As podcasting has evolved from a boutique business into a mainstream industry—with big bucks backing new entrants of the medium—longtime podcast hosts “have mixed feelings about all the recent money and attention pouring into the business,” a Time magazine story says. They grumble that celebrity hosts are now hogging the spotlight, as advertisers are drawn away from creative upstarts.
“Podcasting, once a low-budget affair done mostly by hobbyists for whom financial gain was rarely the goal, is now attracting big money,” the Time piece begins, with the telltale headline: “Big Money Is Pouring Into Podcasting. Some Podcasters Love It — But Others Are Freaked Out.” Take, for example, the fact that Gimlet, the studio behind popular shows “Reply All, Mystery Show” and “Homecoming,” was acquired by music streaming giant Spotify in February, along with Anchor, an app that lets you listen to and produce your own podcast—for a combined $340 million. And last September, iHeartMedia spent $55 million to buy podcast network Stuff Media, home to “Stuff You Should Know” and “Omnibus.” Meanwhile, such celebrities as Anna Faris, Will Ferrell and Trevor Noah are grabbing headlines as hosts of their own podcasts.
“It’s harder to get attention in the podcast world than it was 10 years ago,” says Jesse Thorn, creator and owner of the Maximum Fun podcast network, home to shows “Judge John Hodgman” and “Friendly Fire.” Part of the problem, he tells Time, is that when well-known names get into the business, it “sucks attention away from upstarts. There might only be eight slots on a car dashboard, where there’s almost no space. There is the potential for it to be hard to get independent podcasts to the marketplace, especially in a way that is fairly monetized.”
Jonathan Larroquette of “Uhh Yeah Dude,” a podcast the musician co-hosts with actor Seth Romatelli, further grouses that podcast hosts are now “exploiting the medium,” as Time puts it, as a way to expand to other —more lucrative — ventures. “Everyone is utilizing the platform as a means of getting somewhere else,” he insists. “That taints the medium, because it's being manipulated as a sort of springboard or extension of something else.” Gimlet’s “Homecoming” podcast, for example, was turned into a well-received Amazon series starring Julia Roberts.
But not everyone is complaining. Old-school podcaster Dan Benjamin “embraced the boom as a business opportunity beyond making shows,” Time points out. The computer programmer founded podcast “Hivelogic” in 2006, and three years later launched podcast network 5by5. “What started as me just wanting to do a few shows grew into a small business,” he says. Benjamin built a custom content management system for the 30-plus shows on his network, creating solutions for advertising, hosting and distribution so that 5by5’s hosts can focus on making successful shows. He then spun off two separate companies from his core business: Archer Avenue, which handles podcast ad sales; and Fireside, which manages podcast distribution, analytics and hosting. “I thought, ‘Who better to do something like this than somebody who’s been podcasting since 2006?’”