What started as a radio and music streaming service has just hit a podcast milestone. IHeartMedia says there are now more than 250,000 podcasts available on iHeartRadio. “From comedy to true crime to politics, the app has every kind of podcast for ears everywhere—and we’re still growing,” the company said in the announcement.
As iHeart has invested millions of dollars and added scores of premium shows, executives have made no secret that the company is a big believer in podcasting. “Suddenly everybody is interested in audio—now suddenly we walk in a room and everybody says tell me about podcasting,” said Bob Pittman, iHeartMedia’s CEO, in a recent interview with the Ad Age Ad Lib podcast.
Podcasting has also been one of the big success stories inside iHeartMedia during the past year, as the company now ranks as biggest commercial podcaster according to Podtrac, with only noncommercial NPR typically reaching more listeners—although iHeart did ride the success of the Ron Burgundy Podcast and Monster: The Zodiac Killer podcast to displace NPR in January and February. “It’s been a huge growth area,” Pittman said. “We have an expertise in audio and we really know how to talk to them.” He says iHeart leveraged that knowledge as the company has expanded further into podcasting.
The combination of radio and podcasting has also worked in iHeart’s favor. In an interview with Business Insider, Conal Byrne, President of the iHeartPodcast Network, said that while they knew the connection between on-air radio promotion and podcast listening was a powerful combination, it was a March execution that proved especially eye-opening. When the new season of Disgraceland was rolled out in March with a debut on 150 radio stations, the number of downloads exploded from 800,000 per month to 2.2 million.
“We have a model where we don't have to spend on advertising,” Pittman said. “We use our own promotional power. That gives us a unique advantage. We pick the ones we want to push, and we push it.”
Yet even as podcasting grows, Pittman pointed out in the Ad Age podcast that all digital listening combined still accounts for just 10% of Americans’ audio consumption while traditional AM-FM radio makes up 90%. And he sees podcasts as a sort of niche product akin to people who dig deeper to read more about a news item online. “We think podcasts are like that. It’s that small group of people who are very passionate and want to know a lot,” Pittman explained. So that’s why iHeart’s strategy has been to connect a podcast and its radio stations, allowing the on-air mentions to serve as a tease. “We put a little of that information on broadcast so the whole community knows about it, but 10% of the people will know a lot about it,” he said.
Meanwhile, in an experiment that’s likely being closely watched by a lot of broadcasters, in March iHeartMedia launched its first all-podcast radio format on what had been a sports talk outlet. WSAN in the Allentown-Bethlehem, PA market bills itself as “iHeartPodcast AM 1470” and it clears podcasts around-the clock.
And in the corner office, a podcaster now resides. Pittman himself launched a podcast this month: Math & Magic: Stories from the Frontiers of Marketing. It features conversations between Pittman and other visionary leaders from across the entertainment and media industries as they share how they’ve used insights and creativity to cut through the noise and bring their ideas to life. “It’s about the stories from the frontiers of marketing,” is how Pittman described his show in its trailer.