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Podcast predictions for 2020 with James Cridland

Podcasting trends 2020

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Our guest for this episode is James Cridland, who lots of podcasters will know. James and I discuss podcast trends in 2020. James is a podcast industry thought leader, and a podcast and radio strategist. James possess a phenomenal amount of information about the industry, both from a technical and trends standpoint.

Podcast trends 2020
James Cridland

James also produces the daily news briefing All this makes James the perfect guest to talk about podcast trends in 2020.

We cover the growth of podcasting, in terms of technology and content production. James also points out how podcasts are being listened to on more platforms, Apple losing ground to Spotify in some countries, and the renewed focus on analytics and alignment with the IAB standards. We also discuss advertising in podcasting, ad skipping, methods of earning money with podcasting, and more.

In addition, James answers an important question: Will independent podcasters be overshadowed by large media production companies in 2020?

James Cridland on Podcast Trends in 2020 – Podcast interview

Hi, this is Sheelagh with episode 12 of the Communicate Influence Podcast. My guest today is James Cridland. Lots of podcasters will know James . He is a podcast industry thought leader and a podcast and radio strategist. He possesses a phenomenel amount of information about the industry, both from a technical and trends standpoint. He also produces the daily podcast briefing, 

That’s why he’s the perfect guest to talk about podcast trends in 2020. This episode is a segment taken from a longer conversation had with James recently, and the rest of the conversation will follow next week.

Sheelagh: What kind of things do you see emerging in terms of trends or actual events or features happening next year, what would you say the podcast landscape looks like?

The Apple – Spotify competition

James: Well, I mean, I think what we’re seeing is podcasting being listened to on more platforms than ever before, through more apps than ever before as well. I think if you were to go back five years, podcasting would really be Apple Podcast and that would be it. Now, Spotify is more popular than Apple Podcasts in many countries, almost all of mainland Europe. 

And so that’s exciting because that actually means that there’s beginning to be some competition here, there’s beginning to be competition in terms of different ways of listening to podcasts and that should hopefully mean that Apple will raise their game a little bit.

So we’re certainly seeing that, I think we’re also seeing that, yes, the podcast industry is continuing to grow, that means that there’s more money being put into both on the technology side, but also the content production side too, so we’re hearing better podcasts with big names and all that kind of stuff. And the analytics are probably one of the most important things.

Improved podcast analytics

So far, if you want to spend money in terms of advertising on podcasts, you have not with that much information that you can actually go with. But we’ve seen over the last couple of years, a lot of work in terms of making sure that we have the right numbers, making sure that we’re counting the same things, depending on whether you’re with Libsyn or with Blubrry or the Captivate or with any other podcast app, you can actually believe the numbers that you are actually getting out of those services through the IAB standards, that’s really helpful.

But we’re also beginning to see other analytics in terms of people being able to actually see how long people are listening to podcasts, where they’re skipping, all of that information as well which is really helpful in terms of content but also really helpful in terms of advertising too.

Advertising in Podcasts

Sheelagh: What about the issue James, I hear a lot from listeners on Reddit and other platforms, that as well as dislike of advertising in podcast, so you get the intro and then it’s usually the host who reads some ads, some of which can go on for quite some time like six to 10 minutes or so. But you see that changing, you see listeners skipping through them, listeners switched to podcasts that don’t have that kind of advertising, what are your thoughts there?

James: I think what’s lovely is that we have an ecosystem where there is so much choice, but if you start annoying your audience with too many advertisers or with other things, then people will go and find something else.

It’s going to be self-regulating in terms of if you do fill your podcast with advertising, well, people won’t actually listen. So that’s a good start.

But I think also the way that people make money out of podcasting or at least cover podcasting’s costs. It can be advertising, it can be other things as well, it can be Patreon, it can be live shows, it can be all kinds of different ways, or indeed there are lots of people who podcast because it helps their other businesses. So lots of different ways of earning money out of podcasting. Advertising is part of that, but I don’t think it’s the only way that you can earn money.

I mean, I think it’s interesting when you look at people like Joe Rogan who is, by far and away, the most listened to podcast in the world. That podcast starts with seven minutes of adverts, and then you hear the rest of the show without edits in it.

I’m slightly concerned but what that’s essentially doing is teaching people how to use the skip button on their podcast app to skip past the ads, so they don’t have to have a listen to them. And if Joe Rogan is doing a job of teaching people how the skip button works, then lots of other people will, you know, lots of other podcasts will be using the skip button as well. I’m not entirely sure that’s a good thing for the advertisers who have paid quite a lot of money one would assume to be inside those particular podcasts.

Sheelagh: Yeah, I mean, not skipping is something that can’t be measured, I would imagine.

James: The skipping is something that can’t – well, I mean, it can and it can’t be. To some degree, it is being measured by both Apple and by Spotify. There isn’t that much of it, it has to be said. And certainly, some of the surveys that I’ve seen as well seem to show that actually the amount of skipping isn’t particularly high.

But I mean, clearly it is something– at the end of the day, if you’re advertising in something or on something, then you want to make sure that that advert actually works for the clients; and if that advert isn’t going to work for the client, they won’t come back again. So it’s worthwhile for us as podcasters to understand that if we make people deliberately avoid advertising, then that’s going to harm those podcasters, those creators that want to earn their money out of that way. So we should just be a little bit careful in terms of what we end up doing there.

Sheelagh: Is sponsorship a better alternative?

Businesses need to think about want when they advertise or seek sponsorship with a podcast

James: I mean, it depends what you want as an advertiser. So if you are, in my dim and distant days, I used to write radio commercials. So I’m very aware of the different types of advertising that there is. But if you’re an insurance company, for example, then you always wanted to be there, you always want people to remember your name. So that when it comes to renewing, they recognize your name, and they don’t recognize other people’s names, and so they will at least ask you for a quote.

So in that particular case, for advertising insurance, probably sponsorship is the right approach, because that’s a cheap way of staying there in front of people’s eyes, in front of people’s ears, for a long, longtime, and it’s probably no coincidence that GEICO which is a big US insurer, is one of the top podcast advertisers to make sure that they’re actually there.

So it works for some advertisers, it doesn’t necessarily work for others where the aim is to get people to go out and buy stuff. Sponsorship works less well for that depending on what the actual service is. So sponsorship is another way of earning money as a Patreon [user] frankly, if you’re doing a podcast which is about your particular business, then just making people feel warmer and more comfortable about what the business is, is a good thing as well. So that’s always worthwhile bearing in mind too.

Sheelagh: So as you say, it depends on the needs of the clients really in terms of what kind of method you choose.

James: Yeah, absolutely. And there’s no one answer to any of this, it always comes down to what’s the right thing for that particular client, what are they trying to actually get, what are they trying to actually achieve and so on.

Saturation and over-saturation in the podcast market

Sheelagh: Yeah, and we touched on this earlier in our conversation, the growth of podcasting and brands, getting into podcasting with new shows being launched every day really in terms of raising brand awareness and using it to drive business . . . and sometimes for some smaller podcasters or independents, they worry that they’ll be overshadowed and in the search for new shows listeners won’t find them. Do you think that will actually happen at some point? Don’t you think that if the apps display all the podcasts, and the podcaster does the right thing with the meta tags, etc., they’ll still be found?

James: Yeah, I mean at the end of the day, there are 760,000 podcasts out there, and 760,000 sounds like an awful lot. But when you consider that podcasting is 10 years old, sorry, 15 years old, 760,000 podcasts in that time period isn’t actually that much in comparison to say, books. There are two and a half million books published every year. Nobody turns around and says,” oh, it’s pointless writing a new book because nobody will find it.”

So again, it comes down to what the content is. It comes down to how you promote that, and yes, you can rely to a certain degree on what the podcast app will do and I am hoping that people will find your podcast through the podcast app.

Make great content, find your audience, and use word-of-mouth

But on the other side actually, getting some great content that people will talk about is far more useful than making sure that you’re high in a certain podcast chart which, by the way, most of the podcast charts in the podcast apps have nothing to do with popularity, have nothing to do with downloads anyway. And so, if you’re going to chase that, then I would probably question that, and you should probably be just making sure that enough people in your target market.

So if you’re doing a podcast about, I don’t know, parenting, then your job is probably to contact daycare and nurseries and stuff like that, to see if you can get in front of the parents who happen to go to those daycares and nurseries rather than hoping that you’ll be number five in a podcast chart somewhere.

Podcast charts measure subscriptions

Sheelagh: What are the podcast charts measuring?

James: So podcast charts, which by the way, are only 30%, only a third of people actually used to find new podcasts anyway. So they’re not particularly effective anyway. What a podcast chart is normally measuring, if you look at, for example, the main Apple Podcast charts that everybody gets excited about, what that is measuring, it’s nothing to do with downloads, it’s nothing to do with the popularity of a podcast over a long period of time. I mean, if it was, then the podcast charts would never change, and we’d always see Joe Rogan at number one, and we’d always see The Daily at number two, and it’d be very dull.

What they’re actually measuring is the amount of people who have hit the subscribe button in the last week, waited for the last couple of days. So it’s really easy actually to get number one in the podcast charts and that’s to make sure that you do an awful lot of promotion of your brand new podcast on one day. And you focus on making sure that everybody subscribes on that one day.

So if you’re a radio station or a newspaper, that’s really easy because you can make sure that everybody who is listening to that radio station or reading that newspaper knows about your new podcast at the same time. if you’re not, then that’s much harder, and you need to work out a strategy for actually making sure that everybody hears about your brand, your podcast on that one day that you want them to actually hear about that. And then you will pretty well guarantee a number one in the podcast charts.

How to get number one in the podcast charts

What you’re probably not guaranteed is for you to remain particularly long in that podcast chart, because that’s the whole point of them: they’re there to give you new and interesting things to go and have a listen to instead of the same old-same old all the time.

Sheelagh: And just moving on a little bit to another story, obviously, I get all my podcast news from your newsletter because I’m pretty sure I read this in your newsletter – it was the new radio station in London that’s launching and it will play only podcasts. So I thought, well, that is interesting because when you think about the definition of a podcast, it’s kind of like a little bit like a radio but you listen to it when and where you want to and now we’ve got a radio station playing podcasts. What do you think of this development and will other stations emulate this?

Podcast-playing radio station

James: Yes, I mean, this is a brand new radio station which is launching fairly shortly across London. So 12 million people will be able to tune into it which is all very exciting. It’s not the first actually. So iHeart owns a radio station in in Allentown, Bethlehem, in Pennsylvania – sorry in Philadelphia, and they run a radio station called the iHeartPodcast Channel, which again just broadcasts podcasts.

And, in fact, the first radio station was a radio station that called itself called KYOU in San Francisco in 2005, and they just broadcast podcasts as well. But I think some people have been saying, oh well, it takes the whole point of podcasting which is on-demand content, you can listen whenever you like, and a huge range of choice and get rid of both of those opportunities and stick it on a radio station so you can only listen to the one podcast at one time. And I think that’s got a certain amount of truth to it.

But on the other side, I would say that nine out of 10 people listen to radio every single week, nine out of 10 people, it’s a tremendously popular medium. That’s not the case for podcasting. Podcasting is about 22%, so one in five.

So if you can get podcasts in front of more people, it comes back to what we were saying earlier about why would you listen to a podcast; if you can get more people to listen to podcasts, then that’s a good thing. So I’m sort of quite interested in seeing how that radio station does – the radio station, I mentioned is going to be called Podcast Radio, so there’s a thing. But it’ll be interesting seeing how that does and also interesting seeing how it works from a podcaster standpoint.

Will podcasters earn money out of it? Probably not. Will podcasters have to edit what they do? Well, probably yes, because the UK, just like any other country, has strict their broadcast laws of what you can or can’t say on the air. So it’ll be interesting seeing just the mechanics of how it works, how they manage to approve these podcasts for on-air and what sort of podcasts actually end up working there as well.

Podcast trend forecasts

Sheelagh: Are there any other big or significant trends that you think podcasters and even listeners should pay attention to in 2020, anything else that you see arising?

James: I mean, I think the analytics, trends, and the consolidation in the industry is worthwhile looking at.

But I also think actually it’s worthwhile reminding ourselves of why podcasting is so big. And it’s so big precisely because podcasting isn’t just run by one company, it’s not YouTube, it’s something else. And RSS enables us which is, as you know, the technical way that podcasting works, that enables anyone to publish a podcast whether or not it’s a large broadcaster with 20,000 people who work for them or one person, you can still get onto the same platforms in the same way.

And I think that’s something which is a very important part of podcasting because it enables so many different voices and so many different points of view, and I think it’s important that we don’t lose that.

And so anything that, you know, that’s the one thing that I would say about Spotify’s growth is that do we want Apple to be in charge of podcasting? Well, no. Do we want Spotify to be in charge of podcasting? Well, no. My ideal is that Apple ends up with about a 30% share, Spotify ends up with about a 30% share, and then everybody else, all of the other podcast apps out there have about a 30% share, that would be really good, because then we would be in a point where there will be some good competition, and we would be able to not have one company who thinks that they actually run it.

Apple vs Spotify

At the moment, Apple think that they run how podcasting works. Apple only in August changed all of the categories for podcasting and you’ll notice that pretty well everybody else has had to change alongside with them. And that’s fine. But actually, Apple is only responsible for about 50%, 55% of all podcast plays.

So there are a lot of other ways of consuming podcasts and Apple probably shouldn’t be sitting there and assuming that it just runs the entire industry, I think that would be a bad thing. So hopefully, what we’ll see next year is we will see more focus on independent podcasters, more focus on the beauty that RSS actually offers us as independent podcasters, and hopefully not a race to one large company, whether it’s Apple or whether it’s Spotify, [inaudible 00:20:50] whoever it might be, thinking that they control the industry, because I don’t think that’s good news for anybody actually.

Sheelagh: Yeah, I mean, I totally agree. We’ve seen what the world’s been like with the domination of Facebook, and I know how many businesses feel about digital marketing and Google. So it’s not a good thing and it’s probably the reason that why people are really drawn to podcasting is that diversity of voices.

James: Yeah.

Sheelagh Caygill

Sheelagh Caygill is an award-winning writer, journalist, podcaster, and poet based in Toronto, Canada.

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