The Second Golden Age Of Audio - Notes From Podcast Movement
July 11, 2016
In the closing keynote address at last week's Podcast Movement conference in Chicago, Alex Blumberg, who spent years in public radio and started the fast-growing podcast creator Gimlet Media, declared "the first golden age of audio was radio, the second is podcast."
With over 1,500 people - a third bigger than last year - it is hard not to feel the momentum. This was my second year at this rapidly growing event. The agenda was packed with workshops and keynote addresses that are reminiscent of an NAB Radio Show of 15 years ago. There is an energy and youth to the conference and an eagerness to learn and explore new styles and approaches to audio content.
The desire to break away from the norm and create new storytelling, cover underserved niches and experiment is infectious, and while many will undoubtedly fail, some are already building substantial followings, which demonstrates the hunger among many listeners for different topics and ideas. Whether the interest is food, soccer, health issues, news analysis, travel, legal, or auto, there are ever-better podcasts on those subjects.
And something new at Podcast Movement this year; radio people. Last year following the conference, I commented that only six people from the radio business were in attendance. That was not an estimate - there were six. This year it was a substantial number with networks, station groups and consultants from organizations including Hubbard, Alpha, Jacobs Media, Triton, ESPN, Digital Media, Greater Media, The RAB, Bonneville, Townsquare, Nielsen and others. I will happily take a minor tip of the hat for some of radio's increased presence, having spent the past year proselytizing the need for radio to think beyond the transmitter.
And commercial radio wasn't the only one with an increased presence. Audible, Amazon's audiobook and spoken-word division made what had to be the most significant announcement at the conference. They revealed an entirely new short-form subscription audio service. "Audible Originals" is a bold entry into podcasting. For $4.95 a month, subscribers have access to comedy, short stories, dramas, talk shows, newspaper articles and more.
Eric Nuzum, Audible's senior vice president for original content development said they did extensive research regarding the types of content people were looking for. He also lamented about the difficulty of content discovery in podcasting and hopes to solve part of the problem with curated content. "I've heard customers refer to podcasting as a flea market, where you'll find some treasures, and it's surrounded by a lot of junk," he said. "You have to be in the mood to sort through the junk to find the treasure, and people don't want to do that all the time."
Audible will ramp up with 40 different programs by the end of the year. One of the first entries is "Presidents are People Too," which explores the lives of some of the lesser known Presidents. James A. Polk ... you are on. "Breasts Unbound" will examine the history of the storied breast. "Damned Spot" will document stories of places that have been changed by murders, hauntings and other notorious events.
AM/FM/PODCAST PANEL - Radio's Pathway to Podcasting: L/R Greg Strassell, Hubbard; John Rosso, Triton Digital; Sarah Van Mosel, Acast; Traug Keller, ESPN; Larry Rosin, Edison Media; Steve Goldstein, Amplifi Media.
Monetization of podcasts was a big topic at this year's conference. It is a nascent business and many of the attendees are looking for a path to quit their day jobs. Like the early days of cable or FaceBook or YouTube, it is a choppy path, but sales dollars chase eyeballs, or in this case, ears, and the numbers are growing rapidly.
Even with its nascency, significant companies are entering the podcast space including Scripps, Hubbard, the former Washington Post owners, Graham Holdings and now Amazon, with more likely on the way.
In an increasingly video and web-centric media environment, it is remarkably gratifying to see big companies moving into audio. But they aren't buying the debt of iHeart, and likely won't be buying the CBS Radio IPO. The play is for the Smartphone and the undeniable trend toward on-demand content.
Blumberg may be right to welcome the second golden age of audio.