Every year, Pacific Content asks the best and brightest in the podcast industry for their predictions about the year ahead. According to the experts, 2020 will be explosive, combative, experimental, better measured than ever before… and anything but boring.
1. Apple vs. Spotify: The Platform Wars Intensify
Spotify takes 25% or more of listener share
“Most public data about Spotify’s market share underestimate just how big it is. Because Spotify is a streaming service, requests from Spotify clients represent actual listens rather than just downloads. Based on Chartable analytics data, we predict that Spotify will reach at least 25% listener share by the end of 2020 — a huge win for Spotify and a clear warning to Pandora, Apple and other folks trying to maintain or grow their share of listeners.”
Apple makes its move
“Apple will — at the very least — make some major content announcements and hires during 2020. Apple is hard at work on this right now; it’s coming. And when the Apple/Spotify gloves come off, I’ll be eating a big bowl of popcorn with Jessi Hempel to watch the whole thing go down (calling: Business Wars).”
“Spotify is going to continue its quest for world domination. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the next year or two, Spotify was on par with or surpassing Apple for market share. And the different ways that people listen to things on Spotify will also change the nature of podcasts. More short, 5–10 minute pods. More short-run series. More focus on individual episodes (versus episode feeds) in podcast playlists. Much the way that Spotify has upended the music industry, they’re going to do the same for podcasts, for better or worse.”
“Apple Podcasts will continue to decrease in market share unless they make significant changes to their service. We may see some exclusive Apple programming, but I’d like to see Apple’s micropayments being made available, allowing podcasters to create subscription podcasts and lessen the reliance on advertising. For this to work best, Apple would launch Apple Podcasts on Android phones, too. Will they take it seriously enough?”
“The platforms will surpass the networks as the premier aggregators of non-native talent in podcasting. The fast start by Spotify (and the catch-up by Pandora, Radio.com, iHeart et al) will put immense pressure on podcast networks and production companies like Midroll and Wondery, who might want to work with A-list talent.”
‘‘The distribution landgrab will intensify as creators navigate the benefits of omnipresent access, with the incentives from platform exclusivity. But with a significant proportion of the population yet to even listen to a podcast, perhaps platform exclusivity will hinder, not help an already difficult to navigate medium.’’
Pacific Content’s take
2020 will be a year of massive change in the industry as several of the world’s largest and most influential companies battle each other for the pole position. It’s not just Apple and Spotify — we’re watching Google, Pandora, iHeart, and as you’ll see below… Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube. Now that it’s en route to becoming a billion-dollar business, podcasts are on the radar of a lot of tech and media titans.
2. Consolidation Continues
“Here’s an easy one — continued consolidation. There is a lot of big media money sniffing around podcast networks and producers right now. We already see in our research that a number of top radio groups (not just iHeart) have become significant in terms of reach, and there are attractive acquisition targets out there for sure.”
“Podcasting will go through a consolidation in which the longtail will encounter trouble.
- Income inequality is a metaphor for what will happen in the world of podcasting. Over the last thirty years, there has been enormous prosperity, productivity, and economic gains in the United States, but it is all aggregated to the top 1%.
- Years of prosperity, productivity, and listenership are about to hit the podcasting space, but new listeners will be the mainstream, and the podcasts of the highest quality at the top of the charts will reap the lion’s share of the benefits.
- Niche podcasts that truly add value will also survive and do well, but reheated Joe Rogan imitators… that shit is going to fall off the face of a cliff.”
“Podcasting and audiences will continue to consolidate around the biggest radio platforms that have an advantage by being able to promote podcasts and expose new audiences to the medium in numbers no one else can deliver. At the other end of the spectrum, there is also a home for podcasts of any size audience and more people and businesses will avail themselves of the opportunities.”
“Radio broadcasters will continue to hedge their bets on the future of their medium by purchasing podcast operations. iHeart, Entercom and Rogers were some of the investors in 2019, and I would expect those companies to invest further, as well as more companies acquiring podcasting publishers as well as growing their own.”
“2019 saw more podcast hosting companies than ever — new ones, free ones, specialised ones. We saw more advertising services than ever, offering ways for podcasters to earn from affiliate schemes, radio spots or spoken reads. I predict some attrition for the heritage podcast companies, who may need to quickly adapt.”
“Web hosting companies will compete to make the biggest, baddest hosting company you still could not ever imagine. I like my provider but the process is still clunky, what with platforms not talking with each other and so on. We need a McDonalds of Web Hosting companies. ”
“VC investment will continue pouring in, causing increased consolidation across the ecosystem. Publishers will acquire hosting platforms and podcatchers will acquire creators. Bullish publishers who invested heavily at first will pull away as podcast ROI isn’t realised with the speed or scale that was promised. ”
Pacific Content’s take
As a company that was acquired by Rogers Media in 2019 and can speak from experience, we’re confident that consolidation will continue in 2020. With a limited number of independent podcast companies available and increased interest from platforms and media companies, expect a few more Gimlet-size deals in 2020.
3. Major New Players Enter the Industry
“Large new content platforms — like Facebook and YouTube — will build best-in-class audio-specific products and begin to distribute podcasts en masse. This medium is based on human connection. It’s borne out of the same companionship and intimacy that listeners get from broadcast radio DJs. (This is the same reason why radio — and now podcasting — performs so well for advertisers.) And the audience grew, in part, by word-of-mouth recommendations. So given that ‘connection’ is at the core of podcasting, social media-driven platforms will play a big role in accelerating the growth of podcast audiences worldwide through positives comments, likes and shares.”
Pacific Content’s take
If companies with massive reach and powerful ad-targeting platforms like Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, or Twitter begin seriously entering the audio space, it will be the catalyst for true hockey stick growth of new listeners, major advertising revenue growth for the industry, and huge new opportunities to capture time and attention by these platforms.
4. Explosive Listener Growth
“In the world of podcasting, listenership is about to explode.
- Yes, 51% of Americans have listened to a ‘singular’ podcast; but, less than a quarter of Americans listen to podcasts weekly.
- My peers (those that are 50-year-old +) still ask me what podcasts they should listen to.
- Currently, folks under the age of 45 account for nearly 70% of podcast listeners, and everyone else (and the mainstream) is about to start riding the podcast wave, and listenership will go through the roof.”
“We have not reached ‘peak podcasting’ and I don’t know that we ever will. Much as been made of how many podcasts are extant (over 700,000) but that number pales in comparison to the number of self-published books put out last year alone. In our recent Spoken Word Audio Report in partnership with NPR we showed that the appetite for spoken word programming is only increasing, and the amount of money being poured into the space is going to fund even more mass appeal, high-quality content. We still have a long way to go in terms of attracting ears.”
5. The Road to… ONE BILLION DOLLARS!
“The US podcast ad revenue pie comes within a hair of reaching $1bn. Current projections underestimate the increase in listening, compounded by the continued strength in pricing.”
“As audiences grow — with better audience targeting and improved tracking — and as well-known creatives continue to jump into the medium, bigger and bigger brands will flood podcasting with marketing buys — and will realize what direct response brands have known for almost a decade now: Podcast ads drive some of the best results in marketing, period.”
“D2C’s millennial-obsessive love-affair with audio not only funded our zeitgeist, but bore a new one in which all brands — B2B, B2C no matter — must think about audio. This year, brands that formerly had audio buyers will now invest in original and/or integrated brand content. The brands that formerly cared only for display or YouTube ads, will now care about audio. IRL ‘brand experiences’ (which as we all know are really only about Instagram) will have integrated audio components. And the smartest brands will lean on all of us to think about what really makes sense for audio — how podcasting can be complementary of existing digital strategies.”
“If you have a podcast with an engaged and growing audience, your value can’t be understated in 2020. Podcasters will have more opportunities than ever before. They will be promised unprecedented growth and opportunities to monetize their hard work — from networks to tech platforms, to countless 3rd parties and beyond. But at what cost? Look to young independent writers, musicians, and digital creators who made early mistakes in their careers and carefully navigate the opportunities ahead — protect your ideas and your time, and ask for exactly what you deserve and nothing less. (Here are a few topics to consider.)”
6. Growth of Programmatic Advertising
“We will see a real push into programmatic buying in 2020. It’s a small portion of buying today; however, it will have the fastest growth rate of any segment in the space doubling to tripling in scale. The winners buying this way will develop creative specifically for the podcast medium, respecting the listener with an inclusive conversational tone. ”
“Listeners are going to start noticing ads more — for better and for worse. We saw in our recent Super Listeners Report with PodcastOne that while podcasts remain incredibly attractive ad vehicles, podcasting’s heaviest users are noticing that the quantity of advertising is starting to increase. We are also seeing more and more repurposed broadcast ads served in podcasts, which, while still effective, do chip away somewhat at podcasting’s feeling of being ‘special’ for listeners. We shouldn’t assume that podcasts have an intrinsic halo effect — we can ruin anything with bad ads.”
“Podcasting technology is working vigorously to level the playing field with traditional digital ad tech in order to appease advertisers’ legitimate concerns around targeting and metrics. Unfortunately, this comes hand-in-hand with the rise of programmatic advertising, challenging podcasting’s OG advertising edge: highly intimate, authentic, host-read endorsements. While announcer-read programmatic ads may be an easier pill to swallow for brands new to podcasting, it’s a harder one for the listener (not to mention the impossibly low CPMs for smaller publishers). The divided camps will remain. What will emerge is a familiar competition from the digital and print worlds, where the most creative, most integrated, most authentic branded content will rise to the top.”
7. New Revenue Models & Strategies
“Direct consumer support for podcasts accelerates. Up until last year ago, it was just Stitcher Premium and Patreon. This year, following the launch of Luminary and the creation of several technical solutions to support podcast subscriptions, multiple ‘single brand’ services from Slate Plus to Wondery+ saw their growth accelerate. Expect to a new wave of solutions hit the market in 2020.”
“Monetization opportunities for podcasters will continue to broaden in 2020, particularly for smaller podcasters in the ecosystem who don’t necessarily monetize today. It’s possible that the $863.4M projection for podcast advertising revenue in the US from IAB and PwC will appear conservative in hindsight.”
“Podcast networks of all sizes will get into the subscription game. But rather than distribute premium content exclusively through Spotify’s and Luminary’s walled gardens, or letting Patreon handle their listeners’ credit cards, podcast networks will increasingly choose to offer their own network-branded subscription bundles via the open podcast ecosystem using simple, new, white-label paid subscription services like ours.”
“More eyes on the back catalog. More creators will be trying to figure out how to make money on what has heretofore been free advertising for buyers of baked-in ads. Rather than accept rosier sell-through numbers that only include episodes released in the most current 30 days, podcasters will start to ask about their ‘true sell-through,’ taking all listening into account.”
8. Will Podcasts Still Be Podcasts? Downloads → Streaming
“The age-old definition of ‘what is a podcast’ will be pushed to the limit in 2020, as a handful of platforms shift away from RSS distribution in favour of streaming. Advertisers will sway investment to those offering enhanced targeting and reporting and will demand the broader industry follow suit.”
“The download economy will start to show some cracks. We are seeing some publishers start to ‘podcastify’ all kinds of content that we might not have traditionally thought of as podcasts to generate more implied impressions. Spotify has already become a significant distributor of podcast content, and as other platforms ramp up walled and proprietary content, those stats are going to look different to the download stats we are all used to. Making a combination of downloads, listens, streams and impressions make sense for advertisers is going to be an existential question for content publishers.”
Pacific Content’s take
With fresh 2019 research from both the Canadian Podcast Listener and Edison Research showing that large numbers of new podcast listeners are consuming shows on YouTube, we’ll see a lot of experienced podcasters and companies start trial publishing on the world’s largest video platform and the world’s second-largest search engine.
9. Attribution and Beyond — Major Metrics Advances in 2020
Ad attribution becomes standard practice
“More advertisers will learn that podcast ads can be measured more reliably than previous offline attribution methods like discount codes. Chartable’s SmartAds and similar services will offer insight into which ads perform best. More transparency and better reporting will bring more ad dollars to podcasting, which means creators making great stuff will get paid more.”
“The story for 2020 will center around attribution. As an industry we have successfully evolved the question of podcasting from why to how, which is a fantastic step. With that comes questions of, ‘How do I buy?’ ‘How do I measure performance?’ ‘How do I properly report back to my brands?’ The story all along has been engagement. These are questions we have been working on and delivering to our brands that have shown what that engagement truly means. As more and more brands build in attribution with their campaigns we will continue to see those KPI’s rise.”
Beyond the Download
“We’ll see a shift in 2020 where the download metric begins to lose its prominence as the main measurement of what makes a successful podcast, successful. Podcasters will have to be diligent in collecting and interpreting any ancillary data to help craft a more compelling story about what makes their connection with their audience more impactful — and more importantly, they will need to educate their partners why having the full context of their listeners carries so much more value than how many times an episode was downloaded. ”
“Companies using podcasts for internal communications and training will continue to look for more targeted analytics than standard podcast statistics. For example, we provide user engagement intel, with episode listening patterns and listener-level data, and more companies want this to then use within their own reporting and systems. Companies need solid data to measure ROI, and when using podcasts for employee needs they also need numbers for things like compliance, training goals, and employee incentives.”
Pacific Content’s take
This is the year of attribution. FINALLY. Advertisers and brands have been asking for it. Podcasters have been asking for it. And it’s finally here. As a result, media buyers will have to become more effective at buying ads that work and deliver results, because for the first time, tools will exist to show clients what works and what doesn’t.
10. Corporate blogs → Corporate podcasts
“Podcasts will start to become as necessary and common at companies as blogs have been. Podbean has experienced a 230% year-over-year average growth in our Enterprise podcasting business. We’ve worked with companies ranging from IBM and VMWare to Paychex and Aflac. Every company will eventually want to have its own podcasts to communicate with the general public and employees. We predict high-quality podcast production demands will increase among these companies. For both external and internal podcasts, large corporations especially will want to produce something that mirrors what they hear in top podcasts. They’ll need to think about engaging content, and how to promote their podcast — even if it is an internal one. ”
“Podcasting will transform enterprise workforce engagement. Internal ‘town hall’ meetings will be streamed as live casts and available afterwards as on-demand audio and video podcasts. Original podcasts will be created to better align workers with company leaders, goals, values and news. Enterprise podcast adoption, corporate communications preferences, and consumption analytics will further solidify podcasting as a more modern and effective channel than email and corporate intranets. Another area of growth: corporate learning and development teams will begin the process of converting training materials to media-on-demand podcast series, delivering remote and in-transit employees with more convenient and secure mobile access to libraries of informational content.”
“Your boss’s boss will start an internal podcast in 2020. C-suite execs, HR leaders, and sales trainers will use the medium’s intimacy and convenience to communicate with staff and build corporate culture. Some internal corporate podcasters will require employees to use a proprietary app or a desktop intranet page designed in 2008 to listen, but the more forward-thinking internal podcasters will distribute shows via specialized platforms like ours that enable protected listening via employees’ existing podcast apps. It’ll take some experimentation to figure out what employees will actually care enough to listen to — simply sharing an audio recording of the conventional all-hands meeting won’t fly.”
“With listeners increasingly habituated to audio, why limit the aural dissemination of information to media companies? At WMN we’ve broken barriers alongside our friends at Pacific Content to create groundbreaking internal-facing podcasts to meet a wide variety of enterprise needs. Office memos have jumped from email to earbuds and companies are seeing their engagement metrics soar. These shows aren’t just about telling great stories, they’re utilitarian: replacing time-wasting meetings, using audio to increase transparency and much, much more. That said, the success of these types of shows, especially at the world’s largest companies, depends on distribution that is both secure and accessible — something we’ve yet to see work at scale.”
Pacific Content’s take
Internal podcasts become an invisible giant — as they are internal-only and mostly secured behind company firewalls, we might never know how many are being made or what the overall listenership is, but companies working in this space know that it is hot, growing fast, and ripe for experimentation as companies try to escape the tyranny of the inbox to communicate effectively with employees.
11. Experimentation! The Growth of New Formats & Distribution Channels
“With the rise of wireless headphones and connected speakers, listening is more frictionless than ever, even outside the car. As a result, we will see more casual audio consumption and content creation, including shorter-form content that’s easy to consume while running a quick errand or waiting in line. Don’t be surprised if the trend toward shorter content continues in 2020.”
“Content will continue to evolve. It’s hard to imagine with all the great stories being told now that we can grow even bigger.
The breadth of compelling, original and immersive storytelling we’ve seen over the past year will only continue to expand, and there will be a stellar array of content for both listeners to choose from and advertisers to invest in. Competition breeds innovation.”
BioPods and History pods will flourish
“Dolly. Drake. Beyonce! The thirst for deep dives on people that shaped the cultural canon and vital moments that shaped history will magnify, quenching the thirst of listeners needing a complement to their quick hit social media habits.”
“More world-class audio fiction. Podcast fiction will keep pushing further and further away from its radio drama roots, raising the bar on original writing, cutting-edge sound design and formerly taboo or underexplored topics. It’s a genre to watch in 2020, especially as indie pioneers go head to head with established actors.”
“We’ll see an increase in smart podcasters who leverage the power of ‘the niche’
- At Podcast Movement I met a guy who makes five podcasts about how to get into law school. It’s obviously super nichey. You’ve never heard of him, but he is making high six figures per year. I think a lot of smart podcasters will follow this model — make shows that don’t have a ton of downloads but are still super valuable to advertisers who want to reach a specific target.
- We are already seeing a lot of small business owners making podcasts with the singular goal of building their credibility within a niche space. This is going to grow — doctors, lawyers, real estate agents, plumbers, designers, general contractors, psychologists — they should all have podcasts.”
Pacific Content’s take
Experimentation flourishes in 2020, with new lengths, new formats, new distribution channels, and new genres being introduced. Part of the experimentation will come from new creators entering the space, and part will come from podcasters trying to find new ways to differentiate themselves.
“Diversity: It was very inspiring to attend the She Podcasts conference this year, where 40% of the attendees were either WOC or LGBTQA. I’m also encouraged by efforts like the Google PRX program to bring marginalized voices into the medium and the formation of WOC Podcasters and the Asian American Association. I predict that we will see more intentionality by podcasters and podcast production houses to include diverse voices within teams, and hopefully more podcast houses owned and run by people of color and diverse backgrounds. ”
“More diverse podcasters and content will be developed, serving a broader and broader audience. ”
13. Politics & Polarization
“If 2008 was the year that social media became a key component of our election process, then this is the year that podcasting will play a role… This will happen by all news programming centering its efforts on the election in part or whole, a ton of new entrants with stories to tell and pundits galore! No matter the case, will be good for podcasting as a medium.”
More Nuance in Industry Reporting
“I expect to see more critical reporting done about the podcast industry with more nuance beyond the common practice of curating press releases and aggregating social commentary. A question we should often be asking: What does the independent podcaster stand to gain or lose with every new development, M&A, and pivot? We should all have a healthy dose of skepticism as to how we process and engage with these developments and I hope the reporting is up to this task. ”
“I believe 2020 will be a year where context will matter more than ever. Getting the right content to the right audiences at the right time.”
“Content becomes more fluid. Searching for a particular piece of content is hard right now. You’re lucky if you find a transcript or the right clip, right when you need it. This is the year that companies compete to be the leader in this space. I don’t know if it will come from an app or a platform or Google — but somehow text and audio search is going to get better. AI will help. This will benefit creators, who can more easily repurpose bits of content and for listeners who need to hear it right then. Please, Podcast Gods, make this happen. ”
“Marketing heats up. As we reach a million podcasts worldwide, marketing will matter more than ever — especially when it comes to reaching the top of the Apple and Spotify charts. We’ll see the same behavior that emerged on the App Store about a decade ago — organic chart placement will become more valuable as a driver of traffic, and publishers will have to spend marketing dollars just to maintain their positions. Tools like Chartable’s SmartLinks and SmartPromos will become essential to running a data-driven marketing campaign. ”
Pacific Content’s take
With new tools and measurement techniques from companies like Chartable and Simplecast, we see podcast marketing evolving to the next level in 2020. This will usher in a new wave of brands and advertisers who now have quantitative evidence of the effectiveness of podcast advertising and of podcast reach.
15. Podcasts Grow Relevance in the Overall Media Ecosystem
“Podcasting will continue to drive new TV and film intellectual property. With the best creators in the world working with almost total creative freedom, and able to test ideas fast in front of audiences at scale, podcasting is a gold mine of good new ideas. Given that environment — soon, one out of every four or five TV shows and movies we watch will have originated as a podcast.”
“Podcasting will continue to show how it adds to the synergies of larger content buys. This will happen both from the larger agency side where they work to use podcasting as an additional growth piece into larger cross-platform campaigns as well as on the content side. This includes the ability to create multi-platform activations that are inclusive of but not limited to: Events, Broadcast, Video, Product Integration, Multi-Level Sponsorships, and beyond.”
16. Going Global: New Markets
“Strong growth on Android will continue as more users around the world discover and listen to podcasts for the first time. In particular, growth trajectories outside the U.S. and among non-English listeners will continue to gain steam, particularly in promising newer markets for podcasting, such as India and Brazil.”
“Huge podcasting ecosystems will outgrow the English speaking market…and you won’t even know about it. Ximalaya claims to serve 500 million podcast listeners in China. 500 million! Wrap your head around that. Brazil and India are just two countries that cite staggering growth — both in audiences and homegrown content. Most of it consumed outside the Apple Podcasts ecosystem.We need a HotPod for the rest of the world.”
“Companies like Studio Ochenta and Wondery already see the HUGE international opportunity here. Ochenta’s trilingual podcasts have been at the top of the charts in foreign markets. It’s a globe full of untapped markets. ”
17. New Podcast Apps
“More podcast apps will be made, offering new and innovative features but highlighting the lack of metadata available through the RSS feed. Apple will continue to slowly build up their proprietary information about hosts and guests, but Podchaser and other more open services will also help podcasting move more effectively forward.”
18. Smart Speakers
“Smart speakers will, once again, not take off as a podcast listening device in 2020. I wish I could be more optimistic about smart speakers, but there are still too many challenges for them to become a force in podcasting, particularly around the user interface. It’s hard enough to get non-techie folks to figure out how to listen on their mobile devices; get rid of the screen, and it’s even harder. I hope that Amazon, Google and Apple will invest in the user experience so we can see growth in smart speaker podcast listening in 2021–22.”
19. Google Continues To Evolve
“More than 18 months after the launch of Google Podcasts, Google might bother to close down the unconnected Google Play Music Podcasts, its own, competing, podcast app. ”
Pacific Content’s take
We see Google’s infuence growing in 2020 through increased use of audio in Google Search Results. We expect to see further iterations of the Google Podcasts app in 2020. Bold prediction — watch for Google Podcasts to go cross-platform.
20. The Final Prediction Is Yours!
What did the experts miss? Any other big predictions for podcasts in 2020? We want to hear from you, so please let us know in a comment or share your thoughts on Twitter with #2020podcastpredictions.
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