News publishers grapple with monetising podcasts

By Emmanuel Naert


Brussels, Belgium


Writing about podcasts these days is becoming a risky undertaking. In the INMA blogs, we see happy announcements almost every week, so this story might get a bit boring.

However, in my opinion, what I don’t get to read enough is how we can create a sound business out of podcasts. What’s the business case for podcasting, and are there players out there in our ecosystem that show proven success in the marketing of podcasts?

Belgians are tuning in to podcasts, but news media need to figure out how to capitalise on this reach.
Belgians are tuning in to podcasts, but news media need to figure out how to capitalise on this reach.

To sketch the podcast realm over here in Flanders, there are about a dozen recurrent podcasts being produced, and they are mostly productions from news media. The public broadcaster publishes derivatives of some radio show that are highly adapted for podcast listening. It also publishes some wonderful series on historic figures like Napoleon, Louis XIV, and the dukes of Burgundy.

Last summer you could even listen to the three imperatives of Immanuel Kant — always a handy podcast to listen to on the long way to your holiday destination in the south of France. Journalist Ward Bogaert also released “Iemand,” intruiguing portraits of seemingly ordinary people who have incredible stories.

But we’re not learning much from our publicly funded friends when it comes to earning money, so how about the rest of the Belgian media landscape? Apart from De Standaard, we don’t see a lot of bumps on our soundwaves.

De Standaard has two weekly podcasts: “Machtwacht,” a podcast on national and international politics, and “Bits & Atomen,” a podcast about science and technology. They are quite popular and have achieved a considerable fan base on Spotify and iTunes. It’s a bit harder to achieve the same attention time on De Standaard’s Web site. I consider that a threat.

De Standaard currently produces two popular weekly podcasts.
De Standaard currently produces two popular weekly podcasts.

Before we start talking in euros or dollars, let’s remind ourselves why we’re so interested in podcasts. The No. 1 reason why media love to invest in podcasts is its complementary features with the rest of a company’s offerings.

The format of this medium offers a completely different approach to its subject: A podcast explains, takes the listener behind the scenes, offers analysis of the news of the day, and, in a newsy context, gives a voice to the journalists’ personal view on the subject. If the news Web site is fast and constantly refreshing, the podcast halts the listener with some remarkable event that requires an explanation.

Podcasts also offer great control for users. It’s an on-demand medium. You subscribe to a podcast and listen to it when and where you want. While reading the newspaper at breakfast or skimming the headlines on your desktop over lunch require singular focus, podcasts are excellent companions during your jogging session, while sitting in Belgium’s famous traffic jams, and while doing the household chores.

For the first time, news media have the opportunity to offer its greatest journalism during moments in a way that were previously unimaginable.

According to our figures, we see podcasts are popular with a young and highly educated audience. For a news brand like De Standaard, that’s quite a complementary segment. Now we have to find ways to make them pay.

How do we think we can earn money with this promising new medium? Over these past months, my colleagues and I have been doing research about monetising audio, and I can tell you it’s not like selling ads for radio.

Podcasts are mainly funded by marketing budgets, and the business cases excel in volunteerism rather than financial austerity. To make them, we have to build a studio (in our case, we’re killing a couple of meeting rooms and we drape them with acoustic curtains); buy recording and editing equipment; attract freelance experts for research, production, and hosting; and get a decent podcast player.

On the money side, we will be selling 15-second midroll ads (real advertisements or sponsored messages) after a cliffhanger in the story but just before halfway in the podcast. We see that 75% of people listen to more than half of the podcast, so the advertiser gets enough attention time on the ad.

We will also be experimenting with native podcasts — stories produced by a professional audio team for an advertiser and published in the podcast feed with a distinctive label that marks its origin. Dag en Nacht Media, a Dutch audio production company, makes “documentary ads.” These are one-minute presentations of a product or calls with an advertiser, hosted by the presenter of the podcast.

Podcasts attract hard-to-reach audiences.
Podcasts attract hard-to-reach audiences.

But the money shouldn’t only come from advertisements. Just as with other valuable journalism, podcasts could be considered paid content and can trigger visitors to take a subscription with the news brand (or specifically with the podcast), or at least encourage them to register on the Web site.

By pushing recurring use, you can get users in the sales funnel just as you do with paid articles. At the same time, we see popular players like Spotify are very convenient for (offline) use, and we don’t like to lose the reach we’ve already built with our existing offer.

Similarly to how we’re trying to recover from mistakes made with the enormous offer of free news content over the last 20 years, we have the same issues with podcasts in these players. Now that Spotify has gotten users to pay for their entertainment, news media are at risk of losing money once again. They are paying for the party on another company’s platform.

But I’m not seeing any news media with enough self-confidence to restrict the publication of their podcasts to their own platforms. A solution might be that we offer our subscribers a privilege by publishing on our own platform first and then release the same podcast with the player the next day.

Creating a business out of podcasting is quite unknown territory. Marketers around the globe are very curious about how to make a durable profit out of audio. Let INMA be the place where we can share insights to help this young branch of news media grow.

About Emmanuel Naert

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