Thursday, August 31, 2017

Funny how podcasters never talk about the kind of advertising they get

I listen to a lot of podcasts for my Guardian Guide column.

Traditionally podcasts have been a tough advertising sell. Nobody knows whether the figures they claim are reliable and even if they are nobody can decide whether they're surprisingly big or surprisingly small.

However since the success of Serial the profile of the big podcasts in the USA has grown. The people who host them are well-known; they're refugees from press or politics, know how to put themselves over and sometimes even get invited on TV chat shows. The biggest podcasts now have backers who are paying the talent and hoping they can make their money back through advertising.

These adverts are the kind of thing it would be very difficult to buy on traditional media. They're the kind of thing you might have come across in the early days of TV when the host would break off to hymn the virtues of a brand of cigarettes or a detergent. What the advertiser wants is the presenter recommending their products to the listener. Some podcasters can do this with a straight face. Some can't. They'll learn the hard way.

What's more interesting is the kind of advertising these podcasts attract. This tends to be aimed at cash-rich childless couples, the sort who like to think of themselves as "time-poor" (as if any sub-set of the population has more time than any other) and are immensely attracted by the idea of contracting out any of their domestic requirements to a service they can interact with without talking to a human being.

In this post Uber, post-Deliveroo world you can get anything delivered to your door because it's taken for granted that one is simply too busy on Instagram to actually go to the shop in the High Street and get it.

Inevitably this means that the shop on your High Street closes and the retail sector shrinks further with predictable consequences for the local environment and the job prospects of people who are never going to make a living out of the digital economy. 

Clearly none of these podcasters could change any of this even if they wanted to.  It's just I've heard them opine about so many things that I can't believe that they haven't at least raised an eyebrow at the manner in which they may be benefitting from changes they otherwise deplore.


  1. I've been watching the advertising crisis unfolding on YouTube. Content creators who previously either made a good living or supplemented an income through the adverts that streamed automatically at the beginning, the end, and during their videos (assuming the viewer isn't running an adblocker) found their revenue cut dramatically, without warning. More recently, YouTube has been demonetising videos, and occasionally entire channels, often for spurious reasons. This has resulted in widespread panic among those creators whose channels are small businesses with employees to be paid. Google appears to be restructuring the service to make it more advertiser friendly, which entails muscling out any unpredictable or potentially offensive content – that includes independent news services, many of which, in my opinion, do a better job that the big mainstream outlets.

    Google are assuming that the people who flocked to YouTube in their millions because it offered them something different will stick around. They wont.

    Content creators are beginning to move towards different revenue streams. PewDiePie – a Swedish YouTuber with 57 million subscribers, who was the subject of a rather nasty smear campaign in the mainstream media, has upped the number of live gaming streams, which go on for several hours. Viewers can tune in and watch him and his friends playing Battlegrounds. There's a small charge to gain access to the chat, however individual donations can often creep over $100, which, even as a gamer, I find bizarre. You wouldn't drop the same amount into the flat cap of somebody busking their way through Wonderwall under a railway bridge.

    Many podcasts are financed by their listeners via services services such as Patreon, which allows fans to make one-off or monthly donations, like a direct debit, usually with perks offered to those who donate more (such as extra shows or content). The Dick Show makes around $20,000 a month this way. It's a good way of funding a podcast, but it does rely on building a strong direct relationship between the audience and the creator, which isn't always an easy thing to manage. There are examples of content providers who have alienated their audiences and who have watched their incomes dwindle.

    I disagree that podcasters always have to play it straight during paid-for advertising spots. A podcast that I used to listen to was regularly sponsored by both a mattress and a razor blade company. There were slots for these products, and clearly there were points about the products that had to be brought up. Outside of that, these adverts were conversational and occasionally deviated into horribly offensive tangents. These brands knew full-well the audience they targeting, and that they would be more likely to respond to this offhand style of advertising than something that was more structured.

    You wouldn't want that for your product if you were the CEO of Coca Cola, but if you're some fringe business, yet to establish itself within the public consciousness, you have the luxury of being a little edgy.

    1. I listen to Pod Save America and their adverts - as you aver to - don't play straight either. Oh sometimes they do, but more often than not, there's a lot of goofing about.

      What's interesting, per David's point, is that not only do they advertise stuff you can't buy on the High St, like, say, MVMT watches, but they also advertise services that actively undermine the fabric of places, so they'll advertise a service (possibly sanctioned by US Mail) that allows users to print off stamps at home rather than go queue up in the Post Office. And these lads are meant to be, y'know, 'progressives'.

  2. To me the main point of podcasts is to directly connect great communicators with their audience - as this blog- and so disintermediate advertisers.
    So I love The Word and am now aware of your and guests' products (books) - far more than through advertising- that is a win win situation in return for great content.
    Advertising on a blog and on a podcast could work with a large enough audience but usually distracts from the message of the podcaster. It's a bit like trying to sell an advert in the white space of another poster advert!
    Keep up the great content her and on your podcasts, promoting what you're truly passionate about.