It’s been another remarkable year for many of us in podcasting with some tremendous growth in our industry. As 2021 nears its end, it’s time to ask, ‘What’s Next?’ For the seventh year in a row, we asked some of the smartest thinkers (and our friends) in podcasting this important question. We received plenty of predictions! So many that we will present our podcast predictions from industry leaders in two posts. As always, we see a lot of optimism but also challenges ahead for us all.
While this year’s predictions are new, the topics are familiar. We are still gripped by some of the themes in the 2021 predictions: industry growth, advertising, audiences, and content strategies. In our view, these ongoing and evolving conversations are signs that the industry is maturing and the wild west days of podcasting are behind us. (Or at the very least, it is not as wild as it once was.)
We want to thank all our amazing contributors for sending us their sage and brave predictions. We are proud to be part of such an amazing community.
How It Works
We received over 75 predictions from our thought leaders. After reviewing them all, we looked for trends and themes. What are the most talked about topics and what assertions were being made time and again? This is what we found.
| 1 | Paid subscriptions will reckon with the listeners who don’t want to pay.
“Paid channels and subscription-supported podcasts will be few and far between by end of the year. It is only the shows with *massive* audience, or the networks with startup capital that can make subscriptions sustainable, or throw off enough cash to be self-supporting.” –Shira Atkins, Co-founder, Wonder Media Network
“How many podcasts will one user subscribe to? 1? 3? 10? Whatever the number is, there will be a limit, and that limit is the reason that bundles matter, especially when the companies building the biggest bundles have pockets the size of Spotify, Apple, and Amazon.” –Alex Schaffert, COO, APM Studios
“Paid podcast subscriptions will prove to be not that popular at all for most podcast listeners. We’ll see many podcast publishers reduce their activity here, or remove it entirely.” –James Cridland, Editor, the Podnews Network
“Subscription podcasts will be limited. Creators want the largest reach possible; consumers want podcasts readily available and free, and advertisers are willing to pay premium prices for the strong and unique engagement of podcasting.” –Bob Pittman — Chairman and CEO, iHeartMedia, Inc.
“Subscriptions will transform the creator economy — for podcasters of all sizes. In 2022, we will see an influx of podcasters to the subscription game, and they’ll start experimenting with it — delivering not only bonus content to their fans, but a variety of other benefits like ad-free streaming, early releases, exclusive access to creators, and more.” –Oskar Serrander, COO, Acast
Pacific Content’s take: We love the open (and free!) nature of podcasting and that’s where we predict the biggest audience growth next year. Removing barriers to access is how most podcasters can make the biggest impact with their content.
Paid subscriptions have the highest probability of working for podcasters or networks who have a sizable existing audience or a very targeted niche audience (with listeners willing to pay for specialized content and without competitors producing similar ‘free’ content).
| 2 | They will build a wall.
“RSS is dead, long live RSS. As platform-exclusive content and premium paywalls continue to rise, we’ll see leading platforms give precedence to building walls, not an open ecosystem. In light of this, we’ll see greater collaboration and support around important projects like Podcast Index’s Podcast Namespace to better bolster RSS for the future.” –Brad Smith, SVP, Podcast Product, SiriusXM
“The walls are going up. 2022 will be a year of more exclusive content in proprietary apps, but also proprietary features that are increasingly outside the RSS feed […] The benefits of an open podcast ecosystem will be increasingly ignored by some of the biggest podcast players. We should, and must, resist.” –James Cridland, Editor, the Podnews Network
“While some apps will continue to draw audiences into their walled garden with exclusive content, the rest will play a longer game that puts audiences first. As Facebook and YouTube enter the ring, the outlay vs the number of app conversions will demonstrate how most windowing strategies are broken.” Corey Layton — Head of Digital Audio, ARN/iHeartPodcast Network Australia
Pacific Content’s take: Again, we are big fans of keeping the open spirit of podcasting alive! But know your listener — make your podcasts available wherever they may be. Listeners will lead the way. And where they go, we will follow.
| 3 | Podcasters will step up their game and take audience development seriously
“The ongoing difficulty in building audiences and discoverability will lead to fewer one-off series. Expect to see the growth of parent feeds — retaining audiences with one broad subject matter, that shifts from series to series.” Corey Layton, Head of Digital Audio, ARN/iHeartPodcast Network Australia
“Marketing will get more important than ever: As more creators launch podcasts, “cutting through” will become more important — and harder. Brands with big marketing platforms will win here every time.” -Bob Pittman, Chairman, and CEO, iHeartMedia, Inc.
“As the medium continues to grow rapidly you need a great idea, a hook, a marketing plan, superb writing, storytelling skills, interview insight, fantastic guest research and a fair dose of luck to break through the noise.” –Neil Cowling, Founder, Fresh Air Production
“We’re going to see more ambitious marketing and promotion by podcasters with the aim of bringing in new audiences not just shifting listeners between podcasts.” –Hana Walker-Brown, Creative Director, Broccoli Productions
“We are going to see more atomized audio content, bespoke to social media and smart speakers, as potential on-ramps to longer shows and to aid discovery.” –Tom Webster
Pacific Content’s take: Thinking about how you are going to promote your podcast is as critical as thinking about what your show is about. You can’t be successful without an audience. The sheer volume of shows available makes discoverability the biggest challenge in our space, regardless of whether you are producing ad-supported content, subscription-based shows, or podcasts by brands.
| 4 | Legacy media and other big players will enter the podcast space in a big way…
“It used to feel as if the world of podcasts were reigned by podcast-natives, but increasingly legacy publishers and massive multinational media conglomerates are not only entering but thriving in the space. NBC, ABC, CNN are all creating innovative new content, and leveraging existing IP in ways that we podcast-natives could only dream of.” –Shira Atkins, Co-founder, Wonder Media Network
“TV networks, studios, and streamers who are still looking at podcasting purely as marketing will pivot to original audio creation. Networks, studios, and streamers that don’t yet have an original audio division will start one in 2022.” –Alex Schaffert, COO, APM Studios
“Facebook, Netflix, and YouTube very firmly step into podcasting and one of them will get to a double digits share of podcast listening faster than Spotify did. Those already dominating will try to keep them at bay, focusing on content creation and acquisitions instead of technology.” –Sharon Taylor, Managing Director, Triton Digital
“Podcast audiences continue to explode, now passing the biggest music streaming services in reach, with no signs of growth abating. Even players like Facebook, Google, and Amazon are leaning into podcasting due to its enormous growth and engagement.” –Bob Pittman, Chairman, and CEO, iHeartMedia, Inc.
Pacific Content’s take: The maturing of a medium means that more established players will enter the market. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing and ultimately will help us all to grow in this space. Big companies will bring big ad dollars with them and further ‘legitimize’ the medium. We will all benefit from that.
| 5 | … But Independent podcasters will hold their ground.
“In 2022, independent podcasters and networks will blossom. The exponential increase in celebrity podcasters seems to have spurred the indies to grow their shows with intention, through avenues including networking and education.” –Shreya Sharma, Writer/Curator of Inside Podcasting
“Despite the presence of the big players (Amazon, iHeart, SiriusXM and Spotify), there are opportunities for independent networks to provide an independent alternative — expect to see consolidation and/or rollups.” –Yale Yee, Partner, Telos Advisors LLC
“I think it’s very possible creators from the big social platforms and channels, like YouTube and TikTok, will be the biggest driver of new podcasting talent in 2022 — and they’ll likely find the decentralized, open nature of the podcast ecosystem a breath of fresh air, compared to the other channels they’re used to.” –Oskar Serrander — COO, Acast
“As consolidation and big money continue to march through the podcasting landscape, creator independence and IP ownership will become more rare, and increasingly important for producers.” –Julie Shapiro — VP of Editorial, PRX & Radiotopia
Pacific Content’s take: One of the beautiful things in podcasting is the space for so many different voices: from big-budget shows designed for wide audiences to independent productions for meant for niche, dedicated audiences. Independent voices have been critical to the development of the podcast ecosystem so far. And, they will continue to cover ground and go places that ‘Big Podcast’ may not. Though indie podcasters will need to find creative solutions to compete with closed ecosystems and increasing marketing budgets from larger players.
| 6 | ‘Big Podcast’ will make a play for Black and Latino listeners.
“This year’s editions of the US Latino Podcast Listeners Study and the Black Podcast Listeners Study highlighted the incredible importance of representation, regardless of topic or genre, to continuing to grow podcasting as a vibrant and diverse medium. In 2022, I think the major players in “big” podcasting will redouble their efforts to give stages to underrepresented communities.” –Tom Webster, Senior Vice President, Edison Research
“As Latinos continue to ascend the creative and professional ranks thanks to their demographic prominence, Big Podcast (e.g., the titans in our space) will scramble to secure Latino talent and leadership.” –Juleyka Lantigua, CEO, LWC Studios
Pacific Content’s take: As the demographic of listeners diversifies (see US Latino Listeners Study and Black Podcast Listeners Study) so will the creators. Podcasting was created with the goal of democratization of creation and distribution — anyone could start a podcast and put it out into the world. It feels like podcasting is coming full circle with a broader, more inclusive, and more diverse sense of democratization. This diversity of voices, formats, and stories isn’t just going to lead to exciting new content — it’s also going to lead to exciting new businesses.
| 7 | Podcast advertising will not only grow, but it will also ‘grow up.’
“Podcast advertising will evolve into a good blend of titles and audience: Host-read ads will continue to be critical for brands to drive real engagement, as the essential value proposition of podcasting — but audience cohorts will complement these more and more on media plans — which will allow those plans to start driving real scale and start pulling in bigger budgets — for the networks that have scale.” –Conal Byrne, CEO, iHeartMedia’s Digital Audio Group
“The demand for programmatic advertising will continue to soar. 2022 will be pivotal for publishers to maintain the premium nature of podcast advertising without letting the shouty ads in. Collectively we need to hold the line and ensure podcasts premium sound applies to not only the content but the bits in between.” –Corey Layton — Head of Digital Audio, ARN/iHeartPodcast Network Australia
“The buzz of podcasting has finally caught the attention of companies successfully building tools in greater digital advertising. Podcast adtech both started and continues to thrive without ever receiving third-party cookies or mobile device IDs directly from listeners, allowing our industry to be the hands-on experts for advertisers and buyers in this cookieless future. The use of these solutions will be led by major brands looking to implement the same core analytics, targeting, and tracking they utilize across all digital campaigns.” –Bryan Barletta, Founder, Sounds Profitable
“The job of “podcast media buyer” is going to become much more of a skilled position as advertisers grapple with the differences between buying programmatic ads, host-read ads, and entirely different systems like Spotify. It will be a good time to get really good at this because the winners are going to be able to arbitrage the system for a while (for the benefit of their brand clients).” Tom Webster, Senior Vice President, Edison Research
“The continued growth and scale of advertising in Podcasting will continue to explode. Brand advertisers now are seeing what a number of historical believers have over the years. Pod are a great way to reach an active audience, great demos, loyal and there is now forming better data, recall and thus we will see a continuation of scale both in the US and internationally.” –Courtney Holt, Global Head of Podcasts and New Initiatives, Spotify
“With more, and larger brands entering the space, literally daily, the tech will continue to evolve to protect not only messaging but the content as well. Once this happens that’s when we see the next barrier to 2 billion knocked down.” — Jay Green, SVP of Podcast Operations, Audacy/Cadence13
Pacific Content’s take: Advertising is not just getting bigger, it’s getting better. Our audience development team is seeing a steep increase in demand for strategic podcast ad buys that deliver measurable business results. It’s about hitting the smart media buying trifecta: great creative, a clear target, and a goal that can be measured. Once more and more advertisers realize the engagement, attribution, targeting, and effectiveness of podcast advertising, we predict spending will increase measurably.
| 8 | We will ask, ‘What is a Podcast, Anyway?’
“The playing field will continue to expand. It is no longer a game limited to podcast networks and platforms — like YouTube, Facebook, Netflix and others continue their push into the space.” –Ben Davis, Partner, Digital Division, WME (William Morris Endeavor)
“The “what is a podcast” lines will continue to blur: podcasts with video components, sure. Those will continue to proliferate exponentially in 2022 and coming years. But I also expect we’ll see other kinds of innovation in expanding the possibilities within podcasting. Visual elements, interactive elements, who knows what else?” –Alia Tavakolian, Co-founder & EVP of Content, Spoke
“‘Short-form audio’ and ‘video podcasts’ will be buzz words again, and we’ll see startups and VC dollars get behind it again. Again.” –Brad Smith, SVP, Podcast Product, SiriusXM
“The debate of what is a podcast will become increasingly clouded in 2022. Be it for real or perceived reasons, perhaps it’s time to remove the confusion and let the ‘podcast’ label go. Instead, some will simply promote audio, drawing audiences in with ‘hear the moment when…’ instead of ‘listen to this podcast.’” –Corey Layton, Head of Digital Audio, ARN/iHeartPodcast Network Australia
“The format evolution. Between live, paid, and video the idea of what a podcast is will drive a great deal more creative forms to choose from as a consumer and a creator.” –Courtney Holt, Global Head of Podcasts and New Initiatives, Spotify
Pacific Content’s take: Indeed the term podcast is becoming confusing. Is it podcasting or audio storytelling? Audio storytelling can be interactive, in different formats and lengths, and appear in non-traditional spaces. Think past creating a podcast and ask yourself: where does the story you want to tell live? Before you branch out to other formats, focus on your story, what you want to communicate, and the people you want to reach. Be wary of experimenting with other formats for the sake of it.