(By Norm Pattiz) When I retired as founder and Chairman of Westwood One in 2010, it was largely because of my feeling that the golden age of network radio and syndication had passed. Not that it wasn’t a viable business, but all the things that had attracted me to it were long gone. They were in my rear-view mirror. The medium was saddled with inadequate measurement, facing digital realities that would revolutionize distribution, consumption, data, and far more precise information.
Programming decisions and consolidation of ownership were becoming more corporate with less focus on individual stations and local markets. Plus, increasing formatic restrictions were making it more and more difficult for truly creative content and concepts to find a home and deliver a national audience.
That’s when I became more familiar with podcasting, a medium that I felt answered all of the concerns that caused me to move on from radio syndication. No format restrictions, no time restrictions, no location restrictions, and totally democratic. The perfect solution for creatives and audio consumers looking for more options to consume audio choices of their own. Most important was podcasting’s lean-in connection with its audience.
Now that major radio groups have discovered the importance of digital distribution to their bottom line, and more specifically podcasts, their pitch to the industry, investors, and advertisers is that somehow traditional radio represents a major advantage to being successful in podcasting. Not true. I’m not buying it, and neither should you. Thirty-five years in radio and six at PodcastOne have made a few things very clear. First, radio audiences and podcast consumers are not the same. With the exception of public radio, which is much more a medium of programs than formats, I’m not aware of any successful transitions from podcasting to broadcast radio, nationally.
There certainly are advantages when stations focus on locally-produced podcasts and content, sold in combination with local radio station programming. We’ve seen this over the last four years with our partnership with Hubbard Radio. But when it comes to national programming, radio realities prevent traditional radio conglomerates from making a case for radio’s audience or distribution having much, if any, effect on the growth of podcasting itself.
Groups with hundreds of radio stations cannot, and will not, add, market, or promote podcasts that don’t fit individual station formats. Their hope that promoting podcasts to a radio audience will significantly increase the number of podcast consumers is simply that — a hope. There’s currently no evidence that that’s a reality.
I’m not saying that exposing podcasts and promoting podcasts to a separate radio audience is a bad thing. But to promote it as a significant advantage for radio to become major national players in podcasting is not only an overreach, but at present, there’s nothing to support that claim.
I love radio — always have — and take great pride in having founded a company that still lives today, but reality is reality. On-demand audio podcasting with its countless advantages to consumers, advertisers, and marketers interested in content that you can’t find on the radio dial is where the heat is.
What about multifaceted platforms like Spotify, Pandora, and others that wish to provide all things audio, from music to streaming to on-demand? I would submit that access to podcast audiences is far more important to them than access to their audience is to podcasters. Current all-podcast networks and platforms are much better at promoting to podcast communities than radio is.
The point is podcasters, large and small, have never been more important to audio consumers than they are today. Whether it’s free podcasts supported by limited advertising, paid access requiring subscription fees, or totally free podcasts requiring neither, we’ve just taken the first steps down the yellow brick road. The best is yet to come. Podcasting will grow at amazing rates in terms of both audience and revenue now that over 50% of Americans, and even more in certain countries around the world, are aware of it and consume it. Traditional media and multipurpose platforms are not going away, but to assume that they’re necessary to continue our amazing growth is just not reality.
Norm Pattiz is Executive Chairman of PodcastOne and Founder of Westwood One