It’s “landgrab time” in the world of podcasting. And media companies engaging the platform should focus right now on getting audience rather than alternative revenue, said Philipp Westermeyer, podcast entrepreneur and founder of Online Marketing Rockstars (OMR.com) in Germany.

During a live podcast of his on-stage interview at INMA Media Innovation Week in Hamburg on Monday, Westermeyer was asked about trends — particularly in the United States — toward making podcasts available only to subscribers, and of basing advertising and sponsorship charges on numbers of listeners.

“I am very sceptical of that. I would not do this right now,” Westermeyer said. “I think right now is the time for land grab. You want to acquire audience. A couple of years down the road you can worry more about monetising it.

“I wouldn’t block the access to your product. You’re giving away your upside and your future,” he added. “If you hide your stuff behind a paywall, someone else will get that audience, or that potential audience, and you'll have nothing. I am always amazed that in media you find people making strategic decisions that I find completely wrong.”

According to a recent report from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PwC, the podcast industry generated an estimated $479.1 million in revenue in 2018, up 53% from the year before, and is expected to produce more than US$1 billion by 2021.

“Publishers still work toward a CPM model. I would totally drop that. I would go to a fixed price as much as possible,” he said. “If you have a certain reach and you have a certain trust and you have a certain awareness and brand perception in a community, that’s what you charge for.

“The thing you have to understand about podcasting now is it’s almost like music bands. Remember how music bands used to be 20 years ago? Everyone had a band. There are so many podcasts out there now that it is really hard to find an audience.”

Philipp Westermeyer outlines his podcast strategy at INMA's Media Innovation Week.
Philipp Westermeyer outlines his podcast strategy at INMA's Media Innovation Week.

Despite the band and music analogy, for those in the INMA audience of about 200 from 25 countries who still thought of podcasts as being like radio, Westermeyer tried to clarify:

“There are many differences to radio — less music, the programme format, the on-demand consumption,” he said. “Radio stations are primarily mostly about music. Podcasts are not music. The biggest difference is that it’s an on-demand thing. It’s programmed. You can pick your content, any second that you want to. That’s completely different from radio.”

Podcasts that develop a solid audience of folks who regularly download and listen are also finding they have an increasingly significant following among celebrities and their agencies, Westermeyer said.

“I see that when a movie is coming out and the star comes to Germany, usually they would have gone to a late night show or to a daytime show (on television to promote the film),” he said. “Now the agencies call us.”

Westermeyer bemoaned the lack of anything yet comparable to Google News or a Facebook feed for independent podcast discovery, making podcasters largely dependent on third-party platforms for access to their audiences.

“The customer relationship is not perfect because it’s through Spotify, it’s through Apple, it’s through Soundcloud, it’s through the platforms,” he said.

Westermeyer declined to identify his preferred platform.