Why some publishers are reducing their podcast slate to try to grow their audio businesses
In the past, from Spotify to NPR, the podcasting networks have reduced their programming. For some podcasters, cutting down the number of shows they create is part of the strategy to focus their audio business on flagship podcasts, which will increase the number of listeners they have and also their revenue.
“We believe there is the value of focusing more upon the brands and the core IP which have the potential to grow and expanding our focus in this context,” said a podcast executive who traded anonymity to be honest.
NPR’s podcast team has concentrated its efforts on fewer podcasts. It has launched limited-run shows in popular feeds for podcasts in order to keep its listeners and groups distinct from multiple fronts. Also, The Athletic has cut some of its soccer club podcasts to channel more money on its flagship shows.
The month of June saw Spotify cancelled six of its shows in June and fired 200 employees, combining its Gimlet and Parcast podcast divisions into one unit -just one of the many cuts it made over the year. In the wake of Disney’s layoffs in spring, the company’s internal podcast department, comprised of just six employees, was reduced by half. NPR laid off 10% of its employees and announced that it would shut down four podcasts by March.
There’s been plenty of bad reports for a shrinking podcast industry that was booming during the epidemic. As a result of budget cuts and the end of the ” dumb money” period for podcasts, audio networks are now consolidating teams to increase the amount of resources, including sales, production and marketing power behind their marquee shows.
“Logically, the publishers might want to trim back and focus on top performers and prioritize quality over the number of shows they show,” Maria Tullin, vice president and managing director of Digital and advanced audio for the agency Horizon Media, said in an email.
However, not all podcasters follow this strategy But, it is. Three podcast companies– The Economist, CNN and Betches Media — told Digiday they have a full schedule of new shows due to come out in the coming year. They show no indications of easing up on their audio investment of the necessity to adapt to the shrinking podcast market. In addition, recent research from Listen Notes, a podcast search engine, found that 104,277 podcasts launched in the first half of 2023. That’s a difference from 99,467 podcasts that were released during the first half of 2022. The data was reported by the audio news website Inside Radio.
While others, NPR and The Athletic, have each adopted a “less is better” approach.
NPR is consolidating podcasts into feeds for shows
NPR is focusing its podcasting efforts on fewer feeds and “moving away from numerous, separately staffed seasons and focusing on a unifying, distinctive long-form show,” stated Yolanda Sangweni, the vice president of programming. This has meant that ad revenue has risen for the show on the flagship “Embedded” podcast by over 80% over the previous year, according to an NPR spokesperson. However, overall revenue for podcasts is declining at NPR, as they pointed out. Chief Executive Officer of NPR John Lansing said in February that the company’s revenue was likely to be lower by nearly $30 million in the coming year.
However, NPR’s audience for podcasts has grown year over year. In June 2023, NPR’s U.S. unique monthly audience was 18.5 million, which is up by 18 million from June 2022 as per Podtrac’s rating. NPR currently produces more than 30 podcasts, as an NPR spokesperson stated. They should have revealed the number of podcasts NPR has created compared with last year’s due to the difficulty of monitoring this because of the nature of some shows’ seasons. “The official number is according to the number of limited-run shows,” the spokespersons said.
Sangweni claimed that NPR is “splitting” the resources of its staff, as well as its listeners. In light of the “competitive” the market for podcasts has been, NPR is focusing on smaller podcast feeds in order to showcase different shows “rather than distributing their resources over a variety of shows, each with its staff,” said Irene Noguchi, the executive producer of the enterprise unit of NPR.
NPR has brought together its podcast teams in order to concentrate on the addition of a new multi-part documentary series within”The “Embedded” feed, which includes “Taking Cover,” White Lies,” as well as “Love Commandos.” NPR has doubled the number of staff members involved in “Embedded” as well as “The Sunday Story,” which are broadcast through NPR’s podcast feed for the daily broadcast “Up First” to increase its visibility for its listeners.
NPR has also recently begun working with member stations to allow their podcasts to join the network, with no increase in the production of podcasts. Since these partnerships formed in the fall of last year, There are now around 120 shows on stations that have embraced NPR Network branding and participate in cross-promotion between NPR and stations their displays.
The Athletic cut smaller shows in order to concentrate on its most popular podcasts.
The Athletic, The New York Times sports magazine. It has also cut down on the number of podcasts it produces to concentrate on its acclaimed soccer team shows. The magazine has also shifted to an aggressive approach to marketing.
This means that the audience of The Athletic’s top-rated “Football Podcast” nearly doubled in each episode during the 2021-2022 season until the 2022-2023 season, according to audio’s managing editor Iain Macintosh, who declined to disclose the totality of the sports publication’s listenership.
“There was a massive selection of club shows. It’s been reduced. However, I believe we’re doing our job better by focusing on it and more authority while still being able to experiment with new ideas,” said Macintosh, who refused to reveal the number of podcasts removed.
The Athletic’s U.K.-based audio division international has ceased operations the unidentified number of soccer programs “as the business goals change,” a Times spokesperson stated. Six club podcasts remain. The division is currently producing 14 podcasts in total for the 2023-2024 season.
The Times spokesperson said there is no standard for determining the shows that are cut, but the factors that determine this include audience size.
“While I believe it is not a good idea to focus only on the top shows that have the highest downloads because that can lead to an increase in the pressure on inventory, high CPMs and eventually performance-related issues with cost per KPIs, I believe that removing shows that don’t work and focusing on the best content is beneficial for all,” Tullin said.
Kristen Coseo, director of podcast and digital audio strategy for ad agency Ocean Media, said she has yet to see any changes in the podcast network’s schedules. Their selection of shows. “It’s been normal business,” she said.
The Athletic also tested a new initiative for marketing in The U.K. this year, which is where every week, The Athletic picks one show and puts all its marketing capabilities behind it, promoting the show with other podcasts within its network as well as publishing content about the topics of that show. In the end, each performance on The Athletic’s global podcast lineup was able to see a “big growth” in its listenership, and many of them were “double-digit” increase, Macintosh said. Macintosh declined to provide specific statistics on the audience.
“At some point, publishers must invest in titles that make money and generate sales for advertisers. Making sure quality content is given top priority is a great method to achieve that,” Tullin said. “As long as the diversity of genres and contents isn’t entirely sacrificed, I believe that this would be a natural evolution from the booming of titles that we’ve seen in the last several years.”