February 16, 2016
It's not surprising that in a struggling business environment and a perpetual eye on the quarterly report, a sizable segment of the corporate radio industry have given relatively short shrift to aggressively investing in its podcasting platform. Radio lifer Steve Goldstein, who co-founded Saga Communications and both ABC and NBC's radio networks, decided to launch Amplifi, a company dedicated to raising the podcast profile for radio and its advertisers. Here, he details the potential importance of podcasting - especially in an era where a connected dashboard will spotlight Apple CarPlay offerings over the AM/FM dial.
What made you decide to leave Saga and start Amplifi?
I didn't leave radio ... I left radio transmitters. Content is being delivered in multiple ways That's really what interests me, the whole arc of change to on-demand content that we've seen occurring on the TV side ... it's now happening on the audio side. I wanted a front-row seat.
Were you worried at all about getting Amplifi successfully off the ground?
Of course, there's a natural fear whenever you start something new. At the same time, starting something new is exciting and very seductive.
What's the goal of Amplifi - and why does radio need a company like yours?
It's still early days in podcasting. Public radio has done a great job and is way ahead of commercial radio. To be competitive going forward, commercial radio should be mastering audio in all its forms, and they should be thinking beyond the transmitter and think agnostically about revising and delivering great audio content on all the platforms consumers use. But content is consumed differently on each platform and that's where my firm comes in - working on strategy and execution.
Has it been difficult to convince radio operators to invest the time and resources into podcasting?
That's the toughest part of the equation. Some of the broadcasters I currently consult with are eager to do this and make the changes necessary to do it well, but others are fearful. I remind them of the lessons of the newspaper business and companies such as Blockbuster Video. If content suppliers don't innovate, their own transformation is at risk. We saw it with streaming -- commercial radio is not winning in streaming like Spotify or Pandora. The risks are significant, and it does requires making some bold moves, something commercial radio has been reticent to do in recent years.
Is there a way to create a successful podcasting platform with limited resources?
There are three kinds of podcasting opportunities. One is time-shifting of current content, which is a retention strategy. Part of radio's problem is that its content hits the air and is gone forever; now there is an opportunity through time-shifted content to increase the number of people who hear something of value.
Another opportunity is audio clips. Many sports radio stations do this successfully ... for example, take interviews with coaches, which are four to six minutes long, and make them available on the station website, app or wherever people get their podcasts. Think about this like Jimmy Fallon, who has clips of segments and draws millions of additional viewers.
The third opportunity is the most difficult -- creating original content. This one requires more thought and enterprise. A good example is Jacoby and Jalen Rose, who for two years had a podcast on ESPN.com. It became so popular, it's now the night show on ESPN Radio. Broadcasters should be using podcasting as a laboratory.
Is a good podcasting personality exactly the same as a good radio air personality, or are there differences?
There are big differences. Many successful podcasters have learned that there's an intimacy that's even greater than on-air radio. Radio is ongoing; people usually tune into an on-air show in progress, whereas with a podcast, people start at the beginning. It's actually more like the construct of TV than radio.
Is it different to counsel on-air personalities on the differences in doing a podcast?
For some air personalities, change is easy but for most it's a challenge. They've been riding that bicycle a certain way for a very long time; it's not in their DNA to change the way they broadcast.
Are you confident in the ingredients for a successful podcast, in terms of content, length, etc., or are you still learning new things?
Nothing is etched in stone. I think the best advice is to go as long as you need to ... and then stop. Pretty much what I used to tell morning shows on the radio. People have choices, whether it's a radio pre-set button or stop and delete buttons. If it's not interesting or fun or funny, people have instant recourse. I can show you great, but lengthy podcasts, and others that are self-indulgent and way too long. I'm learning new things everyday.
What are the best ways to promote and market podcasts?
For radio, the "not-so-secret sauce" is the station's cume used as a megaphone, to drive the over-the-air audience to podcasts. Audience for podcasts can come from many different places; social media is a critically important tool, as well as cross-promotion from podcast to podcast. Word of mouth and buzz are incredibly important. There are a lot of podcasts out there. Who do you listen to?
Regularly? Phil Hendrie and Bill Simmons, for starters...
Simmons is the perfect example of intelligently using the medium. ESPN didn't know where put him at first, but he has an intimate style that fits podcasting.
The trick now seems to be the ability to sell podcasts. Should radio have a dedicated podcast sales staff or should the on-air sales staff do the work?
It should be covered by the on-air sales staff at this point. One key is to find advertisers who see the relative exclusivity of podcasts ... the big-market advertiser who wants to get out of nine-spot cluster. I was with a client recently and a really big advertiser wanted all of their podcasts because he valued being some place different.
Are you satisfied with the ability to monitor podcast usage and listenership?
We're in the Flintstone days; the data isn't as clean as it could be. We do know how many podcasts are downloaded. We don't know how many of them are listened to and how often. That needs to improve over time for the business to grow. And a big part of the problem today is that Apple dominates with about 70% of podcasts going through their platform, but they will not share data beyond basic download info.
How challenging is it to increase podcasting's ROI?
The first wave of podcast advertisers are direct-response companies such as SquareSpace and Harry's Shavers. Those advertisers have their own metrics based on response rates.
What about a second wave of advertisers?
Those advertisers are now coming into the environment ... advertisers such as HBO, who are looking for good, exclusive places to be featured.
So where does Amplifi fit into the mix?
We're with talent, developing podcasts, and working with radio companies developing their content and distribution strategies. We're also working with noncomm entities that are very interested in developing content advocacy for their own missions. That's been a left turn I didn't see coming at the beginning, but it has resonated pretty quickly.
So where do you see podcasting's future? Will it grow more quickly or more slowly?
Based on the great press, you would think everyone is listening to podcasts - right now it's 27 million weekly. The smartphone and Bluetooth are huge catalysts for adoption. On top of that, Apple Carplay and Android Auto are launching in 100 different car models this year. That means radio's wide-moat for 50 years is under attack. For many new car buyers, the AM/FM button will not show up immediately on the dashboard.
Suffice it to say, radio better get its act together digitally or they'll lose its stature as the most-used medium - especially in the car.
Absolutely; this is not an existential threat. It's pretty sobering. When you look at it, it's frightening and sad to see exactly how challenged AM/FM is going to be. I was at the CES in January, and all car companies are focusing on connectivity, the connected car. They know one of the top motivators among millennials is integration of the entertainment system. And along with that, there's a fundamental difference today where people bring their own entertainment into the car with them. Their iPhones and Androids are the entertainment hubs.
And where do you see Amplifi and your future going?
Everyday I'm using different parts of my brain, which is exciting. I've also become a bit of an evangelist for a category many radio people know little about - and they need to know more. Not five years from now ... but now. The audience has expectations to hear things at a time and place of their choosing. They always get what they want.