Why Can't Music Be Played In Podcasts?

Among the most frequent questions I am asked about podcasting is why music can't easily be licensed and played. I roll into some general legal mumbo jumbo about mechanical recording fees, publisher rights and other arcane music rights issues.  But enough of that.  Lets talk directly to someone who knows.  David Oxenford is a partner in the Washington law firm Wilkinson, Barker, Knauer, LLP.  David is well known in broadcast circles and has a long history working with media companies on a wide array of issues.  He also represents webcasters and digital media companies on copyright, music licensing and other regulatory issues.    

Steve: Why is podcasting different from streaming and what's blocking podcasters from playing music?

David: The difference is the rights that are involved.  Streaming involves the “public performance right.”  There are organizations in place to collect public performance royalties that cover both the musical compositions and the recorded songs.  For streaming, if you pay ASCAP, BMI and SESAC - and now GMR - you pretty much have the public performance rights to all musical compositions - also called the “musical work” – the words and notes of a song.  If you pay SoundExchange, you get the rights to publicly perform all the recorded songs legally released to the public in the United States.  With the rights to publicly perform the musical compositions and the sound recordings, you have what you need to do an Internet radio-type of streaming operation. 

Podcasts, though, are not viewed as public performances.  Instead of transmitting programming like a radio station, a podcast is viewed as a recording of the program – listeners are making copies of the podcast program onto their smartphone or tablet.  Under the Copyright Act, a recording does not involve the public performance right, but instead the right to make “reproductions” of the musical work and the sound recording. As the music is combined in a podcast with words and other sounds in the recording, it also invokes another right of the copyright holder to authorize “synch rights” or “master use rights."  To get any of these rights, you need to go directly to the copyright holders – usually the publishers for the musical works and the record companies for the sound recording – and negotiate for each song that you want to use.

Instead of transmitting programming like a radio station, a podcast is viewed as a recording of the program – listeners are making copies of the podcast program onto their smartphone or tablet.

Steve: Is there a path in the works that would change this for podcasters?

David: There's no nice easy way to get a license for podcast rights.  There is no place where you can pay one fee to a collection society or some sort of clearing house to get all the rights that you need to an unlimited amount of music.  There are a few online companies that try to match rights holders and users.  There are other sites that provide a user a price list to acquire the rights to use certain songs for certain defined purposes.  But these sites often offer rights only to independent releases, not the hits that you’d hear on the radio. Maybe one day someone will come up with a simplified system of clearing these rights to the “hits” for podcast uses, but I don’t know of one that exists now. 

Steve: I'm often asked about whether there is a right to use short clips of audio like 20 seconds, is there any such thing?

David: There is concept of what's called “fair use” where you can use a limited amount of a copyrighted work without specific permission of the copyright holder.  However, fair use comes with all sorts of caveats, and there are no simple formulas like “20 seconds is OK.”  There simply are no hard and fast rules as to what constitutes fair use.  Every time I talk about digital music rights, I make clear that there is no fair use exception for a use that constitutes only thirty seconds of a song (or even five seconds, ten seconds or twenty seconds). It is a myth that if you use only one of those limited amounts of a song you cannot get in trouble.

There are no simple formulas like “20 seconds is OK.”

Instead, a fair use analysis depends on a number of different factors.  One factor is the amount of the work used, but that is just one factor.  Another factor is the type of use.  If the clip is used in a commercial message, it is unlikely to ever be fair use.  But if it is used in a news report or in an educational program, there may be a better argument depending on the other factors.  Another factor to consider is whether the claimed “fair use” interferes with the ability of the copyright holder to monetize the work - for instance, if you are using the song as part of a produced intro that airs each week at the start of your podcast, that is the kind of music that an artist can be paid to produce, so it is unlikely to be seen as a fair use. 

All of these factors are weighed on a case-by-case basis to see if it is a fair use, and you may not know for sure until you are sued and a judge makes the decision.  But some uses are more likely to be seen as a fair use.  Commentary and criticism is a traditional area where fair use is often found.  If, for instance, you're doing a concert review or a review of a new album and you play short snippet of a song and talk about the guitar riff or the texture of the vocals or the meaning of particular lyrics, and you're just using enough of their song to illustrate the point that you're making, that is more likely to be fair use.  But I’ve seen cases where a podcaster in a music review uses too much of the song, and the copyright holder has complained.  There simply are no bright line tests as to when a use is a “fair use” and when it can get you into trouble. 

Steve: There are hundreds of thousands of smaller podcasts that average just a couple of hundred downloads and there is a notion that they are so small that no has ever is going to listen or find that they are playing music.

David: In connection with any sort of copyright violation you always hear that argument. You may think “If I do it, no one is ever going to notice and I'm never going to get caught.” But, while your podcast may only have a few people listening at first, if it goes viral and is heard by thousands of people - which presumably is what every podcaster is hoping for -  a rights holder can find out about the unauthorized use.  And even if you just have a small audience, if the wrong person hears it, you may get a demand letter or some other claim for compensation.

Steve: What type of money are we talking about here?

David: There is this concept under the Copyright Act called “Statutory Damages.”  That means that the copyright holder does not need to be able to prove that they were actually damaged by your use of their music.  All they have to prove is that you infringed on their rights, and they can be entitled to collect damages. A court looks at the infringement and can assess damages of anywhere from $500 to $150,000 per infringed song. Noncommercial users who were acting in good faith end up at the lower end of the scale.  Commercial companies, who knew that they needed rights and just didn’t bother to obtain them, end up owing higher damages. 

Steve: I haven't read a lot about podcast infringement but I assume that as podcasting becomes more of a thing, infringement would become more of the thing.

David: I think that's exactly right. As you get more big name podcasters and big name players doing podcasts, you're more likely to see these kinds of lawsuit develop.  We’ve recently seen a rash of cases where photographers have come after broadcasters for use of photographs on broadcasters’ webpages without permission. There are a number of lawyers who specialize in these photography cases, and they troll the Internet looking for infringement.  While we have not seen that yet for music in podcasts, it certainly could happen – and no podcaster wants to be the test case. 

If you are considering taking your morning show and putting it into a podcast format, take the comedy bits - don't take the music.

Steve: What about radio stations repurposing their broadcast content to podcasts? 

David: None of the traditional licensing fees for broadcasting (like ASCAP, BMI and SESAC) cover podcasting.  If you are considering taking your morning show and putting it into a podcast format, take the comedy bits - don't take the music.

Steve: And I would assume the same thing is true if a radio station is doing original podcast content.

David: That's correct.  Most of the more established podcasters are commissioning original music specifically written and recorded for the podcast.  Find a local band or musician, have them record their own music for your podcast, and pay them some money.  Get an agreement in writing where the musician agrees to license their rights to your podcast, just so that no questions arise down the road.  And make sure that the local musician is playing their own songs – no covers of songs written by someone else – as even the rights to the musical composition must be cleared.

Steve: What makes sense going forward? 

David: I would like to see a platform created where a company that wants to do a podcast can come to one place and easily buy the rights that it needs to include specific songs in its programming.  I have talked to a couple of companies that are looking at creating platforms where at least some songs are available at set prices.  I hope that this kind of platform develops in a big way to ease licensing. It would benefit both the podcaster who can eliminate the licensing risks and the music rights holders who can get a new stream of revenue. 

Steve: David, really helpful.  So for now, there is no easy path to having general music in podcasts.


You can follow David's excellent posts at Broadcast Law Blog





Podcasts' Need For Speed

Plenty has been written recently about the ideal length for a podcast. Quick answer: some are too long, some are way too long and some are fine. You can go back to my previous blogs for views on that.

A recent conversation about podcast length with Edison Research President, Larry Rosin yielded a different tack. Larry is an avid podcast listener and I wondered how he consumed so many. 

He was kind enough to pen some thoughts for Blogstein:

Over the last few months there has been a spate of opinions put forth on what is the ‘ideal’ length of a podcast.  I would like to inject a new variable into the discussion – speed.

I consume an enormous number of podcasts, and many people can’t understand how I fit them all in.  My main trick is that I listen to one category of podcasts using the 1.5X speed option on my iPhone.  That’s right – I listen at 50% higher speed than the recording.

Now – I don’t do this for all podcasts. I do this for what I refer to as “banter-casts” – that dominant category of podcasts which consist of two or more people talking among themselves in an unscripted fashion.  And I don’t listen at 1.5X speed just to get through them faster – I enjoy them much more at this speed.  You should try this.  It turns out that many people speak at a pace that is vastly below what your ear and brain can follow; speeding them up actually improves the sound.

"I listen at 50% higher speed than the recording" 

For instance, I love Bill Simmons, but man he speaks slowly.  Now, he sounds ‘wrong’ to me when I hear him at ‘normal’ speed.  He sounds great at 1.5X.

If someone speaks quickly, it can at times be hard to follow at 1.5X.  Probably the perfect speed for ‘banter-casts’ is more in the 1.3X range.  But almost no one sounds better at real speed than they do at 1.5X.

Meanwhile, there are the ‘cinemacasts’ – scripted dramas and other highly produced podcasts such as RadioLab or This American Life etc.  I’ve tried, and for me these don’t work at a higher speed.  Doubtlessly this is because they have been so ruthlessly edited in the first place.  There is no empty space and speeding up just ruins them.  (Maybe they could handle a little speeding – but not 1.5X.)

So – a couple of thoughts: 

  1. If you produce a banter-cast, maybe you should consider pitching your shows up?  Send it out at 1.25X or 1.3X – whatever sounds best on a listen.  You may find you have just created a better-sounding, more vital show.  And to be sure you’ve created a shorter one!
  2. My ideal player would allow for more variable speeds.  There are probably shows that would still sound good at 1.7X, but more to the point I’d love to have 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 and 1.4X available.

Speeding up one’s podcasts probably is not for everyone.  But this is something we all should be experimenting with.  For me, 1.5X has changed my entire perspective on this medium for the better.  I get more enjoyment in less time.  How long is my ideal podcast?  For the ‘banter-casts’ that I like…it’s 2/3rds of their original length!

Larry Rosin is the President of Edison Research.  Edison works with Fortune 500 companies, countless media companies including numerous podcast and streaming related businesses, and since 2003 has been the sole provider of election exit poll information for the top networks and newspapers.  




From Broadcaster To Podcaster

This post originally ran as a part of my AM/FM/PODCAST column in All Access

Mike Carruthers had a syndicated radio show for 37 years that faded.  Now he has a breakout top 50 podcast.

For 37 years Mike Carruthers hosted a successful 90 second syndicated radio feature carried by top radio stations of all formats across the country including WBZ Boston, KOMO Seattle, KXLY Spokane, WJRZ, Rochester and WNNC Charlotte, but in recent years, station clearances dropped and subsequently revenue dwindled.

So, after over 9000 episodes, Mike ended the radio show.  And like so many other radio programs, that might have been the end.  However, Mike reinvented the feature, and it is now a top 50 podcast.

I spoke with him about the reinvention of “Something You Should Know:”

Podcasts are different from broadcasts — you have done both.  What are the biggest differences?

The big difference starts at the listener experience. Since a listener proactively choses a podcast, he or she is more invested than a radio listener who listens to whatever happens to be on. So there isn’t as much need to dazzle and keep the listener from leaving because he or she made the appointment in the first place. So as a producer, my focus is on the content – not so much about what’s coming up and giving reasons for listeners to stick around. If the content is good, they’ll stay.

Also, podcasting is more relaxed. I guess because it’s recorded and you can always go back and edit or do it over – and things don’t have to time out perfectly. It’s not as “strict” as radio.  Frankly I think it is more fun to do a podcast. I can be myself and take my time. I really enjoy the freedom.

But there are a lot of similarities which is why I wish more radio people would get into podcasting. 

How does your podcast differ from the radio feature in construction/length?  

The two are very different.

The radio feature is exactly 90 seconds and runs five days a week. The podcast is 30-40 minutes- twice weekly. For the radio show, I find 3 or 4 “nuggets” that the guest says and write my part around it. For the podcast, I use the entire interview with a little editing. Also, the podcast typically contains 2 guests and some other interesting “intel.” The two are very different.

Also, the network commercials in the radio show are sold by United Stations and I never hear them – they are inserted at the distribution point. For the podcast, all the commercials are read by me and are typically endorsement-style commercials.

Why not just take the short form content you have already assembled and put it into podcast form?  

I actually did that. It ran for many years on iTunes. I never really knew what to do with it. All the experts said there was no real market for a 90 second podcast – it is just too short. For people to go to the trouble to download and listen to something that only lasts a minute and a half seemed to be asking a lot. I guess I believed them so I never really tried to do much with it. When I decided to launch the long-form podcast I pulled the short form version from iTunes so there was no confusion. 

Who did the radio show target? Who does the podcast target?

That’s an interesting question – because the real answer, from a producer point of view is, that the radio show targeted program directors and the podcast targets listeners. The only way I could get my radio show heard was to design and produce a radio show that PDs would accept. In the early days that was a lot easier. And in those days we had a lot more music stations so the audience was split 50/50 male and female. We still have a few music stations, but it is harder to attract new affiliates.

The radio show has always been sold to advertisers as primarily a 25-54 program. For the podcast, I am trying to go a little younger. Wondery, the podcast network we are affiliated with, conducted an opt-in survey (so not that scientific) but they found our audience skewed female – and younger than the radio show.

Why did the radio show run out of gas? 

The network radio business just isn’t what it used to be. There is a lot of downward pressure on ad rates and there just isn’t the advertiser demand there once was. It has gotten so hard to acquire new affiliates – and, over time every show loses affiliates. As a result, the audience declines, the revenue declines and it continues to spiral downward. I was making far less than I used to. It is hard to watch the decline when there really isn’t any hope of it coming back. It was time to pull the plug.

People in radio think there is no little or money in podcasting.  It sounds like you would disagree.  

Oh my! There is a lot of money in podcasting and more and more advertisers keep showing up.  For now, it is mostly direct response advertisers – but the cost per thousand rate advertisers pay is MUCH higher in podcasting than radio. There are a lot of people making a lot of money in podcasting. Sure, most people who have a podcast don’t make money but most people with a YouTube channel don’t make money either. If you can attract an audience you can’t help but make money. Anyone who says there is no money in podcasting doesn’t understand the math. 

What does Wondery do for you?  

They do a couple of things really well. Hernan Lopez, the CEO is one of the smartest guys I know when it comes to the business aspects of podcasting. I learn something every time I talk with him. Wondery is very good at selling advertising. They have great relationships with the ad agencies and are constantly developing new ones. In a sense, they work much like a radio network like Westwood One or Premiere. They represent podcasts to advertisers. Also, all the shows under their banner help each other with cross promotion. They have a good relationship with Apple which enables their podcasts to get on the “feature” page on iTunes which is very valuable real estate and drives a lot of new listening.

What kind of traffic/downloads are you getting? 

When we started, I was getting 10 -100 downloads a day. Frankly it was discouraging. But I kept at it – along with the help of my partner Ken Williams who was one of the founders of Dial Global Radio Networks (later Westwood One). He is also one very smart media guy and we kept trying things and experimenting and after about 4 months made onto the Top 100 chart of all podcasts on iTunes. That was a game changer. 

Now, 8 months after launching we’ve gone from 100 downloads a day to an average of over 8,000 downloads a day and our audience has grown by a one-third every month since Dec..

What are the top factors in people discovering your podcast?

Getting on the iTunes chart was the biggest thing. But before we got there, we were just doing the standard promotion with the key being consistency. I can see why people give up on podcasting because it is hard to keep at it on those days when it doesn’t seem like it is working. Having guests promote their appearance on social media has been very helpful. But it isn’t like there is one magic way to promote. It’s doing a lot of little things consistently that grows the audience over time. 

Advice for other long time radio people thinking about podcasting and other platforms?  

There’s a learning curve. While podcasting is similar to radio, there is a lot to learn.  But I certainly think it is worth the effort. With radio talent employment opportunities dwindling, doing a podcast seems like a natural transition for radio people. I have a training program for people who are seriously interested. You can find information at:

Frankly I would love to see more commercial radio people in podcasting. The skills and talents radio people have developed are exactly the ones that so many non-radio podcasters struggle with. For example, the ability to project a personality, to interview and draw people out, to add production value, to use your voice to convey emotion, to be brief and get to the point, etc.

Like many people, I always considered myself a “radio guy.” Radio is all I have ever done since I was 16. But sometimes progress dictates change. I am thankful I found podcasting because it uses the skills and talents I have used for years in radio while allowing me to grow in a whole new medium. 

Congratulations to Mike.  I’m not sure whether it was foresight or necessity that was the driving force, but reinvention is often a necessity in the entertainment business.  And, hey, it’s still audio … in this case, just not emanating from a transmitter. 










Raise Your voice: Seven Top Questions About Voice Assistant Devices

We teamed up with Jacobs Media a few weeks ago to launch Sonic Ai, a company focused on developing skills and strategies for the new exploding category of voice assistant devices.

Not surprisingly, there is a great deal of interest in the radio business regarding these devices. The potential for radio is significant as it brings "radios" back into the home.  

We returned recently from presentations and meetings at the NAB, and The World-Wide Radio Summit.  We have also been on a series of conference calls with radio stations and groups.  Here are seven of the top questions we are being asked:

Are these things really a big deal?

Like a rocket ship.  They will grow 130% this year.  It’s one of the fastest electronic product introductions in history. Somewhere between 7 and 11% of Americans already have access to these devices. Analysts expect 27 million to be sold by the end of this year.  Microsoft just announced their “Cortana” device and Apple is expected to enter shortly. 

Very funny parody which ran on SNL Saturday 5/13/17

You know you have made it into the mainstream when Saturday Night Live does a parody:

Why is this good for radio?

It is becoming harder to find radios in the home.  The younger the individual, the less likely they are to have a radio where they live. We have seen various studies including Jacobs Techsurvey ’13 and Edison Research’s Infinite Dial which estimate over 30% of millennials don’t have a radio at home. Just walk into any Best Buy and see if you can find radios, or clock radios.    

On the other hand, voice assistant devices are at the front of the store and end up in bedrooms, family rooms and kitchens.   

Effectively, this puts a radio back in the home.  But it also puts Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music and every other radio station stream one simple voice-request away.  So, while we love the idea of radio back in the home, we don’t think having a stream of the station is an automatic win.

What do people do on these devices?

Topping the list is audio, from various sources including streaming services, podcasts and radio stations.  People love to ask questions, get the news, check sports scores, turn on lights and more options appear seemingly daily.

Who are using these things?

Unlike many devices which start young, this one has pretty broad appeal.  However, it’s centered with millennials (18-34). 

On the Amazon Echo, the system defaults to Tune-in, so why do we need you guys?

We knew you would ask that one.  Try your station and see if the Amazon or Google devices find it.  It works pretty well for stations with call letters as their main invocation. But it doesn't work handily for a lot of stations.  

Stations utilizing names such as Star, Kiss, Lite, Amp, Mix, Z104, can be a problem for the Echo.  There are 55 stations named “Kiss” on the iHeart platform and 41 named “Mix” on Tune-In.  The device gets confused. The way around this is for a station is to build a proprietary naming “skill” for identification so that the system recognizes "More 101."   That circumvents the problem. We design and build those. 

Important?  If you have an Echo go ahead and say “play Z100” and you will likely get a country station in Indiana.  

But there is more to it than a station stream.  

There are thousands of radio stations on these devices, what can a station do to differentiate itself? 

Our mantra as content guys: What else can we do beyond the stream?

We are thinking about this question non-stop and developing "smart skills" which feature specific morning show content, station features, podcasts, promotions, news, and original content. 

For stations with big morning shows, 80% of a top performing morning show’s content is missed every day. This is a great opportunity to build an effective time-shifting strategy making the content available at a time more convenient for the audience.  

We are also developing exclusive original content that compliments our clients strategic goals. 

Will listening on these devices help my ratings?

If your station is in a PPM market and the content is listened to within 24 hours, your station will get Nielsen credit.  This potentially unlocks listening.  It has been a huge win for TV networks who see their ratings rise as much as 40% from time-shifted viewing. 

We are working directly with Amazon and Google to maximize the potential and the user experience in this new category of the connected home.    

As Gimlet Media's Alex Blumberg says, "it is the second golden age of audio."  With so many new platforms and so much great content, it is hard to disagree.  





The Right Length for a Podcast is ...... D.W.M.T.

The debate continued last week in trade papers and blogs over how long a podcast episode should be.  Many with long experience in podcasting point to the top ranked podcasts, which typically run about an hour, as the ideal length.  A significant number are produced by public radio with a history of hour-long show blocks, and while some are time-shifted from over-the-air broadcast, most - 24 of the top 30 podcasts - are organically built as podcasts. 

The argument from longtime podcasters, is that since it is a lean-forward medium in which people select a show, podcasts appeal to an engaged audience with an expectation and desire for longer and deeper dives into topics. 

The other side of the debate comes largely from commercial broadcasters and podcast aggregators who know the tyranny of getting listeners to hang through precious quarter-hours of over-the-air broadcasts and worry about listener drop-out.  

While indeed there is currently a bias to longer podcasts, there are two new entries, which are tearing up the podcast charts and their length may be instructive.

The Daily from the New York Times runs about 20 minutes and has had 27 million downloads since its inception in February.  NPR’s new “Up First” began a few weeks ago and rocketed to the top of the charts and runs about 12 minutes each day.  Both are thoughtfully constructed with busy commuters in mind and clearly the short length is part of the appeal and success of these programs. 

The optimal length for a podcast is not easy to determine. There are hard-to-listen-to shorter podcasts and engaging longer ones. The larger, and more complex issue goes back to an old Winston cigarette commercial; "It's not how long you make it, but how you make it long." Quality rules.

Here is another thing to consider; audio is generally consumed while people are engaged in other activities, whether it be driving, walking the dog, cleaning the dishes, or at the gym. Through many focus groups and studies of listening patterns I have seen over the years, people stop listening when they are done with an activity.  No one sits in the car at the parking lot at work.  No one stays on the treadmill longer – okay that one may just be me. 

Content should be designed with the end-user in mind.  One clear finding in just about any media use study is people report an abundance of choice and a scarcity of time. What's the listener attrition on longer podcasts episodes?  Do people look at time codes and determine the length they want?

Print and digital journalists, have experienced a change in consumption largely dependent on time, place and device in use.  A brief mobile news update in the morning is potentially different than a weekend read. 

While at The Worldwide Radio Summit last week, I was reminded of the importance of actual use patterns driving podcast length. Fred Jacobs, President of Jacobs Media debuted Techsurvey '13 in which they collect data from thousands of audio listeners. The accompanying chart shows varied activities - note people could choose more than one option for this question.


When audio creators look at content development through the prism of the end-user, and factor in how and when people actually consume the program, it should inform some of the architectural aspects of the show.

Here's a good axiom to follow - DWMT: "Don't Waste My Time"

More than ever, listeners penalize media outlets for wasting their time. So here's a good axiom to follow - DWMT: "Don't Waste My Time."   

Go as long as you must......then stop.

Few will stick around if they are not being informed or entertained. They have choices.  

At Podcast Movement this August, my company, Amplifi Media and Nuvoodoo will team to present a breakthrough video study in which we interview real people about how they relate, react and listen to podcasts. Do they look at time codes?  Do they bail on longer podcasts? Do they select by the subject line?  It is revealing and might change some thinking about the relationship between podcaster and listener.  






Amplifi Introduces New Joint Venture With Jacobs Media - SONICAi

For the past few years, I have been immersed in the world of on-demand audio.  The proliferation of the smartphone and great new audio content have been the catalysts to sharp growth in podcast consumption.  Today, 67 million people listen to podcasts each month, and among 18-34-year-olds, the growth and penetration is impressive and points the way to systemic change.   

While listening to podcasts is getting easier, there is still plenty of friction in selecting, downloading and playing them.  What if that process was reduced simply to asking for a program and it magically started playing? 

That is the promise and potential of voice assistants.  According to data from Jacob Media’s latest Tech Survey report, 11% of households already have access to one of these devices. That is crazy fast.

Amazon’s Echo, in particular, has become a juggernaut in a short period of time.  Along with Goggle Home, sales are projected to hit 27 million units this year.  Gartner predicts that 75% of U.S. homes will have one by 2020.  That’s less than three years away.    

The implications for podcasting and radio are huge.

All of this is the catalyst to a new and exciting partnership we are announcing today:

Amplifi Media is joining forces with Jacobs Media’s Mobile App Development unit, Jacapps. 

Today we are debuting a new joint venture, SONICAi.”  This new company develops “skills” for voice command devices.  We strategize, design and create spoken word software for voice assistants.

Our partners in this new startup are two longtime friends and business associates, Fred and Paul Jacobs.  We have a long history. Fred and I worked together at ABC Radio in the 70’s and later when I lived in Detroit, there were countless excursions to a rib place nearby. Jacobs Media was a valued partner during my time with Saga Communications.  In addition, Robert Kernen, who heads Jacapps, is a longtime colleague.  All of this creates a perfect environment for the development of solutions and strategies for broadcast and podcast. 

Joining us is Lee Davis.  Lee is a top-flight media manager, having run WFAN, and WINS in New York and headed national sales at Univision Radio.

We are not the first to this space.  But we’re positioned as the company where a team of strategic programmers will attack radio’s opportunities to accurately access radio streams and go beyond to create “skills” that we believe will drive ratings, revenue, and brands.

We also see voice assistants as a leveler on the playing field for podcasts.  On these devices, it is just as easy to access a podcast as Spotify.  Just ask. 

Radio continues to be challenged in the home.  With some imagination, these devices open pathways to engagement with listeners which go way beyond a station stream.  Our vision includes audio clips, features, podcasts and services which are designed for time shifting, retention and growth. 

For podcasters, discovery, ease of navigation and easy to recall utterances will be key growth factors. 

Here is a video which describes what SONICAi – or Sai – is all about:

The website is

We are very excited about this new venture and the possibilities and solutions ahead with voice assistants.  

I am looking forward to speaking about podcasting at Canadian Music Week on Wednesday (4/19) of this week in Toronto.  

I am looking forward to speaking about podcasting at Canadian Music Week on Wednesday (4/19) of this week in Toronto.  



How Stephen Colbert Went From Worst to First

Producer Chris Licht conferring during a taping. Chad Batka for The New York Times

Producer Chris Licht conferring during a taping. Chad Batka for The New York Times

Stephen Colbert’s late night show was essentially on life support.  Since the program’s debut, ratings significantly trailed Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel. CBS Chief Les Moonves was worried and brought in a new show producer.  Today, Colbert is the leader in late night. 

The difference was a deep rethink of the role the program filled versus their late night competition, combined with pivoting to the strength of its talent.  Today’s Colbert "Late Show" is far more political; certainly benefiting from the Trump resistance.  Beyond that, the show plays more closely to Colbert's origins with The Daily Show and his character on the Colbert Report.

For programmers producers and talent, whether broadcast or podcast, the lessons in Colbert’s ascension are plentiful as chronicled in this New York Times article. "How Stephen Colbert finally found his elusive groove."

Without a strategy of differentiation, many shows and podcasts will tread water or disappear. 

In radio, there are far too many indistinguishable “Biff and Bonnie” type morning shows.  They all do the same trivia contests and have the same take on entertainment news.  Programmers scratch their heads wondering why the program is not growing.  While sometimes it is a lack of talent, which will certainly doom a show, often it is the dearth of a differentiating strategy.

The same holds true in a sea of 350,000 podcasts. No matter the subject, there are plenty of choices – there are 27 podcasts about crocheting.  How can one show stand out from the pack?  What is measurably better or different? Those questions remain elusive for too many programs.  

Without a thoughtful strategy of differentiation, many shows and podcasts will tread water or disappear. 

In the case of Colbert, his cast and crew are the same, but there is now great clarity regarding content selection, direction and presentation.  Colbert’s new producer, Chris Licht’s focus was not on how to be good – Colbert is good - but how to be different.  His scouting report; "this is all over the place. This doesn't seem cohesive." By focusing on viewer (or listener) needs, expectations and seizing on hot topics, they have captured the moment and built a show for the times we live in, thus filling a void.  

There is a lot of content out there.  There is a lot of talent out there.  

The win is the combination of talent + strategy.  

The article is a great read for content creators and talent.  

I will be moderating a great podcast panel at Canadian Music week, Wednesday April 19 in Toronto.  

I will be moderating a great podcast panel at Canadian Music week, Wednesday April 19 in Toronto.  



You Call That a Morning Show?

Ensconsed near the top of Apple’s podcast chart since February is a daily juggernaut "morning show."  It is not, however, from a traditional broadcast source or a podcast aggregator. Rather, “The Daily” is from the New York Times, and is posted each day in time to be heard during the morning commute.

"The Daily" is a highly produced 20-minute show which looks at a few big stories in the news using the resources of the NY Times reporting staff. They use the phrase, "this is how the news should sound."  The show's host is well regarded New York Times political reporter Michael Barbaro. 

This week, NPR joined The New York Times with its own Monday-Friday morning podcast, “Up First.”  The new podcast, available weekdays by 6am is a 10-minute conversation between NPR journalists getting listeners up to speed on two of the day’s top stories.  Morning Edition Executive Producer Sarah Gilbert calls it a “hybrid of on-demand and live broadcast news” using segments from the 5am hour of Morning Edition.

NPR opted for the short 10-minute length based on listening patterns to its popular terrestrial show "Morning Edition" and its mobile app, NPR One. 

NPR’s hope is to reach a younger audience, many who are current podcast listeners but may not be NPR broadcast listeners. Gilbert says, “we see this as a way to create the NPR loyalists of the future.”  

It is always tough to review a show in its first few days.  Everything new evolves. "Up First" is really interesting. In some ways it seems like a cross- promotional tool for the "Morning Edition" radio show, but at the same time, an entry point to invite their large, and more youthful, podcast-only following to sample NPR's news product. 

We will see how it evolves.   

NPR has aggressively developed a robust podcast platform. Its CEO, former commercial radio executive Jarl Mohn, talks often about the importance of innovation on all devices and platforms. This is clearly another step to make NPR content available beyond the transmitter. 

Most certainly, "The Daily" and "Up First" will not be the only podcast content produced for the lucrative morning hours., for one, has prepared a daily rundown of their top stories in podcast form for some time.  

There will be more.  

With linear radio, people tune-in to a show always in progress.  

It is empowering for listeners to have content available for on-demand consumption at a time that fits busy personal morning schedules. It fits the larger arc of listener control and the pivot to smartphone listening.

Also significant, in these cases, the innovation comes from a newspaper experimenting and mastering content on multiple platforms and public radio pushing its own boundaries.  

With podcasting on the rise, now a "morning show" need not come via transmitter.  

I will be moderating the podcast panel at Canadian Music Week in Toronto, April 19

I will be moderating the podcast panel at Canadian Music Week in Toronto, April 19



Why Many Radio Station Podcasts Underperform

One of the reasons commercial radio stations seem to have difficulty leveraging successful podcasts is because of basic architectural differences between podcasts and broadcasts.

Radio programmers have been schooled to maximize ratings with formatics designed to keep people engaged for multiple quarter hours of listening, while podcasts are generally built for longer listening and deeper-dives.

For the most part, commercial radio is format-based. People join their Top 40, Classic Rock or Talk station in progress. The show is always on and people join in and drop out all day.

In describing radio station usage, someone once told me, it is like a train which people board and leave at stops along the way. Some ride for just a stop or two, some stay on longer.

Podcasts are constructed and listened to differently. The most significant variance from its radio cousin; everyone starts listening to a podcast at the beginning. In that sense, podcasts are more like TV shows with a distinct beginning, middle and end. Many are story-based, or interview or topic-driven. No matter which form, the expectation of a podcast listener is relatively clear about what they will hear as they have chosen to download and play a specific podcast. 

Currently, most podcast audio from radio stations is time-shifted from on-air, and while this makes sense, it is where broadcasters often get stuck. They take a four-hour radio show, strip out the music and commercials and post several hours of audio, leaving it to listeners to do their own curation.

Generally, "seek-stop-seek-stop" is a bad experience and too much work for anyone but the most enthusiastic fan. In this instant gratification world, it is a lot of work and almost always an unrewarding quest.

Don't misread. There is an important and viable market for time-shifted content. The average radio listener misses 80% of their favorite morning or talk show each day. But lazily slapping it up on the internet in long-form ignores the intrinsic difference between podcasts and commercial radio.

Just as show clips have become a vital tool for late night TV hosts, short, curated audio segments can do the same for radio.

Do the work for the listener.

This post originally ran on All Access as part of my AM/FM/PODCAST series.  
I will be moderating the podcast panel at Canadian Music Week

I will be moderating the podcast panel at Canadian Music Week



Do People Listen To An Entire Podcast?

The duration of a podcast is a touchy subject among many legacy podcasters.  Some producers run hour and longer podcasts with pride.  Most are confident that their "fans" are on board for the full ride. Indeed some are.  

However, producers coming from commercial and non-commercial radio tend to be more wary of program length and watch the clock more closely. This is often the result of years of experience with PPM meters and viewing other listening metrics, which for broadcasters, means recognition of the tyranny of radio buttons and for podcasters the stop and delete buttons.  

Radio broadcasters know the average time spent listening per occasion to a station is 10 minutes. TV producers run short segments during news broadcasts.  The average length of a YouTube video is 4 minutes 20 seconds.  People graze, lose attention and change content sources.  

Holding attention is ever more challenging even when people are self-selecting a topic of interest as they do with podcasts.  

My daughter listens to a great food podcast and when her commute is done, so is her time with the podcast.

Many years of radio programming has conditioned me to urge efficient content packaging - regardless of length - and always respectful of self indulgence.  

The item below from RAIN NEWS Chief Brad Hill includes a quote from me - thanks Brad -  but more significantly it focuses on some of the science of podcast length. The recently released Infinite Dial study, which is self-reported data, indicates high completion rates for podcasts. That's great news and indeed it is likely that podcasts have longer "time-spent" than most audio media.  It is also true, however, that not all podcasts are created equal. NPR, which includes some of the best crafted podcasts in the business has evidence to show how tough it really is to engage and hold an audience for a long period of time.  

My advice will always be; go on as long as you need, then stop.  And, if you don't edit, the audience will do it for you.  Everyone's time is a precious commodity.

The article below originally appeared in RAIN NEWS.  

The Download on Podcasts: Podcast completion rate — it’s still about length

One of the most interesting, revealing, and uplifting results of The Infinite Dial consumer survey revealed last week by Edison Research and Triton Digital is the podcast completion metric. To the surprise of many in the industry, 40% of listeners stick through entire podcast episodes, and another 45% listen to “most” of their shows. So, 85% of podcast listeners hear pre-roll and mid-roll advertisements (if they don’t skip through them), and nearly half of those people could hear a post-roll too.

Obviously good news for the ad-driven podcast economy. Also, it must be mentioned, good for Edison/Triton to ask the question, cutting through a bit of black-box mystery which shrouds consumption data across podcast networks.

Individual podcast platforms, hosts, and podcatch apps do collect detailed analytics of how people listen. That’s fine for network-specific storytelling to advertisers, but having network-agnostic data across the U.S. listening population brings authority to the information like nothing else.

Specific network measurement deepen the story of completion rates, resulting in a fuller picture of how podcast producers can encourage listeners to stick with the program. In this week’s edition of Hot Pod, Nick Quah’s newsletter, there are pointers to two networks which emphasize that podcast length is an important predictor of how sticky the shows are.

First, Nicholas DePrey, Analytics Manager at NPR, furnished a graphic illustrating how long length encourages drop-off:

Second, an on-demand audio app called th60db corroborated that reality from its measurements:

Stickiness and length have been tied together in Steve Goldstein’s mind since he founded Amplifi Media. In a RAIN News guest column from 2015, Goldstein gathers other datasets: “Recent analysis of listening habits from the NPR One app reveals that a mere 18 words into a segment, people are deciding whether they will continue listening. Another recent and equally compelling set of data from one of the podcast aggregators, shows an attrition rate of 40% in the first 7 minutes. Longer podcasts should expect that 2/3rds of the audience is gone sometime between 20 and 60 minutes.”

Of course, some shows thrive in long form, with their loyal fans probably wishing they were longer. That level of success is usually hard-won. Steve Goldstein’s recommendation: “In a time-starved world, the empirical evidence is overwhelming; the longer the podcast, the less chance there is for completion.”



5 Key Takeaways From The Infinite Dial About Podcasting

Edison Research and Triton Digital released its 2017 edition of the Infinite Dial which is always a treasure trove of data about all audio consumption.  Here are a few observations about podcasting:

Over half of podcast listening takes place at home – 52% of all podcast listening occurs in and around the home. We have seen a drop in the number of linear radios in the home and thus listenership deteriorating for years. Go to Best Buy and try to find a radio.  Owned music, Music Choice from TV, streaming and other sources have benefited.  Add podcasts to the list. The popularity of Bluetooth speakers has likely aided the ascension of podcast listening at home.

In car listening is on the rise –  18% report listening most often in cars.  To date, in car listening has been low because of complicated connectivity issues and bad infotainment experiences. All of this is becoming easier with effortless Bluetooth and smartphone cable connections.  Streaming has also benefited greatly from improved connectivity. Look at car company commercials today for affirmation that connectivity sells autos.  The rise of in car listenership is largely before the ascension of Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto, which is on the increase.  

7% of Americans have voice assisted devices – That was fast. The Infinite Dial projects 20 million people with devices are out there today.  Estimates of how many have been sold vary greatly, but forecasters expect 24 million Amazon Echo and Google home devices will be sold this year. Voice Assistants are great for podcasting - it removes the friction of choosing and downloading.  Now all one must do is “ask.” Voice Assistants will be good for all audio.  Radio stations have high hopes it will get them back into the home, but will music streaming and podcasts be bigger beneficiaries?

Podcasting is becoming more like streaming – Podcast listening has rapidly changed from downloads to on-demand streams. In this year's Infinite Dial study, 77% report clicking on a podcast and listening right away. This is great for advertisers and potentially great for enhanced measurement.  And of course, it is a great reminder, we live in an instant gratification world.

350,000 podcasts out there and people choose 6 – On average people subscribe to 6 podcasts.  By their own reporting, 23% listen to half or fewer of their downloaded podcasts.  Mental shelf space is critical.  How will podcasters succeed in getting onto the listener's short list?  Discovery is increasingly a critical issue for podcasters.  While great content is the starting point for success, distribution and discoverability have ascended to the top of the success wish list.  Public radio stations have benefited greatly from masterful cross-promotion of their content.  

You can find the full Infinite Dial report here



Why Better Podcast Metrics Matter

At last week’s RAIN streaming audio and podcasting advertising summit in New York, Spotify and other streaming audio suppliers boasted of mining endless torrents of data with “mood booster” playlists and addressable moments for advertisers. 

It is a level of consumer understanding way beyond anything a legacy broadcaster has ever seen.  They know who is listening, what is being listened to, when it is being heard  and can profile personal habits to enable "precision" targeting of ads to runners who are running and background energy music for people in the workplace

At the Summit, I moderated a session on podcast metrics.  On that panel, there was little discussion of rich data to profile listeners and fine-tune content.  There was a certain resignation to the paucity of data from Apple, which is the platform from which most podcasts are consumed. With limited download information, there is no reliable means to even prove a podcast was heard, never mind any of the great analytics of the audio streamers. 

The panelists, Lex Freidman from Midroll and Mark McCrery of Podtrac are smart, knowledgeable and optimistic.  Indeed, the business of podcasting is growing even with Apple providing minimal data to creators and aggregators.

Some legacy podcasters fear change to the current system as it will likely reveal small audiences for many shows.  Regardless, public radio and the IAB have made great strides to establish standards, yet rich measurement remains elusive. 

That was last week.

Fast forward to this week where I attended the Borrell Local Media conference in New York. It is a large gathering where legacy media, including newspapers, TV and a few radio broadcasters combine uneasily with various data suppliers and digital firms to bang around terms like omni-platform and customer profiling. 

A few years ago, the conference was dominated by talk about whether to develop a digital sales staff.  That seems quaint. Now the conversation centers on the need to unify buys and draw traffic across websites, apps, Facebook and other platforms. 

Companies like Facebook and Google are collecting big data and have rapidly ascended to domination of the local digital ad market to the chagrin of local media companies. More buys are going digital and so the legacy companies must rapidly develop new solutions and integrate terms like platform-messaging instead of “we’ll run your ad at 8pm in Grey’s anatomy.”   

Facebook was on hand. Watching them is both remarkable and intimidating.  They know so much about their 210 million mobile users and have quickly become the Goliath of the growing local ad spend. 20% of all smartphone time is spent on their apps.  

Who will keep track and measure across platforms and devices?  Nielsen is feverishly responding with “total audience” metrics being rolled out now.  Others will certainly pursue.  

Which leads me all the way back to podcasting.

Nielsen does not yet measure podcast listening (nor does anyone else).  That’s a big issue. 
In a local, and national eco-system relentlessly focused on cross-platform metrics, can podcasting remain an outlier and still grow and capture the escalating shift to mobile phones which are quickly becoming audio entertainment hubs? 

As with all media, sales dollars chase rating points and traffic.  Podcast measurement will need to become more robust to attract the big bucks and to learn more about their listener's desires and habits.  

Or maybe the metric thing is overblown and all of this is really a lot simpler.  As Lex Friedman said on the panel, “if they would just start measuring ears, we would instantly double our audience.”