Executive Summary

This report aims to explain why podcasts matter to digital journalism: as our world shifts to one of mobile consumption, podcasts represent a form of mobile-first content that engages with audiences in ways that no other mobile medium has previously.

This guide provides a detailed overview of the current podcasting landscape, which is characterized by industry disruption, new networks, increased podcast listening (especially on mobile devices), and heightened consumer awareness. As part of this overview, I describe the conceptual and technological challenges that podcasting must overcome if it is to achieve meaningful growth and industry legitimacy. I also briefly outline the challenges the industry faces as it looks to the future: the issues of iTunes as a gatekeeper, the short-term and long-term efficacy of networks, the ethical dilemmas that native ads and branded content pose, and the need for more creativity and diversity in content creation.

Podcasts are pursuing multiple revenue streams, including advertising/sponsorship, foundation support, direct support, subscription models, and live events. While advertising is currently the fastest-growing and most lucrative stream, these last three streams attempt to convert audience engagement and loyalty into recurring donations.

Because there is no one-size-fits-all solution for generating revenue, and each podcast/company follows a different business model, it’s important to consider the operational philosophies that inform how podcasts and networks raise revenue and prioritize revenue streams. This guide explores the myriad ways these philosophies play out in four case studies: PRX’s Reveal, Gimlet Media, BuzzFeed, and Panoply.

It is still too early to declare any podcast or podcast company a “success.” Many podcasts/networks currently rely heavily on advertising and are still experimenting with alternative revenue streams. Outside of advertising and branded content, podcasts show the most potential as an audience engagement tool that can diversify content, add value to brands/consumers, and generate enthusiasm for direct support and/or freemium models.

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