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5 Strategies for Podcast Expansion in a Zero-Sum Audio World

Over the holiday week, Edison Research published a stat that as my friend Pierre Bouvard (Cumulus Media) might say, is a head snapper. Despite the surge in streaming services like Spotify and the rising tide of podcast listening, the total audio consumption among Americans still hovers around four hours per day. This number is unchanged from a decade ago despite far more platforms and choices. Yes, that’s a lot of time and it certainly indicates audio is healthy.  It is also clear that even with new choices, time spent is unmoving and so it begs the question: How can podcasting (or any audio sector) continue to grow listening in a seemingly static audio environment? We have five recommendations.

1. Broaden the podcast listener base

The key to growth is not fighting for current ears but attracting new ones. With spoken word audio gaining traction, there’s potential to convert more music-based audio listeners to podcast fans. It’s about expanding the podcast market, not just sharing it with radio, streaming, and audiobooks.

While video isn’t overshadowing podcasts, it’s an unmissable opportunity to grow. With YouTube leading in podcast discovery, integrating video content is a solid strategy to attract a fresh audience. More people are showing interest in watchable, video-inclusive podcasts. Video and podcasting have a symbiotic relationship. There are new eyes and ears in YouTube land. 

2. Earn space “on the shelf”

Data shows the average podcast listener takes in 9 episodes across roughly 5 shows weekly. That’s five shows out of 442,000  currently being produced in the last 90 days. For you math fans, the odds of winning Powerball are 1 in 292 million. What about adopting your podcast?   5 of 442,000 represents 0.001131%  of all active podcasts. 

The math gets worse. For your podcast to gain a spot on a listener’s playlist or queue, it probably needs to replace an existing one. Securing a coveted position in a listener’s regular rotation often means displacing an existing favorite. This scenario underscores the intense competition for what can be termed ‘auditory real estate.’  

3. Cultivate light podcast listeners

From a recent Cumulus/Signal Hill study, ‘newcomers’ to podcasts typically tune into 4.1 shows per week,. Focusing on these lighter listeners and understanding their preferences can unlock new growth avenues.  Find them and market to them. Niche podcasts chasing a specific audience have an advantage here.

4. Create uniquely compelling content

Let’s face it: a lot of mediocre content has been launched into the podcast space. Most of it ended with a whimper or a thud. The era of “throwing spaghetti against the wall” is over. Today’s podcast success demands strategic thinking, focusing on unexplored niches, and a commitment to quality over quantity. If your podcast isn’t high-value content, its mortality is limited. Strong, clear, and compelling differentiation is the name of the game. 

Maintaining a place on a listener’s metaphorical shelf means evolving with their tastes and preferences and continuously offering something other podcasts don’t. Whether through exclusive interviews, groundbreaking insights, or captivating narratives, standing out in the podcasting world is about creating an experience that listeners deem indispensable. If you are putting out mediocre content, you’ve already lost.

Standing out is crucial. We call this ‘scaling the grid of pain.’

5. Embrace retention strategies

In this crowded marketplace, podcast creators must not only capture new listeners but retain the attention of current listeners. To be successful, you need to focus on trial and retention on multiple platforms. This requires a blend of innovative content, compelling storytelling, appealing packaging, and, perhaps most importantly, a deep understanding of listener preferences and trends. Building a loyal audience in a saturated space demands that podcasters not only entice audiences with unique angles or perspectives but also consistently deliver quality content that keeps an audience. 

The levers for podcast marketing changed a great deal last year. You need to market your podcast consistently across owned, earned, and paid media not just seeking new listeners, but engaging current listeners who have endless choices available.  

Audio is doing well.  While four hours of listening time may be a static number, more people are spending time with audio, and specifically podcasts. That is exciting and rewarding.  Our business is looking towards 2024 with dual ambitions; growing and retaining audience. 

For the win, podcasters must navigate this zero-sum game with strategies that encompass originality, relevance, and sustained engagement while embracing new platforms for distribution and marketing to expand listenership.

Make every minute of your listener’s weekly audio listening truly impactful.

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