Steve Goldstein

The podcast business has exploded during the past several years, but it has mainly been a nationally-focus medium. Yet the next wave of growth may come from locally-focused content, and that is where many of the audio experts already at work in every city -- at local radio stations – see their opening.

“You need to be brave. And I understand that it's hard to do that in a commercial radio world these days, but that's what this is going to take,” Amplifi Media CEO Steve Goldstein told broadcasters Wednesday. “It's going to take some bravery and trial and error. And it's going to definitely take more time than expected,” he said during a presentation to Radio Advertising Bureau members.

RAB President Erica Farber said stations’ interest has continued to grow during the past few years as podcasting has become ubiquitous. “We get a lot of questions about how stations can monetize a podcast and what other people are doing and what the best way to present podcasts to advertisers is,” Farber said.

In an effort to address those questions and others, the RAB partnered with Amplifi Media to benchmark how many local radio stations are producing podcasts and how they are approaching sales.

The survey, which collected data from 147 stations between Sept. 5 and Oct. 19, found 84% of stations are producing podcasts. That includes 71% that are creating original podcasts that are not time-shifted radio shows – among which nearly half (46%) are producing three or more original series.

Some are going outside the building for help. Among those surveyed, four in ten (39%) have partnered with a local podcaster that does not work for the station. That is likely having an impact on how often a show is released, too. Amplifi found that 44% publish their original podcast on a weekly basis. And 14% release new episodes daily.

Among those that are time-shifting radio shows, there was no clear consensus on what the best format is. A third (32%) offer a “best of” the show in a single episode, another third (31%) present the entire show as a single podcast episode, while nearly as many (27%) offer each hour as a standalone episode.

Connecting with listeners may be a goal, but local podcasts need to generate revenue. And when it comes to original shows, the survey finds a majority (54%) rely on ad sales. But that is not always easy. A quarter of those surveyed said they have not yet been successful in selling their time-shifted podcasts with 13% saying the download numbers are just too small to interest advertisers. And one in five are offering it to advertisers as a “bonus” for their on-air campaigns.

“Right now, it's not a CPM sell in most markets. But it is a way for you to say to a client, we're going to do something different for you, and do something smart with you that focuses on your particular area,” said Goldstein. “It just requires thinking it through and being patient and placing more emphasis on the promotion.”

Nearly one in five broadcasters (17%) also said they have yet to even try to sell their podcasts. Goldstein said there is a variety of reasons for that, including sales reps focused on selling other assets to clients rather than overwhelming them with options. “I see that migrating and changing over time,” he said.

Filling The Content Void

Podcasting’s growth has been driven largely by younger adults, who have embraced shows from celebrities and true crime tales alike. As stations decide where to put their podcast focus, Goldstein suggests “filling the void” in a local market with content that goes beyond the conservative talk radio format that dominates spoken word on AM/FM.

“There's a lot of different topics that you can explore and exploit,” Goldstein said. “There are people in your market who are interested in particular subjects, and they're passionate about those subjects.”

Goldstein said that stations should also not get too hung up on the total number of podcasts now available. While that number tops four million, Amplifi Media’s analysis found that about half of those are no longer active. And only about 155,000 podcasts have produced an episode during the past week.

“This changes the thinking when it comes to odds,” he said. “To grow your audience today, with all the changes in platforms and the pressures, you're going to need to be on these new platforms and new devices. Don't be afraid of them, they are there for you to master beyond the transmitter.”