My Five-and-a-half Cents on the Current State of Podcasting

Tom Webster
3 min readMay 26, 2017


By SeaDave from Fairlie, Scotland — Fife yacht FYNEUploaded by MaybeMaybeMaybe, CC BY 2.0,

About a month ago, I was honored to be invited to an amazing summit with about 45 people from the leading networks/producers of podcasts in the industry. We had a great, open discussion about the state of the medium, what got us *here,* and what we need to do to get *there,* wherever there is going to be. That meeting was summarized in a great post today on the blog (they co-organized the summit with Hot Pod’s Nick Quah.)

I left that meeting feeling very positive about podcasting, and encouraged by the levels of cooperation I saw amongst putative “rivals” in the business. Certainly, my company has played a role in being a part of the tide that, one hopes, will lift all boats, and this meeting showed me that there are a lot of people working in the podcasting business who are also in the business of boat lifting, and not sinking the boats of competitors.

Now that the summit is a month in my rear view mirror, I wanted to jot down some additional thoughts that I shared there, and now share with you, here:

1. We are just about there on metrics. I mean, really close. Podcast metrics are already very good, IMHO — but there is one last hurdle to cross for podcasts to tick all the boxes in a big media buy RFP. And those boxes are going to get ticked in my lifetime. Sooner, even.

2. There still needs to be a mainstream PR/marketing effort for the industry to tell people exactly what the heck a podcast is, how you can listen to them (everywhere!) and why they would even want to bother. Have you ever had to explain to somebody what a “podcast” is? Wouldn’t you like to stop having to do that?

3. Brand advertisers are knocking on the door. We’ve done a bunch of pre- and post- campaign studies for major advertisers in the last 12 months, with more to come, as well as some exciting and soon-to-be-announced data on advertising in podcasts. While direct response will continue to be important to the medium, my goal (as a researcher) is to provide the industry and our clients with all the data they need to make money however they want. If you think podcasts should only have host-read native ads for relevant DR advertisers, then that’s right for you. If you want to run Geico spots, I’d like for you to be able to do that too. It’s all good. And the space is nearly there.

4. One thing any interested party should take away from the top podcasts is the power of outside agency in promoting podcasts. It’s no accident that public media dominates the top 100 shows, since they can both cross-promote each other, and have the giant megaphone of public radio to build audience. For those who doubt the power of radio to build a digital audience, note that iHeartRadio is the #3 streaming music service, well ahead of Apple Music, almost entirely on the strength of broadcast radio promotion.

5. We shouldn’t let the inventory dictate the system. If you are entering this space and looking at the current top performers in terms of downloads, you need to treat that list as descriptive, not prescriptive. The medium is ripe for innovation in forms and content. You don’t have to produce the next S-Town. You don’t even need to sound like S-Town.

5.5. Related to that, let’s remember three things: a) the Apple ecosystem currently handles about 60% of podcast distribution. Not all of it. Barely most of it. b) The current market share of Apple’s iPhone is under 15%. Apple’s PC market share is about 7%. c) Apple users are distinctly different people than Android users, or PC users. Different demographically, and different psychographically. Hearing podcasts telling me to “subscribe to us on iTunes” is getting…quaint. Optimizing for the universe we have is a great way to get smaller and smaller.

It’s a big, wide universe out there. Podcasts, from a content perspective, have barely scratched the surface.

Originally published at



Tom Webster

Partner, Sounds Profitable. Leading voice in podcasting, digital audio, and greyhounds