Pocket Casts is considered to be one of the best apps to have to listen to podcasts. The platform was created in 2008 by Australian mobile app developer Shifty Jelly and launched in 2010. In May of 2018, a coalition of public media organizations purchased Pocket Casts, hoping to exercise more control over the distribution of their content. They hired former iHeart executive Owen Grover as CEO.
Pocket Casts is designed to help users find, sort, and listen to podcasts and podcast episodes easily. WIRED magazine called Pocket Casts “The podcast app every iPhone user needs” and The Verge said it was “The best podcast app for Android.”
Owen Grover spent the last 20 years at the crossroads of media, technology, and content. He’s a founding member of the iHeartRadio team and helped establish iHeartMedia’s Entertainment Enterprises division where he developed events and programs, including the iHeartRadio Music Festival and the iHeartRadio Music Awards.
PBJ: For those who don’t know what Pocket Casts is, tell us what it is and why users should download it?
Owen Grover: It’s the world’s most powerful podcasting app. It’s designed for folks who want to get to podcasts quickly and easily. It’s focused on curation and recommendations. We’ve taken a cross-platform approach because we believe, as the industry grows, it’s important to be where listeners are. Some users have Android phones some have Apple phones and some want to listen on their desktop. We feel that is a core value proposition of what we do. Our app delivers a premium experience. It has a really high-quality feel in terms of design. We’ve won several design awards. We differentiate around accessibility, usability, quality of design, discovery, and curation.
PBJ: Tell us about the enhancements you recently made to the app.
Owen Grover: Pocket Casts V7 launched last week. The key enhancements are focused on reducing friction to get users into podcasting. There’s been a typical set-up where you search and discover then subscribe to get access to a feed. What we’re trying to do is take that step away. We want to make it easy for listeners to get right into the podcast they’re interested in and sample it immediately without that additional barrier of having to subscribe first. In that sense we’re taking some of the friction out. We’ve also implemented episode search allowing users to find a specific episode within a podcast they listen to. We did a complete UI overhaul. What we found was so many of the phones are bigger so we wanted to put the navigation closer to where your thumb sits. That’s a huge and important update for us. We’ve added a bunch of what we call quality of life improvements to the app, updated filters and playlisting. We have a big focus on curation. We built in a whole bunch of publishing tools which allow us to use algorithmic and human curation to bring the best possible content forward in the app.
PBJ: What’s the biggest challenge facing the podcasting industry right now?
Owen Grover: There’s no question in my mind it’s habituation. When people start to listen to podcasts they fall in love. Most people have heard the word podcast and have a general sense that it’s like talk radio. A lot of people in the country are aware of the term but don’t know how to dive in. This is with Apple having an app pre-installed in every phone they ship. Edison Research says podcast listeners, on average, are listening to over five hours of podcasts a week. In Pocket Casts we see our listeners listen nearly seven hours a week. The key challenge facing the industry is awareness, usage, and habituation. We feel strongly that the medium is powerful, intimate, and it delivers real emotional benefits. It keeps you company. It has that storytelling quality regardless of the format. People love it but we need to teach people how to get to it.
PBJ: How do you think that will happen?
Owen Grover: It’s the same way we were able to grow iHeartRadio when I was there. We were able to get on the air, crack the mic, and talk about the value of bringing the content with you wherever you go because this is a mobile medium.
PBJ: What do you think about Pandora getting into podcasting?
Owen Grover: What I think about Pandora, Spotify, Google, and anyone else is they can only help grow the medium through their concerted efforts. Pandora has a substantial user base somewhere around 70 million monthly active uniques last time I checked. They’re focused on the US market. Their attempts to lean in are welcome. The attempts by Google to relaunch their app and get more users are welcome because there is still so much room to grow the pie. None of us should be thinking about share shift in this business. We should think about growing the pie.
PBJ: What is your advice to podcasters?
owen Grover: I want to encourage everybody because there are a relatively low barriers to entry. However just because you write doesn’t mean that you’ll have an audience. Some people do it because they want to express themselves, others for a business and others see it as a hobby. Start with what your goals are, then build a plan. If you do it three or four times and give up, then think about the great writers of the world, how many years they spent working on great manuscripts. It is the exception rather than the rule that you catch lightning in a bottle. They have to work and hone their craft. They have to start with their circle of people around them and get feedback. Feedback is a gift. Don’t give up if you feel passionate about it. If it turns you on, then don’t give up.