Podcasts Seem to Show Audience Engagement That Other Media Would Envy

Listeners Are Forming Bonds and Happy to Respond

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Alex Blumberg
Alex Blumberg

Maybe it's the way people spill to podcasters' microphones more than they would with a camera, or maybe it's the feeling of privacy podcasts create when TV feels so communal, but podcasts seem to be engaging audiences on a level that more established mass media don't.

"You feel like you're friends with the people and understand their quirks," said Alex Blumberg, co-founder and CEO of Gimlet Media, during a discussion on the format during Internet Week New York. "You form this picture in your mind of who you're listening to."

That's helped certain podcasts supplement sponsorship dollars with revenue directly from listeners. Marc Maron, for example, has said 10% of his audience pays for a premium subscription to his free "WTF" podcast.

"If anywhere outside of public radio, you're getting 10% of audience to pay for you, that's insane," said Mr. Blumberg, who previously worked on "This American Life."

Gimlet Media is now in the second season of the podcast "StartUp," the first season of which focused intimately on Gimlet itself.

Audience engagement reached an all-time high in an episode of WNYC's "Radiolab" called "Things," according to Ellen Horne, executive producer. The episode was about the value that people give to certain objects, so its hosts invited listeners to destroy things they valued. Listeners obliged, setting objects on fire and sending the recordings in to the show.

In another example of the bond that can form between audiences and podcasters, panel moderator Manoush Zomorodi, host of WNYC's popular tech and lifestyle podcast "New Tech City," said 10,000 people had voluntarily handed over their personal phone data to the program.

Asked how to grow podcast audiences, panelists suggested conentrating on quality and what resonates with listeners. "If your content is really amazing, people will talk about it," Ms. Horne said.

Producers should also buy ads on other podcasts because listeners are in the market for more, Mr. Blumberg added. Gimlet Media's next series will be called "Mystery Show" and feature a different mystery solved each week -- sort of a "Serial" in reverse.

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