Business ideas for 2020: Podcasting

The world continues to go podcast crazy, here’s why you should start one in 2020.

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If you’ve been living under a rock with no internet signal for the last few years, a podcast is just a digital audio file that can be downloaded or streamed from computers, mobile devices, smart speakers and pretty much any device that can be connected to the internet.

They’ve rapidly become the radio for the internet age and every week, hundreds of thousands of podcasts pump out episodes on every conceivable subject for an appreciative audience all over the world. People love podcasts for the same reasons they love the internet – pretty much anyone can start a podcast, they’re free to listen to (with a few minor exceptions), are available worldwide, and the sheer number of podcasts means there’s a perfect podcast for everyone, whether you’re into following the fortunes of a fictional football club, expert insight into the never-ending crisis that is Brexit, or in-depth analysis of terrible erotica.

The tech that powers podcasts was actually invented back in 2004, while the term (a portmanteau of iPod and broadcasting) was coined in the same year by Ben Hammersley, in a Guardian article that discussed what we should call this rise of online radio (he gave two alternatives: audioblogging and guerillamedia). Fast forward 15 years and there are now 700,000 podcasts that have published 29 million episodes in over 100 languages. In the UK, the BBC is making big moves in the podcast space and accounts for some of the country’s most popular podcasts, something that has helped expose podcasts to new audiences and accelerated the growth of podcasts in general. In short, the market for podcasts is huge, the audience keeps increasing, and 2020 is the perfect time to get in the podcast game.

Is it Coronavirus-proof?

Coronavirus certainly presents no material danger to podcasting. But if you listen to podcasts regularly, you’ll know that, whether a podcast usually covers true crime or cricket, the only thing anyone’s talking about is Covid-19.

Unless you have a really niche angle on the whole thing, or have access to genuine expertise and insight, you’re going to struggle to make yourself heard as a new podcast.

Why podcasting is a good business idea

The big boys are now starting to get seriously involved in podcasts. Spotify has spent about $400m on podcast companies including Anchor, a podcast creation tool, and two podcast production companies. Sony Music meanwhile is assembling its own heavyweight team for an all out assault on the podcast space.

It’s also a medium that’s being taken more and more seriously by advertisers: a study by digital audio advertising platform DAX found that 75% of advertisers surveyed planned to increase their podcast ad spend in 2019. Given how the medium continues to grow, that spend can only continue to climb in 2020.

Podcasting is recording strong growth in the UK, with the most recent Ofcom data showing that 7.1m people listen to podcasts each week – equal to one in eight of the total population. Moreover, this figure increased by 24% from 2018 to 2019, and has more than doubled in the past five years. As part of their in-depth survey of media consumption, Ofcom also found that half of podcast listeners began listening in the last two years, and regular podcast users listen to seven podcasts per week, indicating that, for many people, podcasts are now an important part of their daily lives.

And if you have the right idea, the opportunities are massive. Three years ago, Alex Chisnall launched the Screw It, Just Do It podcast, devoted to interviews with business figures from inspirational startups and iconic brands. His first podcast got two downloads – from his mother and his wife. At the time of writing, he just uploaded episode 187, the podcast has been downloaded in over 130 countries, and rides high in the business podcast charts everywhere from the UK to Uganda. As a seasoned podcaster he’s well placed to discuss the growth of the scene, and argues: “Opportunities abound for new podcasters, you can still get heard through all the noise on social media, YouTube, and other visual media.”

Is it Brexit-proof?

Yes. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a business that’s more Brexitproof than podcasts. Your product is entirely digital so you won’t be affected by things like import duties and customs restrictions. It’s also free so even if the UK economy is adversely impacted by Brexit, demand for podcasts shouldn’t be significantly affected.

The biggest potential risk is that a struggling national economy forces UK advertisers to cut their spend on podcast advertising, but such a decision would be contingent on many factors, including the product being advertised and the audience that your podcast reaches.

Podcasting business opportunities

Podcasting Screw It, Just Do It

The most obvious way to take advantage of the podcast craze is of course to start your own podcast. The key here is to find something you’re passionate and knowledgeable about that, as Alex Chisnall of the Screw It, Just Do It podcast puts it, “you’ll still love talking about in 6 months, or 6 years.” While the market may seem crowded already, 700,000 podcasts pales in comparison to approximately 23 million YouTube channels, and with new demographics gradually discovering podcasts, there are real opportunities for new providers. If your content is compelling enough, chances are you will find an audience. This is particularly the case for new voices from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities as these groups are currently under-represented in UK podcasting audience figures, possibly due to a lack of podcasts that adequately reflect their experiences.
Make sure to consider YouTube as well. Even though podcasts are an audio medium, the Ofcom research discussed above found that YouTube was actually the most popular way to access podcasts for weekly listeners. To cater to this audience, it’s a good idea to film the recording of your podcast or provide visual features beyond the audio, such as photos, graphics and video clips to illustrate the points you’re making.

Don’t be too anxious about making money from your podcast, not at first at least. As Steve Austin, co-founder of audio production company Bengo Media, advises, “the content, not the money-making, has to take the lead”. If you do start to rack up big download numbers, then you may be in a position to approach sponsors, while alternative approaches include getting your listeners to support you through the crowdfunding platform Patreon, or selling merchandise. You could also use your podcast to promote an existing business, exposing your brand to a new audience and helping to establish your company as an authority in a particular field.

Another option might be to rent out a space as a podcast studio. The requirements for this are similar to any recording studio, so you’ll need to make sure your chosen room is kitted out with microphones, sound desks and the right sound conditioning to make sure you don’t get too much reverb from voices bouncing from wall to wall. Consider location and/or transport links too, there’s no point having a great space if it’s in the middle of nowhere or really difficult to get to. While this route could involve a fairly significant initial investment, as podcasts become more professional, the demand for high-quality recording rooms should increase.

Is it sustainable?

It’s hard to think of many businesses that are more sustainable than podcasts. Your product is entirely digital so you don’t need to worry about raw materials or the impact of production processes.

The only things to consider are emissions if you’re travelling around to interview guests and how the electricity you’re using is produced.

Insider opinion

When you ask experienced podcasters for advice for people looking to enter the field, one thing comes up again and again – start. Find a quiet room and you can even record a podcast with your phone, you might not necessarily release it but you can see how it sounds and how you like the experience. If you have a great idea, then as Adam Stott of the Business Growth Secrets podcast points out, “you can start with relatively low investment and you have the power to talk to a large number of people.” Peter Watson, MD at PR agency Distract sees podcasts becoming an increasingly important part of marketing strategies and adds: “The means are there, as long as you have something to say, then you should go for it. Your voice needs to be heard in this busy, loud world we live in and this is an accessible, easy way to do it.” Once you start, be consistent, the average podcast only lasts seven episodes and so you need to stick at it to build up a loyal audience.
Once you get the basics sorted, then you can concentrate on improving the quality, both in terms of audio clarity and the quality of your actual content. None of this should be hugely expensive though. Helen Croydon, a former radio producer who hosts The Media Insider podcast, advises that while “you don’t need a soundproof studio and a whole production team, you do need a quality microphone, a quiet space and an editor who knows the importance of balancing the audio gain throughout.” In terms of content, she argues that: “A good podcast is packed with info and insights in every sentence. Many amateurs are too attached to their content and can’t cut things so you get long rambly productions.”

The importance of quality does also depend on what sort of podcast you want to produce, is it going to be fast-paced and direct or more relaxed and conversational. Adam Stott also argues that “the raw nature of amateur podcasts can be appreciated”, something that’s particularly true for podcasters who have a unique viewpoint to share. Experiment and you’ll quickly discover what works for you.

Written by:
Alec is Startups’ resident expert on politics and finance. He’s provided live updates on the budget, written guides on investing and property development, and demystified topics like corporation tax, accounting software, and invoice discounting. Before joining, he worked in the media for over a decade, conducting media analysis at Kantar Media and YouGov, and writing a wide variety of freelance pieces.
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