Slate’s podcast audience has tripled in a year, and its bet on audio over video continues to pay off » Nieman Journalism Lab
Slate’s podcast audience has tripled in a year, and its bet on audio over video continues to pay off
With 6 million downloads a month and a growing set of live events, Slate is showing one potential path for publishers in the post-Serial world: using conversation to build connection.
Slate made a very early bet, long before the mainstream adoption of podcasting was a forgone conclusion, by investing heavily in the audio format, positioning itself to ride the wave as millions of new consumers purchased smartphones and eventually realized that they could download audio files for on-demand listening.
It made that bet while many of its news media competitors shifted much of their focus to online video.
its podcast offerings are much more substantial, having developed fervent, almost fanatical followings from listeners, many of whom are willing to line up around the block just to attend a live recording. So why did Slate see so much success while other news outlets, like The New York Times and Boston Globe, scaled back their audio offerings in favor of video?
“John and his colleagues in Washington had hilarious conversations that sounded like how I was used to hearing reporters talk at the bar or after they appeared on the Sunday talk shows,” he said. “And I thought, ‘If I just put microphones in the conference room, this would be really entertaining. People would hear the honest conversation that reporters have.’” That insight eventually became the Political Gabfest, an hour-long show — hosted by Dickerson, former editor David Plotz, and Emily Bazelon — that’s among Slate’s most popular podcasts.
“We decided to do a live show thinking there would be a lot of people in town for the inauguration. So we booked a venue and we literally had no idea if 10 people or 100 people would show up. It ended up having a line around the block.”
This fervent fandom is why Slate and other podcast networks are able to charge such high advertising rates, much higher than what you could typically demand for online display advertising. Because the ads are often read out by the hosts themselves, often in a creative way, listeners don’t feel the urge to skip ahead. “During one of our earliest live shows that had been sponsored by Audible.com, David Plotz was doing the Audible ad in front of the audience,” said Bowers. “He said, ‘Political Gabfest is sponsored by…well, you know who it’s sponsored by,’ and the whole audience yelled ‘Audible.com!’ When that happened I was like, OK, that’s pretty effective advertising.”
Any consistent listener of podcasts has likely noticed that most podcast sponsors are direct-response advertisers — it’s easy to track the ROI of their sponsorships because listeners are encouraged to plug in a special promo code to receive discounts. The challenge Slate has now is to lure brand advertisers — the kind trying to raise brand awareness rather than direct sales. According to Bowers, Slate is in a unique position to attract these companies because, unlike other podcast networks, Slate’s is affiliated with an established media entity. “Because we’re connected to a larger website, for many years we have had advertisers who were on the Slate site and on the podcasts.” For instance, Acura sponsored a recent live tour of Gabfest, in some cases offering test drives to audience members. Another podcast hosted by Plotz was sponsored by Delta.