Podcasts are now the go-to place for political commentary, career learning, and entertainment, and all the rave is about listener growth. In 2019 we continued to see monthly listeners growing from 21% to 24% year over year.
But listener growth isn’t the thing to be excited about. The big indicator that we’re in a boom is Corporate Adoption. Companies are getting into podcasting – this is BIG! Likely you’ve heard commercials on podcasts. The next revolution of commercials is the company created shows.
Blue Apron has been a long-time podcast sponsor on some of the largest podcasts like Side Hustle School with Chris Guillebeau. Here’s the kicker that caught my attention. Blue Apron now has its own podcast. With the perfect title – Why We Eat What We Eat. Clearly the economics of being a sponsor has worked for them. Now they realize owning a show and creating a deeper relationship with listeners is a long term play.
Other corporations like Goldman Sachs are starting to jump in the podcast arena. The podcast is a medium where the business can connect with listeners and tell stories. And it’s working. These Goliath businesses are starting to feel more human-like.
In 2019 we saw a new record of podcast listeners, exceeding 100 million in the United States of America.
This number is increasing through the syndication of podcasts to other channels and the simplification of podcast consumption through smart devices and in car audio systems.
After managing millions of downloads and analyzing hundreds of shows I’m going to show you where podcasts are going in 2020.
Together we’ll talk about different show format and what types of shows will do the very best moving forward.
Don’t worry. If you don’t have a podcast it’s not too late – but you have some catching up to do!
In late 2017 Apple Podcasts shared with us podcast owners something we’ve been wanting for years. Analytics.
Before this update, the only metric we had was total downloads. Sure with native apps, we could dig a bit deeper but the majority consume episodes on Apple Podcasts so other data was nearly irrelevant.
Now corporations can put together solid KPI’s and measure if their ads are being skipped. They can see if listeners actually consume beyond the 30-second mark.
Podcast episodes will be edited and modified for the purpose of increasing listener duration.
That means some podcasts may be shorter or will need to add new segments to keep listeners hanging around.
Later in this post, we will talk about creating more engaging segments.
This analytics update may be one of the biggest catalysts for podcast growth we’ve had in years.
There will be an increase in corporate sponsorships, episode ads, and corporate created podcasts.
Fortune 500 companies are just now starting to get into podcasting and my company is helping design their shows, not just ads.
We’ve worked with smaller more innovative companies for years but seeing the big players come into the arena is revealing.
As we see a large spike in online radio, we expect to see a larger spike next year in podcast consumption within the car.
Podcasts have been a popular destination for listening while working out at the gym, but we are seeing steady growth within the car as well as CDs and AM/FM Radio decline.
Spotify expanded its podcast platform significantly in 2017 and its primary audience is younger, more tech-savvy users. Their audience continues to grow.
Getting your podcast on the Spotify platform is fairly easy.
However, there are several specific adaptations podcast owners need to make to provide a better experience for users on that platform.
If you have a podcast and you are not on Spotify you are losing out big time.
We will continue to see the marketplace become more segmented as shows are tailored to niche audiences.
This makes audiences more loyal.
I equate this to us being in the early 2010s of YouTube. We are past the pioneer days, however, we are not in a crowded marketplace.
A great example is the Buy Black podcast with host Gerald Jones.
Gerald created this podcast to help people in the black community further their education, collect resources and encourage them to spend their money within their community to create positive change.
After chatting with Gerald he said, “I knew from the beginning that I wanted to focus on a niche and speak directly to my target listener, understanding that this subject matter isn’t for everyone, but the people who get it will be motivated to build a real community around it.”
He’s created a loyal audience that knows exactly what to expect.
Segmenting your audience simply means listeners are diving deeper vs going wider.
The days of getting away with having a horribly designed website are gone.
And so are the days of having a poor sounding podcast.
Audio quality is a must and phone call quality will instantly kill an audience.
Listeners not only want quality audio but they want the episode to have great conversation flow, be engaging, have interesting music, exciting artwork, and resourceful show notes.
If you compare podcasts to reality TV then you’re on the right track.
In the TV world, we’ve seen a massive disruption with Netflix, Amazon, Apple, YouTube and Facebook creating new original content.
In the old days, a production company would create a pilot then shop it around hoping for a network to pick it up.
Many shows are now discovered on a YouTube channel so the pilot to pitch no longer exists.
The same is happening with podcasts where shows are being created and distributed without the need for a large network.
Or in some cases, podcasts are being turned into TV shows.
To get a clear understanding of the TV world you should check out Producing Unscripted with Joke and Biagio.
It’s seriously one of my favorite podcasts.
This husband and wife team own a production company that creates and produces reality TV shows.
On their podcast, they talk about how reality TV is made and give listeners insight about navigating the media world.
Keeping in sync with some of their reality TV lingoes I’ll explain the different show formats and how we can apply it to podcasts.
These begin and end in one episode. You don’t have to listen to a previous episode to understand what’s going on.
Most NPR and top-rated podcasts fit into this category
Here are some podcasts that follow this format:
Example: Side Hustle School
Another Example: How I Built This
This format only works with an amazing host(s) and a world-class producer.
Because this style is so heavily edited with music, sound clips and storytelling elements it’s difficult to pull off.
For every 15 minute episode it may be as little as 3 hours of preparation, production, and editing but more than likely somewhere around 10-20 hours.
Publishing an episode once a week is very realistic if it’s between 10-45 minutes in length.
If you are doing shorter episodes that are less than 10 minutes you can bump up the frequency to daily or a couple of times a week.
Narrative shows can be short snack-sized episodes that are less than 10 minutes or they can be mega episodes but most are between 10-45 minutes.
These types of shows are listened to from beginning to end as a series. Diving into a random episode can often leave the listener confused.
One advantage to this format is it piques the listeners’ interest and you can get them hooked.
When new listeners find the series they tend to binge-listen and consume episodes as they do on Netflix rather typical podcast interviews.
These episodes can be released as a batch as Netflix does or it can be on a set schedule.
In the TV world, this is what most of your network shows are. Contest shows also fit into this format.
Podcasts murder mysteries and episode to episode storytelling shows fit into this category.
Example: Serial podcast
Another Example: Hard Core History
Out of all the different formats, this requires the most editing and production talent.
If you’re doing episodes that are 30 minutes long expect to spend 30-100 hours in preparation, production, and editing to make it world-class.
It’s unlikely that you would publish more than once a week for this type of format.
Episode length varies depending on the category but in most cases, they will be at least 20 minutes long and may go for several hours like Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History show.
Think of these episodes more like a YouTube vlog or a reality TV show. If you have an amazing talent with a larger-than-life personality then this documentary style is a fit.
Often there are narrative elements in this style of production and repeatable elements as you follow the life of the host.
It can also have a series of elements.
That’s why this truly is the hybrid.
The production quality is high and brings the listener into the hosts’ world.
Example: Bill Burr’s Monday Morning Podcast
Another Example: Startup Podcast
Two challenges that come with this style of the podcast are the talents ego and continuity.
Because the podcast is personality-based it can be easy for the talent to be narcissistic (doesn’t always happen) and that’s often the reason for reality TV shows being canceled.
The other challenge is continuity.
Continuity can often time-stamp and make the episode dated.
It also doesn’t lend well to a lack of consistency. This means if you do this format you have to stick with it.
YouTube personality Casey Neistat does an amazing job following the Docu format and built one of the largest channels on the platform by being consistent.
He also has a great personality and doesn’t come across narcissistic.
This is a fun format and if you have the personality and dedication it can be a game-changer.
In the reality TV industry this is the most popular of all formats.
Casey uses some of these repeatable elements like checking his mail and for the daily journey to work.
Producing this type of format requires a lot of consistent attention and dedication to grind it out.
For 15-minute episodes expect to spend 3-30 hours of prep, production, and editing.
The publishing frequency greatly depends on the audience and how active the host wants to be.
I’ve seen these publish as often as daily.
It would be rare to go more than a month without a new episode.
The episode length can vary depending on the talent and frequency.
If you’re doing a daily podcast then your episodes will be shorter.
For weekly shows then anything less than 60 minutes is standard.
This is the most popular format for podcasts and the easiest to produce.
The typical shows are of the host interviewing other experts or two hosts talking back and forth covering different topics.
A lot of podcasts go this route because it’s comfortable and fairly easy to pull off.
One element that is common with the Interview format is to have repeatable elements.
However some podcasts can grow tired on listeners’ ears if the host asks the same questions every time.
This will create a high churn rate and burnout an audience quickly.
It doesn’t mean using repeatable elements are boring since the most popular TV shows follow a predictable format.
Example: Art of Charm Podcast
Jordan Harbinger from The Art of Charm interviews interesting guests and dives deep into conversation.
He puts in hours of prep work.
His research and ability to ask questions better than anyone I’ve met set him apart.
A couple years ago I interviewed him on my podcast and his ability to make a conversation flow was scary good.
Another Example: The Joe Rogan Experience
Although interview podcasts are the most popular format the style and approach is changing.
Listeners are searching for a better experience.
Shows that used to ask boring questions or just slap on some music at the beginning and end won’t cut it anymore.
The audience wants to have more narrative elements in the interview shows.
Adding an audio summary at the beginning of an episode or narrative pieces throughout will make you stand out.
For 30-minute interview episodes that have audio summaries and narrative elements expect to spend 2-20 hours of prep, production and editing.
The publishing frequency varies all across the board from daily to monthly shows.
My advice for most people doing this format is to publish at least weekly so you can continue to feed your audience.
The more frequent you publish the more downloads you will get, but that doesn’t always mean people are listening to every episode.
Most interview podcasts are between 15-90 minutes in length.
Going shorter than 10 minutes is hard to have a real conversation and longer than 60 minutes is a real-time commitment to the listener.
For business podcasts that are educating and teaching business skills we focus on keeping the episode at a drive time length.
That means we try and keep it less than 30 minutes and often in the 12-18 minute range.
For entertainment or more narrative interview shows it can be anywhere from 30-120 minutes.
When creating a new show always consider who the audience is and what they’re getting from the listening experience.
They may listen while working out, driving around town, on a walk or relaxing at home.
Outside of being a well-produced and interesting show consistency is one of the most important factors to having a successful podcast.
Too often I see shows fall into the trap of committing to too many episodes and getting burned out.
Or worse, publishing a show without a plan.
A great solution is to create a publishing calendar so can plan to release a new episode on a certain day of the week or at a frequency that works for you.
Another reason why you want to be consistent is to take advantage of the push notifications from podcast players.
If you’re subscribed to a podcast by default most players will push new episodes to your device.
Depending on device settings it will even push a notification on the home screen.
If you post infrequently or if the listener doesn’t consume an episode for a long time the push notifications may go away. This can absolutely create a massive drop in downloads.
Now that we’re clear on the different podcast formats let’s dive into structuring the episodes and lay out some templates.
The ultimate goal is to create a memorable listener experience.
Through your audio, you should find ways to educate and entertain.
Because the majority of podcasts follow the interview format we’ve put together an outline you can follow.
These scripts and templates are a rough guide.
You’ll need to find what works best for your show.
By adding episode segments to your podcast it will provide a predictable format which many listeners love.
The predictable elements often cause loyal audiences.
Just don’t overdo it and ask the same questions all the time or your audience will grow tired quickly.
There should be an overall deeper predictive element to your podcast which is the feeling of the show.
With NPR podcast you know each episode is going to have snippets of folksy or eclectic music, sound bytes and narrative summaries.
Here are some scripts and templates to give you an outline for making your show engaging to listeners. All TV shows follow similar templates to keep the audience’s attention at all times.
If we were creating an interview format with narrative elements then here is the format we would follow:
What is a premise? See here.
You only have a few seconds to hook your listener.
It’s your job to get them to avoid hitting the skip button or jumping over to another show.
Here’s how to do it.
Option 1: The host gives an audio summary of what the listener should expect in the episode.
The summary should be 15-90 seconds in length.
You need to pull the listeners’ attention and create cliffhangers so they will want to listen.
Option 2: Start with a narrative clip from the interview that pulls emotion and may have music or sound elements playing in the background.
This should be 5-60 seconds in length and must be impactful.
After the narrative clip, I like to transition with music and either have the host do a quick episode summary or jump into the interview.
Option 3: Start the episode with music and use either the host’s voice over have voice over talent introduce the show.
The music and voice over intro should be 5-15 seconds in length.
A typical script to follow for an introduction could be:
If you do your summary correct or use a compelling narrative clip your premise will be clear and the listener will continue on.
After you have hooked your listener into the episode you can add in a call to action or sponsor spot.
This isn’t necessary but is industry standard.
If you choose to do a sponsor spot or call to action make it compelling for the listener. Try and keep it between 10-60 seconds in length.
The call to action is simply to let the listener know where they can dive deeper for the offer, resources or additional information.
If you’re doing a sponsor spot then make sure it’s a good host read ad that includes humor or elements of storytelling.
This is where the host and guest dive into content.
It’s the bulk of the podcast.
You decide how much backstory to provide and how much of a historical introduction to do with the guest.
Remember you can provide a lot of backstory and background information in the summary and save your listeners several minutes of boring repetitive questions if you do it right.
The one thing to remember is the listener needs to connect emotionally with the host and guest.
Do whatever it takes to make that emotional connection.
My friend Joel Widmer runs a content marketing company and helps people create blog posts and quality content by asking them questions.
He suggests starting with the W’s when brainstorming questions: Who, What, Why, Where, When & How.
Start your interview off by asking questions that start with who, what and when to help your audience get to know the guest.
Then get into the why, where and how questions to dig into the main topic with your guest.
He suggests keeping your questions as short as possible.
One of the biggest tips I can give is to ask thoughtful questions other hosts haven’t asked before.
Asking the same tired “how did you get started?” question won’t get you a great story.
Too often podcast questions are predictable and shallow.
This is a complete turn-off.
Research and curiosity go a long way into making a good interview.
After you ask a good question let the guest talk.
After you ask a great question stay quiet. Let them think.
Typically the best insights come right after moments of awkward silence, so allow it to happen.
At this point, your job is to get the listener to want to listen to more episodes or dive deeper by visiting your website or the resources mentioned.
This is a great spot to provide a summary, give additional insights or invite the listener to interact with you or the guest.
Example Wrap Up
I hope you enjoyed this episode. Don’t forget to visit [website url] for show notes and resources mentioned in this episode.
Make sure to subscribe to this podcast to get the next episodes and if you love what you hear please leave a review.
If you have sponsorships then throughout the episode with good editing you could have inserted ads.
Some podcasts save ads until the end but that gives no incentive for the listener to continue.
One thing you can do is add a final show segment after your ad so that the listener sticks around to the very end.
If you’re doing a narrative podcast it comes down to great storytelling and creating a pace that gets the listener to stay glued to the episode.
Noah Kagan from his podcast Noah Kagan Presents did an interview with an NPR producer where they talked about doing a narrative podcast.
It’s a great episode that I highly suggest listening to.
I’ve taken some of those elements and made it into a template that’s easy to follow.
Producers in the audio and documentary world use a word called signposting.
To signpost means to push the story along and fill in the gaps to bring the listener up to speed. It also means to create a hook that keeps the listener hanging on for more.
Hey, it’s [host] and today’s episode is about [topic / premise] that [how it affected you]. I learned 3 things from it that I’m going to tell you about.
Hook / Topic #1
Hook / Topic #2
Hook / Topic #3
Add in music or a sound byte element to make the transition over to content.
Hook / Topic #1
Signpost #1 – Up next is this story about X, and here’s why it’s important.
How it started (the challenge)
Solving the challenge (middle)
And that’s why I learned… (lesson)
Create a break in the conversation with music or a sound byte. This is also a place you can add in a sponsor ad if you choose.
Hook / Topic #2
Signpost #2 – What I’m going to tell you next…
How it started (the challenge)
Solving the challenge (middle)
And that’s why I learned… (lesson)
Add another cut in the conversation using music or a sound byte. You can also have sponsor ads in this space. It’s best to have a host read ad.
Hook / Topic #3
Signpost #3 – This next story was [shocking, crazy, etc] and you’ll hear why…
How it started (the challenge)
Solving the challenge (middle)
And that’s why I learned that… (lesson)
To make this transition use music or a sound byte and then get ready for your close.
This is where you can do a summary, final call to action, or sponsor ad.
Often times the narrative close has segment elements that put a nice wrapper around the entire production.
Because corporate is jumping on board the competition is rising quickly.
They have the capital to invest.
And they’re willing to play the long game.
The other change is non-tech listeners are coming in by the masses.
Kids are listening to podcasts instead of watching YouTube.
Even smart devices like Alexa are now capable of playing episodes.
There’s even a network TV show called Alex Inc. about a guy starting a podcast company with Zach Braff as the leading actor.
We are entering the mainstream.
That means it’s time to be all in.
The listener experience needs to be better.
Production quality needs to rise.
And we’re not just talking about audio quality.
It’s storytelling, pacing, structure, episode descriptions, artwork and much more.
The overall look and feel need to capture listeners’ attention and create loyal audiences.
This year will be big.
Just like we saw in late 2017 with everyday normal people at the grocery store talking about cryptocurrencies we are close to the tipping point with podcasts entering all conversations.
Go and make something awesome that people talk about.