In 2019, we were for the first time able to directly compare South African podcast consumption with the rest of the world.
Edison Research undertook a survey into audio listening in September, and the results show that there is plenty of room for growth in South Africa. Just 10% of metropolitan South Africans listen to any podcasts in a typical month, compared to 33% of people in the US, or 22% of Australians.
The disappointment of those figures was quickly forgotten, however, since podcasting is growing in South Africa, and growing fast. Jacaranda FM, for example, is seeing consistently higher download figures for its podcasts every month. Breakfast with Martin Bester achieved over 100 000 downloads in just one day in November, and all the signs are that records will keep falling.
Part of the reason for South Africa’s slow growth is, clearly, the high cost of mobile data. Where I live in Australia, a 30GB plan would cost 1% of a typical Australian’s monthly income, and data costs are similar in the UK and US. However, in South Africa, the price of data is more than 30 times more, and that can’t have a positive effect on podcast listening.
I’ve been to many different places this year, and the main takeaway, I think, is that where English is spoken (like the UK and Canada, but also like Norway or Sweden) podcasting does well, but podcasting suffers if you have to rely on local languages. In France or Germany, where English is spoken by fewer people, podcasting is less popular. Part of that is due to the amount of available content, I’m sure.
But 2019 saw some welcome developments for podcasting.
One of the most important has been the emergence of a standard way of measuring a podcast download. This standard, called ‘IAB v2’ by the industry, goes a long way towards producing a common standard that means that you can compare numbers between different publishers or hosts. This means more confidence from advertising buyers, and should mean a significant increase in the amount of money coming into the industry.
Measurement is also beginning to help advertisers with attribution – the amount of people who heard a podcast who then went to a website and purchased a product. This is fraught with privacy concerns, and the industry needs to be cautious but, if done right, it would be a significant advantage to advertising on broadcast radio. Of course, broadcast radio still has the bulk of the audience – and the bulk of the revenue.
Money is, though, flowing into podcasting in a number of different ways. First, there are the standard advertising breaks, which are increasingly being sold for international podcasts. Listen to the New York Times’s podcast in Australia, as one example, and you’ll be told about the benefits of using Australia Post’s new tracking service; while if you listen in the US you might hear about a new form of mattress.
Also growing are so-called branded podcasts. Sanlam released theirs in 2018: ‘The 200 Year Old’ was a scripted podcast looking at the future, funded by the financial services company. There are many more being produced and enjoyed.
Many podcasters are also discovering a lucrative opportunity in live shows. A company called Podcast Live was set up in the UK to help podcasters move into live events, with ticket sales and venue booking. Some big US podcasts now have national tours, which both help fund the podcasts but also bring audience and podcast host together.
2019 also saw growth in podcast apps. Apple Podcasts continues to grow, and is easily the world’s biggest podcast app in terms of downloads; but Spotify spent big, acquired a number of podcasting content companies, and is now the second-most popular place to listen to podcasts, according to most podcast hosts.
Spotify is also clearly adding new listeners to podcasts. Used by many different people across the world, Spotify has seized on podcasting as a way of keeping people within the service.
Google, too, is slowly growing their podcast app – and podcasts now regularly appear within Google search and are available on smart speakers in other places.
2020 will probably be the year that the US podcast industry hits $1 billion in advertising revenue. That sounds large, until you compare it to broadcast radio, which in the US pulls in around $20 billion, including terrestrial and satellite.
That said, a $1 billion number will make more ad buyers sit up and take notice. It’s notable that big advertisers on the radio are quite different to big advertisers on podcasting – with the exception of Geico, a US insurer. By and large, big brand advertising has yet to cotton on to marketing themselves using podcasts, a strange omission, given the attention that most listeners give to their favourite podcasts.
The growth of the industry is obvious. The popular Podcast Movement conference, held yearly in August in the US, has grown fast over the past few years. 2019 saw the exhibitors hall suddenly filling with household names like Google and Spotify, as well as big radio networks, keen to grab a part of the action.
iHeartRadio, the US’s biggest radio broadcaster, now runs its own podcast awards, as well as owning a large chunk of podcasting. Entercom, the market’s No 2, has also invested in podcasting. Depending on who you talk to, podcasting is now making more money for NPR, the national public radio broadcaster, than radio does.
One thing’s certain – 2020 will be a fascinating year to watch.
This story was first published in The Media Yearbook 2020.
James Cridland is editor of Podnews, a free daily newsletter about the podcasting industry. You can subscribe at podnews.net. He is also a radio futurologist, working with the brightest broadcasters to work out what’s next; and has spoken three times at Radio Days Africa.