But that means today, nearly half of all audio listening is with other sources. As the connected car becomes more prevalent and other options become available, the pressure will be on to retain and hopefully build share. Thirty-two million people listened to a podcast last week; that’s more than listen to satellite radio. Among Millennials, four out of 10 listen to podcasts each month. So the stakes are becoming more significant and thus more important. Being at the DASH conference two weeks ago was an eye-opener. Apple Carplay will be in all GM cars starting next year, and a podcast button will be front and center, but you will have to go back to the car’s digital platform to find AM/FM.
Should stations focus on clipping the best segments from their broadcast programming for on-demand consumption or work on generating new digital-only programming?
Let’s divide things up. Time-shifted audio is really a retention strategy, so getting the content onto more platforms is a good idea. Make it easy for people to find and listen to good content at a convenient time. That requires some curation. Just shoving hours of programming online is a lazy strategy and so far not very fruitful. Nobody has three hours to listen to the radio show on the air, and they are not going to do it online. So it requires rethinking and repackaging.
Some stations use short clips. That’s a great way to feature a snippet from the football coach, or share audio with a friend. Digital-only is original content and that is where I think the long term win will be. It can give a station more voice in a local market.
Why is it important to keep podcasts short?
It depends on the mission. For some, long works fine. NPR runs some extremely successful hour-long shows, but the data I have seen is pretty compelling: 40% of listeners are gone within 7 minutes. That’s more about developing, curating and executing great content. People have short attention spans and demand quality. There are niche programs, which can be more indulgent. If you are into fly-fishing or real estate, it can be a pleasurable deep dive. In podcasting, I would say, go as long as you need to, and then stop. But it is a show and people vote with buttons.
What have you learned about how listening behaviors differ online compared to on air?
Great question. It is different. Just as there are tricks to make radio work better, podcast audio has its tricks and idiosyncrasies. I have spent a lot of time focused on what prints best in podcasting. Many podcasters assume that because people have selected and downloaded their content, it is a license to be self-indulgent. The tyranny of the delete button is pretty powerful, just like the car radio button. Unlike radio, where people join in progress, everyone starts a podcast at the beginning so the architecture is very different. Also people are looking for unique content. There are some 300,000 podcasts out there, so you are rewarded for being different. The best podcasts have a strong and discernible WIIFM—what’s in it for me—component.
One obstacle to monetizing a podcast is a lack of adequate measurement. What is being done to address this?
This is indeed a challenge. Jake Shapiro, who heads PRX, says Apple "licked the cookie" by only measuring downloads of podcasts. I know the IAB is working hard on creating improved measurement. Keep your fingers crossed. But in spite of all of that, many advertisers are having great success and live reads are a terrific standout environment. Each new media has gone through measurement challenges. Right now fraud in web ads is a huge issue. It took some time for YouTube to figure out its model. In this case, sales dollars chase ears, and podcasting is drawing more ears.
Where do you see this burgeoning frontier ultimately going?
The big themes for content providers of all types are user choice and control. It’s an immutable change in the expectations of consumers. It’s an on-demand world. It can wreck a business like Blockbuster and enable an upstart like Netflix. I don’t think radio goes away, but an investment friend of mine calls it an “ice cube business,” meaning that it is slowly melting. Podcasts and on-demand audio are a natural platform extension because radio has the remarkable eco-system of good content creation and an amazing megaphone for cross-promotion. Starbucks sells coffee at their shops and K-Cups for home consumption. Radio will need to go beyond the transmitter business and be in the audio business. They should do this now.