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The “reimagined” Radio Show brought a broader focus to the annual conference this year, carrying the words “Radio, Streaming, Podcasting” as its new positioning statement. With multiple sessions devoted to podcasting, radio’s on-demand opportunity was on full display with practitioners from inside and outside the industry discussing its future potential and how to overcome impediments to growth. 

Hollywood hasn’t seen this level of momentum for a new platform since TV arrived decades ago, said Oren Rosenbaum during Wednesday’s “The Podcast Revolution” session. As Digital Media Agent at United Talent Agency, Rosenbaum reps some of the biggest talent that have made the move into the burgeoning medium, including actor Will Ferrell, whose “Ron Burgundy Podcast” on the iHeartPodcast Network has become a runaway hit and is helping draw a wider audience to podcasting. Rosenbaum said Ferrell “quickly understood” the amount of work required to make a successful podcast and that whether a Hollywood star will make a good podcast host “depends on the talent.”

Adapting talent from their native medium to podcasting can be a challenge for broadcasters, too. When NPR began developing “Up First,” its daily news podcast, “we sort of had to break the hosts over it,” said Neal Carruth, Senior Director, On Demand News Programming at the public radio network. After NPR told the hosts they needed to be looser and more conversational than they were on the radio, they took it too far and it wasn’t authentic, Carruth explained. “It was a process. We had to let them go to extremes and get them back to the middle.’ Now “Up First” is the pubcaster’s top audience-drawing podcast. 

While some large advertisers, like McDonalds and Starbucks, have sat on the podcast sidelines because the medium hasn’t offered enough reach, that’s starting to change as the percentage of Americans using on-demand audio continues to rise. And those that have jumped in “love the intimacy of the medium,” its avid fans and the ability to connect their brand to the host through live reads, said Carter Brokaw, President, Digital Revenue Strategy at iHeartMedia. But big billion-dollars advertisers still need to be educated about the medium and get comfortable with host-read ads, dynamic ad insertion and the fact that they may not get the scale they’re used to from broad reach media. 

Chris Jericho, whose career spans wrestling, TV, acting and podcasting, said the medium is different from radio in that it is less like an interview with a guest and more like hanging out with somebody in a bar. 

At Vox Media, podcasting has helped the digital publisher diversify revenue streams while also helping feed its other media channels, said Nishat Kurwa, Executive Producer of Audio. “Podcasting is a great place to incubate talent and to incubate ideas that could have a life somewhere else,” she said. 

While 90-100 million Americans now listen on a monthly basis, the high engagement level that podcasting was known for when it had only a fraction of that audience hasn’t wavered, said Conal Byrne, President of the iHeartPodcast Network. “We still see 80-90% completion rates on an hour-long show,” said Byrne who moderated the panel discussion. “We see the lowest ad skippage rates in all of media. And as the medium is growing, the engagement rates aren’t cratering.”