Three Essentials Needed To Make A Podcast Profitable
Back when I was interested in radio the world was pretty different. The only people who really could give their opinion or share their creativity in a public setting had to find a way into
television, radio or a print publication. If you didn’t work your way into a position with these entities, you had few options to share your public thoughts. You could write a letter to the editor and hope the newspaper published it. You could call a radio station and hope that the host allowed you airtime. You could go on Jerry Springer and throw a chair.
That was it. If you were really attractive you may make it on MTV’s Spring Break, but what kind of message to people were you going to pass between your 13th and 14th margarita in a tiny swimsuit? The message was likely to get lost.
Now we have social media, which is an unmitigated disaster if you ask me. Sure, you can make comments on societal ills and get content out that someone may find entertaining. Unfortunately, it is generally lost in the crush of other people posting around your post. Some of these people were the same kids that ate glue in your kindergarten class. Actually, most of them ate glue from what I can see and probably still do it when nobody is watching because the taste takes them back to a simpler time when it wasn’t their job to set everyone straight.
Podcasting has people like this as well, but unlike social media you can simply ignore the podcasts you dislike. It is actually easier compared to when a radio personality would annoy you on Monday and you would end up sucked in again on Tuesday when you flipped during a commercial break. Once you unsubscribe, you likely never go back. In fact, that’s why podcasting is such an interesting medium. Independent personalities are creating content, but they are held to the basic principles for traditional media when it comes to audience creation and retention. There are some differences, which we will get into, but the paste-eaters generally get weeded out or simply find an audience of paste-eaters just like them.
This is probably why political podcasts that work must remain in the political lane they choose. If a host suddenly flips from one side of the spectrum to another, subscribers will simply click the unsubscribe and find someone who is always on their side of things. Shows with no clear direction rarely grow to a large size. If they do, one misstep can seriously damage their listener base and eventually kill growth and revenue. Podcasters must pick a topic or basis for the podcast that listeners can expect EVERY TIME they click on the show. Then they must stay in their lane. It is tempting for every human being on this planet to think their opinion on everything is something people want to hear, but that isn’t true. They only want your opinion on the topics they expect to hear discussed on your show. Have a sports show but what to talk politics on your podcast? Start a second podcast. You just opened up a new potential revenue stream and you didn’t poison your other listener base who may love that sports team but differ greatly in political beliefs.
So, what do you need to start a podcast? You need three essential things. First you need a topic that you love and are invested in. My White Sox fan podcast Sox In The Basement grew into a large podcast property because I love the Chicago White Sox. I know their history. I know the inside jokes. I know the players and I can break down baseball stats with the best of them because I do it for fun even when nobody else is around. You need that kind of love and interest in your podcast topic. I enjoy watching Chicago Bears football, but I don’t do a Bears podcast because I don’t have the same connection and eventually listeners would figure out that I don’t know enough about the team or care at their level. Plus starting a White Sox podcast let me meet all my childhood idols, which is an added bonus.
Ron Kittle and I had HUGE coke-bottle glasses in the mid-80's.
Once you have a podcast topic, the next step is to see if it attracts a dedicated fan base in a localized area. We want to make money doing this. You can have 250,000 downloads per year on your show and if those downloads are spread around the world, you won’t make much. Meanwhile a specific geographic area or targeted audience that holds the bulk of your listeners now allows for you to pursue local advertising. Direct ad sales to businesses looking for that area (or fanbase) can bring in far greater revenue because you now compete with local ad options like flyers, direct mail, local newspapers and radio/tv stations. You can’t compete with Joe Rogan, and why should you? Instead compete like a small market radio station against the other local advertising options. One of our network shows has listener reach costing less than $0.02 per complete download to a local advertiser, which is even better than return on Facebook ads. We charge a flat rate to each advertiser so they can compare costs and return on investment (ROI). The response has created over $35,000 per year in ad revenue for that podcast, and it isn’t even our biggest earner. The show itself takes up less than 8 hours of prep, recording, production and promotion time per week. That’s solid revenue compared to work hours, and far more profitable than what most podcasters create. Local audience or targeted groups that advertisers want to reach is key to creating revenue.
Finally, you need a format that brings listeners back and hooks them into becoming regulars. We use a few tactics to do this, some of which I’ll list here. (You can reach out to hire me as a consultant if you want everything. This podcaster is always looking for a new revenue stream!) One tactic employed across the board here at The Broadcast Basement is short episodes. The origination of my idea to do approximately 30 minutes per episode came from a discussion I once had with a mentor of mine in broadcasting. I was hungover from a concert event the night before and struggling after my morning drive program began at 5:00 AM the next morning. I started pulling jokes from a subscription prep sheet used to help some of the broadcasters with on-air content. I never used their lame jokes or basic segments before, but there was desperation to survive that morning. After the show, the head of programming for Keymarket Media, who owned the station, drove from Pittsburgh to Wheeling, WV, (about 90 minutes) to visit with me. We went to breakfast. Had a little conversation. And then he told me if I ever put garbage content on the air like that again he would fire me. I was the #1 morning program 12+ in the Arbitron ratings at that time, so he was pretty upset. “Play a song rather than force the bit or spoken content to go long,” said Frank. “You only want the best stuff on the air. If you have nothing left, then be done.” I finished my pancakes at the Eat'n Park and never did that again.
Side Note: Why do they call it Eat'n Park when I have to park first before I eat? Never made sense to me.
That’s why we always leave people wishing the shows were longer. In fact, it is the #1 complaint of listeners. They want longer episodes. When we speak with a listener about what they do after an episode ends, they’re still looking for more. They almost always respond by saying that they started an older episode that they missed previously once the original selection ended because they wanted more content. So, the shorter episodes create desire for more content, additional downloads, and additional commercials consumed to benefit your advertisers and revenue. Plus, you have far less instances where poor content could lose a subscriber because you only let the best content into your limited run time. That seems like all good stuff to me. We have now created listener habit when new listeners check the show out and consume multiple episodes in the time it would take for them to listen to one traditional 60-120 minute podcast. And they never complain that they missed something because they ran out of time. I never hear “I have to find the time to check the episode out” because they always can find 30 minutes. Let’s say the traditional podcaster gets someone to check them out for the first time with one 90-minute episode. In that time, they have clicked on three episodes, forming a habit and becoming more familiar with the show and the podcasters.
The main topic, listener area and show structure are three essential parts to any successful podcast. Miss on one of them, and you are doomed to fail in the long run. I’ll be back with more at a later date. Until then, check out this podcast.