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America’s Podcast Boom Is On: Should Local TV Stations Invest?

June 21st, 2018   ||    by Oriana Schwindt   ||    No Comments

If you were looking for the source of the great podcast boom of the 2010s, you’d likely zero in first on Serial.

The 2014 podcast delved into the case of Adnan Syed, a young man who’d been found guilty of murdering his ex-girlfriend. It drew a massive 80 million downloads by 2016, according to the Washington Post, and quickly integrated itself into the zeitgeist as the first water-cooler podcast. Then came S-Town, from the same creative team, and suddenly podcasts were no longer exclusively in the realm of comedy devotees.

The average podcast consumer listens to seven podcasts per week, according to Edison Research. The company estimates 124 million Americans have listened to a podcast at some point.

The podcast boom shows no signs of turning bust any time soon. The question now is whether local TV stations should attempt to cut their own piece of this pie.

Genre Matters

The true-crime genre was an early standout in the industry, and continues to be the driving force behind the ongoing podcast boom. These are long-form, narrative stories that typically focus on a single case.

And while, as Jason Hoch of HowStuffWorks pointed out in an article on LinkedIn, daily news briefings from well-known brands like the New York Times and NPR were the breakout podcast genre of 2017, that may not necessarily be the correct path for local stations since daily news briefings are already many stations’ bread and butter.

Sports podcasts, however, have begun their ascent up the charts—and this could prove a profitable path.

ESPN has 60 programs that account for 4.4 million monthly unique listeners and 37.1 million unique streams and downloads, according to analyst firm Podtrac, as quoted in an article on Awful Announcing. Bill Simmons’ The B.S. Report, launched in 2007, has long been a mainstay of the sports and pop culture audioscape. The Athletic, a new sports media venture that has been hoovering up local sports writers, has combined magazine-caliber writing with local sports beat writers and is now investing heavily in podcasts.

Local TV could be positioned for featuring new mediums outside of live video, as witnessed in the new live-streaming partnership between soccer team Real Salt Lake and KSL, an NBC affiliate, the LA Times reported. An audio accompaniment could also be a source of engagement around these sporting events while still keeping the brand of the station in full-view.

Local Stories, National Appeal

The case of Adnan Syed was a Baltimore story that went national. For S-Town, This American Life’s Brian Reed went to the tiny town of Woodstock, Alabama. Wondery’s Dirty John series, based on an LA Times print story and recently ordered to series at Bravo, was another local gem. Sports podcasts can carry the feel of the sports talk radio you hear on your commute every day, but with a little more polish.

Notice anything? What many of these podcasts have in common is a hyper-local angle. They capitalize on just the sort of reporting local stations do on a daily basis.

Starting a podcast is the kind of branching out that can pay real dividends. Advertisers were set to spend $220 million on podcast advertising in 2017, according to a study from PriceWaterhouse Cooper and the IAB. The same study indicated podcast advertising revenue has increased 228 percent on a quarterly basis since the beginning of 2015. Simmons’ podcast can bring in $50,000 per episode, AdResults Media estimated in the Awful Announcing article.

With resources at a premium, however, the decision to devote some of those resources toward a podcast is not necessarily a no-brainer, especially when local TV is already excelling in what it does best—building trust with its viewers.

Plus, not every market has a Serial or an S-Town in it—or the time to devote to a long-form project. While the aforementioned examples do indeed capitalize on local reporting, they also have larger media entities behind them.

But this method of informing the public is at least worth considering as a complement to local TV. After all, you may just find yourself with the next S-Town on your hands.

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