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The Allure of Podcasts & Success Rates

Updated: Mar 15

Podcasting was born in 2004. Everyone seems to have a podcast. But is the genre here to stay?

I grew up in the world of radio and hosted programs as a music DJ or public affairs host. The thought of making a podcast was exhilarating to me at one time. But I've rethought it.

How do you retain listenership in an over-saturated market? How many Joe Rogans are out there — who is estimated to make $10-$12 million a year podcasting The Joe Rogan Experience? Well, frankly, not many. Forbes magazine said that Rogan made a deal with Spotify for the exclusive rights to his show for $200 million. Most podcasters will never get even close to the salary level of the political & UFC commentator, comedian and former Fear Factor reality TV host.

Rogan tells critics who label him conservative that he is, in fact, "a bleeding heart liberal" on many issues. He seems to be a character of contradiction and that makes for interesting listening. On one hand, Rogan was in trouble for blasting Covid lockdowns and vax recommendations. On the other hand, he openly supports gay marriage and Roe V Wade. But what do you say about a guy who joked about "shooting" homeless in L.A.? Rogan knows how to market controversy to his advantage.

Key points for successful podcasts include hosts who are great communicators, have engaging material and produce a product of solid quality. It seems like everyone has a podcast now. You don't have to be a celebrity of record to produce material that subscribers can buy on Spotify or Apple. I was a huge fan of dancer/choreographer Cheryl Burke, formerly on Dancing with the Stars, and just learned she has a podcast out called Sex, Lies and Spray Tans. Having a listen to Cheryl's podcast is on my to-do list. 

What types of podcasts do people like? According to Castos, the three favorite podcast genres focus on the arts, business and comedy. I tend to favor arts and entertainment broadcasts. When I go on long walks if I'm by myself, I listen to mostly educational or entertainment stuff. Good Housekeeping has a top 40 list that includes podcasts I've not listened to yet. 

The bottom line is that to be successful, a podcast has got to be consistently engaging. Historically, I listen to podcasts I randomly find by googling a subject I want to learn more about. But often I do not listen to the entire cast. I unceremoniously cut it off midway. My interpretation was that it's because my attention span is short. I'm not alone. Some research has shown that the average adult's attention span is less than a goldfish's! But it's not that simple. According to the data, a person over 16 years of age maxes out on being able to concentrate after 50 minutes — which explains why I find it hard to listen to a podcast for more than 40 minutes. 

Some experts suggest that if you're making a podcast, keep it to under 42 minutes because briefer podcasts accommodate shorter attention spans. A prime example is The Daily with host Michael Barbaro, which runs 20 to 25 minutes and boasts 5 million listeners. But alternately, The Joe Rogan Experience runs for at least an hour and can go up to three or more hours with an average of 11 million folks tuning in, so it's not a one-size-fits-all situation. The main ingredients for success are engaging hosts with excellent content and slick production. 

People are much more distracted since the onset of the pandemic. Life's responsibilities fill up a good part of the day. There is often no extra time to tune in to lengthy productions during a busy week. 

I've listened to a couple of podcasts recommended to me by friends. But I keep switching around. If a podcaster can maintain a loyal and consistent audience, I admire that ability for retention. Podcasts are here to stay: more productions will come out in 2024. But the stats say that just 20 percent will survive beyond the first year. So remember that if you want to jump on the podcast bandwagon, it might be hard to turn a profit. You may decide to produce a stream as a labor of love and not depend on that podcast as a source of income — unless it has gleaned 3,000 to 5,000 listeners for optimal sponsorship offers.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.

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