Tell Me Your Predictions

I was thinking about what to write next week and thought that maybe I’d do some predictions about audio for 2022. Then I thought, actually, why not have some predictions from the over 1,000 people who get the newsletter each week.

So, my question to you is: What will be the key themes for radio, podcasting and/or streaming be next year?

Maybe you think it’ll all be about pivoting to video, perhaps everything will be subscriptions or you think we’ll see a new entry in the streaming market? Whatever it is, macro, micro or meta, I’d love to hear about it, and I’ll try and include as many next week. Serious or fun is fine too!

These predictions can be anonymous (I know some of you work for companies that aren’t a fan of their teams talking) or include your company/project and I’ll give it a mention. Just tell me either way in the email.

You can email me – matt@mattdeegan.com – with your predictions.

Hope you have a great Christmas and New Year, and if a latty-flow or PCR has put paid to much mixing, then I hope at least you have a rejuvenating break.

Thanks for being a subscriber this year, the fact you are there, and open these emails, is what makes me write them in each week.

Matt.

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I was thinking about what to write next week and thought that maybe I’d do some predictions about audio for 2022. Then I thought, actually, why not have some predictions from the over 1,000 people who get the newsletter each week. So, my question to you is: What will be the key themes for radio, podcasting and/or streaming be next year?

Global’s Tech Acquisitions

Global announced yesterday the acquisition of Captivate a UK-based podcast hosting company. It’s their second recent purchase, after they snapped up Remixd in October.

As I talked about last month, tech acquisitions in the audio space somewhat outstrip those in the content field. The reason? Tech buy-outs help fill gaps for large companies who want to ‘own the whole stack’ of their tech infrastructure or do something that allows them to grow market share.

Captivate definitely fills a hole, as Global have lacked their own platform for managing the hosting of their podcasts. Up to now they mainly seem to have been using Spreaker, which was acquired by Voxnest, which was snaffled by iHeartMedia last year.

Global have been focused on growing out their digital audio advertising business – DAX, which like most ad-insertion companies can inter-op with different hosting companies. However, it always seemed strange that when a podcast was managed by the company, they were bounced into using Spreaker.

Bringing that technology in-house allows them to fully integrate DAX and tighten the relationship between ads and content. It also removes a point of failure out of the chain. It’s much easier to fix some internal technology than have to jump through hoops with a third party, particularly one whose parent company you’re probably a competitor of.

Captivate have done a pretty good job on their own up-to-now, with 14,000 shows hosted on the platform. Some recent data shows that they have a share of 2.4% of new podcast episodes published.

The challenge for stand-alone hosting companies is that as shows get bigger they’re likely to migrate to the platforms that sell their ads. Podnews tracks these movements where you can see that the move to free hosting provided by Spotify’s Anchor is strong, alongside the moves to Megaphone and Acast, which have monetisation built in.

For hosting companies that charge, like Captivate, the challenge remains to onboard new customers faster than you lose them, and to balance the bandwidth charges and product investment to keep making a profit.

With a move to Global, they need worry less about the cashflow, but also will now be in a position to offer advertising opportunities for their customers with DAX, providing some further stickiness for their product. It’s also good news for Global as they can expand their pool of inventory. It’s not dissimilar from Spotify using its Megaphone acquisition to rep third-party inventory alongside its originals.

Global also get to bend the Captivate product to meet the needs of both their in-house and repped customers.

DAX has been spending some time over the past couple of years owning the end to end technology around digital audio. It’s streaming ad platform was originally built on top of Adswizz’s server, that’s now been replaced by their own in-house tech and Captivate gives them another chunk of the tech stack.

Remixd, similar to the New York Times Audm acquisition, brings Global and DAX to another audio product – converting text articles to the spoken word. Click play on this Remixd delivered article on the TechRadar website to see how it sounds. It works by publishers pinging their article feeds to these services and back comes an MP3 to be added to a site’s play button (or podcast feed etc). Remixd is standard text to speech, whilst Audm has the articles read by a narrator.

Good text-to-speech is actually pretty easy to do nowadays, especially if you use a service like Amazon’s Polly. Polly charges around 3 cents per article for standard voice, and 10 cents for its more natural version.

Why Global’s interested in Remixd is that combining it alongside DAX allows publishers to monetise these feeds with DAX’s audio ads, so new money for them and a new potential inventory pool for Global.

I think the jury’s still out on whether consumers want to press play on articles, but as a publisher having your content in a different format can certainly increase the opportunities of what you can do with it.

Global’s two acquisitions again show the direction of travel for companies in the audio sector to consolidate technology and develop scale – putting them in a better place to compete.

AOB

There’s a new episode of the Media Podcast out. This time we’re talking about the likely future cuts coming to the BBC, what happened at the British Journalism Awards and the Guardian hitting 1m subs without a paywall. Excellent guests include The Times’ media correspondent Jake Kanter, journalist and comedian Suchandrika Chakribarti and The Week founder Jon Connell. Listen here.

Mine and David Madelin’s little side project Podfollow has hit 20million click thrus this month. Podfollow provides a free link for podcasters to put on social that opens up Apple Podcasts for iOS users, Google Podcasts/Spotify for Android and websites/landing pages for Desktop users. There’s stats built in, and it’s great to see so many people using it including NewsCorp, Bauer, Sky, The Athletic and more. Check it out at podfollow.com.

Why have Global grabbed Captivate and Remixd? (4min read)

On or Off Platform?

The key tension with most audio companies I meet is the worry of whether they should try and get consumers on their own platform vs maximising reach by distributing content far and wide. Indeed, probably the biggest response I’ve had to a blog post touched on that issue when I mused about the challenge of podcast exclusives.

In Succession there’s a scene where the boss of the successful tech company says to Roman Roy something along the lines of “sometimes I just open your streaming app to see how long it takes to load”. The fact the traditional media business can’t get its act together is deemed an accurate enough trope to include in a mainstream TV drama.

The problem for the Roys (like many media companies) is that they play at being tech companies, but it just isn’t in their skillset.

There’s two ways to get traction in app/service.

Make it genuinely good so that people want to use it.

Find ways to force them to use it, even against their better judgement.

In the media sector, successful apps have access to great content, with an enjoyable UX and have a brand that users want to align themselves with. They generally are not just utilities.

A consumer’s choice between Apple Music, Spotify or Tidal says something about them. Even though they deliver a similar product. Netflix’s position in the market is of course partly due to its content, but the fact many of its big shows are re-runs of 90s and 00s comedies show that its success is broader than just what you consume on it.

The problem for many media company audio apps is that they clone poorly the existing features of the market-leading apps, they shoe-horn in a webview rather than native material, and the ‘special’ content may be voluminous, but it is rarely premium.

Where there is the occasional something special – a concert, a series – it lives locked in the app, a tax on the consumer’s actual interest.

Really, it’s perverse that they make it difficult for consumers to get the stuff they actually care about or remember the brand for.

The other thing I think audio brands get wrong is that they think of their content as must-have, when for most people, lots of it is replaceable by something else. A dance music stream, or an interview with a popstar is not a Squid Game or a Mandalorian.

Because of this, most audio apps end up being a subset of their broadcast users, rather than a product that genuinely reaches outside to new people.

Successful apps are brands with high utility – genuinely solving a problem for a user – and delighting them along the way.

A white-labelled dating service shoved into an app with a branded logo will never be a competitor to Tinder. Getting the team to make some videos and buying in some content will never compete with TikTok. Some radio stations and podcasts put together is unlikely to make much of a dent against Spotify.

The true test is how many people audio companies have working on these apps and services? The bosses may have high hopes for these operations, but where is the talent and money in their business put? What percentage goes into the new hero product?

Apps are not successful through luck alone. If your good content is available via broadcast (and syndication), combining that with some average additional content churned out by too few people will never be enough.

For many heritage audio companies, the problem with the digital world is that on the face of it, it makes no sense. They have existing, successful businesses, with good margins that are super-efficient. They apply, what they see, as the appropriate spending based on the actual returns. The result is too few developers and too few ‘digital’ content people able to make anything that’s truly impressive.

The issue is that the new entrants aren’t playing by old media rules. Spotify, today, is a really poor business. It generally loses money and is making wild acquisitions that will be difficult to break-even from. It’s using good-will, momentum and IPO cash to build a business for tomorrow. It’s a ploy that’s served Netflix well too. They spent billions of dollars on content, building up a large debt, to get them into a position where their model worked. Disney has torpedoed successful businesses – syndication and channels – to put Disney+ at the heart of what they do.

In my mind, audio companies have two options.

Go big.

If they truly want their platform to be bigger than their current audience, rather than jut a subset of it, then they need to work out how to find the money to play with the big boys and really invest in content and development. Merely forcing their existing consumers to pay their app tax is not something likely to create a successful platform.

Properly double-down on existing consumers

Radio groups, for example, have good relationships with many of their existing listeners. Instead of providing a thin amount of additional content, find ways to provide deeper connections. Make ‘premium’ the relationship, rather than the content. Unlock every reason why a listener likes your brand and find ways to extend that in-app.

There is little reason to fight Spotify (or Netflix) on their own turf. Of course you will lose that battle. Surely the trick is to find something that’s genuinely special which only you can deliver?

NYT

I’m interested in the new New York Times audio app they’ve started testing. It combines their podcasts with some great archives (Serial and This American Life) alongside spoken word versions of articles from the paper and a decent number of similar sorts of publications too. Plus there’s a layer of curation that highlights new and archive based on what’s happening now.

It all sounds very NYT-ish. Elements of this are available in the popular podcast apps, but the different content types, and the packaging is very on-brand and unique. Who knows if it will work, but it’s more sensible than just say, creating their own podcast app, that leans towards promoting their own content.

Also, I dare say, it solves a problem for consumers, particularly fans of the NYT, giving them high quality, curated and fresh news, information and features in audio-form.

If any of the existing audio apps from media companies disappeared tomorrow, how many users would truly miss out on that much?

How can media companies build a successful audio app?

Comparing Audio in Different Countries

As regular readers may know, I love a good bit of research. In the audio space there’s one piece that towers over the others – the Infinite Dial. First published in the US in 1998, the Infinite Dial started asking questions that many audio practitioners didn’t realise were important – about changing listening behaviour and this thing called the ‘internet’.

In the first report a lot of the analysis concerns things that were important issues of the time (should we have a website?, do listeners want track and artist names displayed?), but there’s the odd nugget that hinted at a changing future:

Radio’s average time spent listening among those not online is 22 hours 45 minutes a week. Radio’s time spent listening among those online is nearly three hours less, 20 hours per week.

It was probably one of the first times radio people heard that those listeners who were engaging with the expansive content on the internet, changed how they listened to the good old wireless.

Today, much of the value of the Infinite Dial is that they’ve often used the same questions over 20 years of studies, producing a true tracking of listener behaviour.

The study has been replicated in many other markets, but it’s taken until this year (and some cash from partners Bauer and Spotify) to reproduce the survey in the UK. Whilst it doesn’t have the year-on-year comparisons that America has, it can now though compare similar questions asked to listeners in the US, Canada and Australia.

The Data

To me there are few bits information that stem from the core insight – Brits. Love. Audio.

The first is how strong linear radio is. 81% of those surveyed said they had listened to any form of radio (broadcast or online) in the last week. This compares to 79% in Australia, 70% in Canada and just 59% in the US.

My assumption is this strength in the UK comes from there being a public broadcaster of scale (in the BBC), a competitive commercial sector, and – through the DAB journey – a commitment to creating high-quality, content-rich new radio stations. I think some similar reasoning shows why Australia is strong too.

Anyone can throw up a jukebox stream, but the UK has invested in radio content, so that the 50-odd new national radio stations provide choice and quality, with presenters, production and speech content. Taken together, the sector has done a good job (compared to other countries) and making sure the radio ‘product’ is of high quality. It’s not the same in many other countries.

Secondly, the choice through digital radio – for all ages – from 1Xtra to Boom Radio – and a multi-platform strategy that’s put them on lots of devices – has also pump primed UK ears to be open to more new audio types. The data shows that monthly listening to podcasts is at at 41%, which ties the US (a market that is generally though of as ‘ahead’ on podcasting) and is stronger than Canada at 38% and Australia at 36%.

We don’t, however, listen to podcasts in the same ferocity yet as other countries, the weekly podcast listening figure is 25% in the UK, compared to 23% in Canada, 26% in Australia and 29% in the US.

Finally, the weekly reach online listening number – this combines listening to the radio online along with any streamed content – is once again, very strong, with 66% of the UK, that’s two-thirds of the country, consuming online audio in some form, each week. This matches the same number in Australia and beats both the US (at 62%) and Canada (at 61%).

What all of this shows is that the UK market is pretty well educated about digital audio, they use it (or at least sample it) and have integrated it into their listening habits. For established operators – with routes to large numbers of people – there’s a great opportunity to bring new material to consumers and increase the amount of time they spend with them. For new operators, there is a large, but still growing market, ready to consume digital audio if its high quality and marketed well.

There’s a lot more data online from Edison Research’s Infinite Dial, on their website.

Podcast Awards

I’m also fortunate to compare different markets through my involvement in podcast awards in different territories. After the success of the British Podcast Awards, we were asked to help run the secretariat for the Australian Podcast Awards, which had its ceremony on Thursday night.

It was a great event, with some brilliant winners that you should definitely check out. Just like in radio, the Australian podcast market is very competitive, with a public broadcaster, existing media operators branching out, new entrants and of course radio companies. The interplay between the commercial radio companies has meant a much greater push into podcasts than we see here in the UK. With a mix of radio stars, commissioned work and repping from all the big networks. Similar to the UK, Acast are making a strong push for stand-alone creators and Spotify are creating an interesting slate of Originals too.

We’ve also made another move with our awards caravan – this time to Ireland, announcing last week the Irish Podcast Awards. Since we’ve been doing the British awards we’ve had lots of requests about involving Irish podcasts in the ceremony. Rather than combine the two, we though it better to create something alongside Irish podcasters and companies, specifically for that market.

The reason companies and individuals podcast is really varied, we think that’s why there’s rarely associations created in countries that bring everyone together. The participants are probably too broad in their objectives to find the sort of common ground you might get in other sectors like radio or television. Awards, however, can be a meeting point, an independent one, that just champions creativity and helps grow awareness for great shows (from anyone). We’re really excited to be working with a vibrant and growing Irish podcast sector to help them create something brilliant. You can sign up to the mailing list for more information.

How similar and different are we to our audio neighbours? (5min read)

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