Podcasts have a Brand problem, not a Hit problem
And that’s about to change big time.
We’ve been witnessing articles and headlines like this for weeks now —
Bloomberg: Podcasting Hasn’t Produced A New Hit in Years
The Verge: What qualifies as a hit podcast?
Sentences that read… “The average podcast in the top 10 is more than seven years old.”
For a moment let’s also highlight the recent press cycle surrounding the Joe Rogan Experience and Spotify — without opening a can of worms, the heart of the issue is less about the ‘hit show’ and more about how Spotify is or isn’t managing the brand of JRE itself.
In fact all of these signals seem to share an underlying current — podcasts don’t have a hit problem, they have a brand problem. It makes sense because 99% of podcasts are not brands.
99% of podcasts are not brands.
Brands are not just intellectual property. Brands are an irrational function of experience, community and communication that create a lasting impact on people. Brands hold slots in our lives — they are more than a product or an activity, they become a part of our lifestyle. Most podcasts as we know them have just one of those elements. The more commercial audio podcasts with thriving audiences and extensions into live or film/tv have two or more. That’s all about to change — we’re starting to see audio as an incubator for the next global brands and the best players in the space are spotlighting what that can look like.
So the better question to be asking is what’s a great Brand built in audio over the last decade?
Pound for pound, The New York Times’ The Daily may well be one of the highest value-creating Brands in modern audio.
The Daily shows us what the future of brand-building looks like in audio.
The Daily Launched in 2017. Originally hosted by Michael Barbaro. The Daily became the tentpole of the New York Time’s endeavors in audio. Consisting of daily ~30 minute episodes, plus a shorter-form smart speaker extension for Alexa devices and other smart speakers. If you were to add up a full week’s worth of content, it’s well inside the output of successful talk-formats that can easily clock in anywhere from 3 hours per week to 3 hours per day. Sure, it’s news and that has a ‘built-in audience’… but a hit is a hit, and in the noisey news category being a hit news show is even more impressive.
If you consider minutes-to-value creation, I’m challenged to find anything that comes close. The Daily has returned an outsize amount of ad revenue, brand equity, and built a likely 8-or-9-figure audio-first business for the Times in under 5 years.
The Daily is consistently in the top five shows and networks in the world.
Today, The Daily is much more than a daily deep-dive of journalism available on any of the major audio platforms — it is a force multiplier across the New York Times’ platform of talent, newsrooms and brand legacy all over the world — it is a Brand in and of itself.
Let’s take a look at some data. Here is an audio brand that is consistently competing and winning against multi-decade, major media networks and institutional audio players. IHeartMedia is arguably the largest audio network in the world, with 600+ shows. NPR is a multi-generational hallmark of audio programming for the nation and gets a lot of deserved credit for the invesnting much of the podcast category. It, too, has dozens of successful and long-running shows. Wondery, Audacy, Stitcher, Audioboom… all considered in the top echelon of the modern audio market with tens of millions in content investment over years. The New York Times via The Daily consistently tops in the top 5.
The New York Times has 10 active shows, a few of which launched in the last few years, and reaches 100+ Million listens globally each month. To think that all of this grew out of The Daily. This is a formidable Brand outflanking the old playbook and many of the bigger more entrenched players. The magnitude is sometimes hard to believe.
It would be easy to say news is a category with a built-in audience, and the NYT certainly leveraged its audience to build The Daily. Looking at the closest comps like CNN, BBC, NBC, or Fox and their audio endeavors have but a fraction of the reach, yet alone the brand equity. Any sane person would have bet given their more fortified resources, broadcast reach and streaming video channels that they would be out-competing The Daily in 2022…
Today — NYT is a fully-integrated audio media brand.
What did The Daily achieve in the last 5 years?
- 100+ Million Streams / Month Global
- 11+ Million Monthly Unique Listeners/Month in the US
- 10 hit NYT audio series and counting
- Established as a leading brand in audio, acquiring production company Serial and consistently growing a slate of award-winning audio IP
- A video extension The Weekly on FX/Hulu
- A standalone New York Times Audio app
- Audio-technology acquisition of Audm
I’m probably missing a few key data points that their team could speak to… but if that isn’t a “hit” in audio….
The metastructure of a hit is not what it used to be.
The Daily paints an exciting picture of the future of audio as a category — “hits“ are no longer coming in the same 30/60/90-minute formats, they aren’t necessarily listened to with AirPods, and the teams behind them are thinking bigger than just audio content. Short-form, smart speakers, connected living rooms and smart-audio in cars is where the next Brands and one-off Hits are likely to be found. I believe we’ll be seeing more for the former.
What we’re witnessing is a pitch shift from media players who are now asking what it means to build thriving ecosystems of product, experience and community around weekly audio-first audiences. We’re anticipating more category defining audio plays just like The Daily, and many who will go beyond just audio-only or audio-to-Film/TV. Exciting to think about the next era of audio-centric brands already in their infancy today.
When I’m not ranting and raving, my company SALT is building the next global brands leveraging audio. Drop me a line in the comments below or at firstname.lastname@example.org — all feedback welcome.