Notes From The Future
July 8, 2016
This week, I'm at Podcast Movement in Chicago, a conference that is everything the typical radio convention is not: full of enthusiasm, packed with people who want to learn, optimism. And there are some radio people here, too. Everyone is to some extent concerned about monetizing podcasting, and everyone can agree that it's only scratching the surface of what could be a significant revenue producer. But one person's good news is another's sorrow, and I'm seeing that dichotomy in the subtext of the discussions about money here.
I'll put it this way: Radio people are coming off decades of large revenues and looking at digital as a source of less revenue than they've made in the past. Podcasters are coming from zero and see the goal as "make enough to quit my day job" or "make enough to supplement my day job." The latter might go so far as to say the goal is "I don't care, I just want to do a show that I'm proud of." You have so many of the latter that the former, the people who look at podcasting as a possible escape hatch from a listing talk radio boat, are bound for disappointment. Podcasting as a business is still in nascent form, but if you're expecting the money to roll in the way it used to when there were only one or two talk radio stations to a market and no competition, sorry, that's a long way off at best. But if you look at it as a way for more talent to be exposed to more people at low production cost and with revenue opportunities beyond advertising, the future's bright. It helps, however, to put aside what you know from your radio years and approach it as a new business, starting fresh. Stop comparing "digital dimes" to "radio dollars" and instead start from zero and you'll see things in a very different light.
And then there's the subscription model, which some are trying out, and while I hope they do work -- I'd like to think that people will pay for quality content if given the option -- I think we've arrived at Peak Subscription, the point at which people can't really justify more spending on more content unless there's an absolute must-have hit show that can't be obtained any other way. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu... those add up. Even another three or four bucks a month is a stretch. I guess we'll see how this goes, and it depends on how much money is spent on production, but I'm wondering if there are any more dollars left for a monthly subscription.
Nobody has the answers as to whether podcasting will ever generate broadcast-level revenue, but, then again, broadcasting itself may not generate those numbers in the future. Since we don't know how that'll play out, the other takeaway from Podcast Movement is the wonderful feeling of creation, the DIY spirit that, even a decade into the podcast age, still dominates the medium. It really doesn't matter if you've been in podcasting since the earliest days; there are still no barriers to entry, technology has made doing a show practically free and easy, and while there are approximately a zillion podcasts out there, you can find your audience and have fun doing it. Radio hasn't had that kind of spirit for a long time.
If you can put the revenue part to the side for a moment and just observe the creativity and diversity of the new generation of talk audio, it might just renew your optimism about where spoken word entertainment is going. There is, believe me, life behind angry old guys and HOT TAKES and 16 units an hour.
Broadcast or podcast or yelling out your window, you'll find plenty to talk about at All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, with news items and kickers and bad jokes in bulk, all available by clicking here and at the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics with every story individually linked to the appropriate item. And there's the Podcasting section at AllAccess.com/podcasts. This week, we also have "10 Questions With..." Jay Taylor, PD at WBNS (97.1 The Fan)/Columbus, OH, flagship of THE Ohio State University f'ball, with great insight based on a career in music radio culminating in running one of the most successful sports stations in the country.
You can follow my personal Twitter account at @pmsimon, and my Instagram account (same handle, @pmsimon) as well? And you can find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pmsimon.
Full Disclosure: I also serve as Director of Programming for Nerdist Industries, a division of Legendary Pictures and Legendary Digital Networks, which includes the Nerdist Podcast Network, one of your major podcast entities. Podcasts!
Next week, I'll be at The Conclave Learning Conference in Bloomington, Minnesota, down the street from the Mall of America, and the Conclave is always a place where you'll find enthusiasm from young people looking to break into radio. It has some of the same spirit you'll find at Podcast Movement, so if you're looking to renew your confidence in whatever we qualify as radio now -- broadcast, streaming, podcast, whatever -- you should register. So do that. See you there.