Category: GEMA

Title:GEMA Alumni Industry – Panel Listening to the Future: The Evolution of Podcasting and Digital Audio

By Michelle Najarian (MA ’23)

On June 16, 2021, the GEMA community assembled for a virtual panel entitled Listening to the Future: The Evolution of Podcasting and Digital Audio.

The panel was comprised of the following Hoya senior leaders: Conal Byrne (C’ 96) CEO, iHeartMedia Digital Audio Group; Liz Gateley (Parent ’24), Senior Advisor of Original Podcasts & Video, Spotify; Phoebe Lett (C ’13) Podcast Producer, The New York Times; Kai Ryssdal (MA ’93, Parent ’20), Host and Senior Editor, Marketplace (American Public Media).

The panel was moderated by Tom De Napoli (C ’01), Chief Strategy Officer, APM Studios, American Public Media Group.

Grace Kane (C ’11), Director, Business Development, Podcast at Simplecast opened the panel by describing the explosive growth in podcasting and audio in recent years. Today, nearly 120 million people in the U.S. are monthly podcast listeners and there are over 2 million podcasts in the eco-system. It is estimated that in 2023, there will be $2 billion of advertising revenue generated by podcasts.

Even with this rapid growth, there still is a significant amount of uninhabited audible landscape. The podcasting industry offers companies an opportunity to grow an authentic and sustainable connection with their listeners. From cultural icons to former presidents and micro-influencers, there is seemingly a place for all within the podcasting arena.

Below are some of the key takeaways from the panel discussion:

The importance of storytelling and moving to the big screen

Kai Ryssdal explained, “It is the nature of audio as a medium that drives the storytelling. You have to be able to keep people’s attention when they are doing other things. As you write for the ear, you speak it out loud to keep the connectivity going in the story.”

Conal Byrne noted that, “Creatively, what happened in podcasting was it defaulted quickly to broadcast radio or TV distribution cadence and format. With 12-13 episodes, you know, like a TV season. Podcasters are figuring out that you don’t have to. There are no rules. A podcast feed could be treated like an Instagram feed with audio assets of 15-second or 30-second slots multiple times a day like voicemails dropped in people’s phones. There is no reason not to do that. Bridging audio creators who are alive in social audio and podcasting will feed this medium a lot.”

In Liz Gateley’s view, “Books used to be the best form of storytelling and the best storytelling is in podcasts right now. These [podcasts] are really screenplays when you look at them. We are shooting 20 active projects in Toronto, adapting audio for television. Any time that you can find an audience that is rabid for a story already, you are building an audience and a funnel of people that will follow it and can create documentaries, scripted TV series and major motion pictures.”

Standing out in a competitive market

Phoebe Lett spoke to the power of The New York Times brand and how it helped the company “break through the clutter” in managing the transformation into the audio space.“We are quite a diverse company outside of journalism. Podcasting was sort of a sleeper for us. The Daily’s outlandish success has retooled the company’s way of thinking about audio and that means people are willing to take more risks. For us, we think about what does opinion sound like in an audio form? Providing the highest quality work is the guiding light.”

Non-linear career paths

Academy Award-winning producer Liz Gateley described her career journey which began at UCLA and continued at Loyola Law. After practicing in a private firm, she decided to pivot to the industry she often found refuge from her day-to-day — TV and film. She moved to New York and worked in the mailroom at William Morris Agency where she learned the business. During her career, she has worked at , , and now Spotify for the last two years. She commented, “Audio is new to me, but storytelling has always been in my heart and I’m really enjoying podcasting.”

Kai Ryssdal spent eight years in the Navy. He went on to work at the Pentagon and served four years in the Foreign Service. After a brief bookstore gig, he started an internship with KQED. After a year on the radio, he landed a job at Marketplace and will celebrate his twentieth anniversary with the company this year. He advises young professionals interested in pursuing a career in this industry to develop the following skillset: “Project management, talent management, and strategic vision. You have to know where you want to go. You have to have a vision of where you want to be.”

The future of the industry

In terms of the growth potential of advertising, Conal Byrne noted that, “Ad technology is moving a mile a minute in podcasting. Look at the last 3-4 years of the industry and it encapsulates the last twenty years of digital media ad tech. Podcasting did all of that in the last few years. From dynamic ad insertion to audience and geo-targeting and attribution, podcasting is doing all the things you need to make a medium look and feel like digital media which is important for bigger brands to jump in and spend bigger. I see international audiences starting to pick up as well.”

Phoebe Lett believes the industry needs to figure out new methods of monetization. “We’ve been giving out these podcasts to consumers for free and need to figure out how to better harness the audience.” She noted, for example, Apple’s recent announcement that it will be commencing a subscription service.

GEMA would like to thank our panel participants and our members for attending this vibrant panel discussion. A special thanks to the Georgetown University Alumni Association for their collaboration on this event.

To watch the full video, visit this link.