Observations & Predictions at the Intersection of Comedy & Podcasting

I’m Ned Kenney, the Co-Founder & CEO of Laughable. We just launched our iOS app, which makes it easier than ever to discover the funniest podcasts from around the world. You can download it for free here. And if you want to learn more about Laughable — including our vision to build a global marketplace for comedy — please go here.

Having been up to my bloodshot, caffeine-addled eyeballs in all things comedy and podcasting over the last year and change, I wanted to share some observations and predictions about these two spaces.


Observations

  • Just like traditional radio, podcasting’s early years will be remembered for relatively raw one- and two-person shows. Longform interviews are a staple of the podcasting genre. At their best, these interviews explore deep and uncharted dimensions of a person or topic, sometimes over several transfixing hours. However, not all podcasts are home runs, and many are way too long. Many podcasters would be well served to spend more time in post-production, editing out boring segments.
  • Comedians have long invested considerable resources building personal websites that include contact info, biographical information, tour dates, YouTube clips, etc. Very few of these sites are mobile-optimized; some won’t load on a smartphone at all. This reflects a trend across the digital world: websites are dying on mobile. Which means they’re dying in general, because mobile now IS the internet. There are a few reasons for the decline of websites. The superiority of native iOS and Android apps for more immersive content consumption experiences is one. Another, even bigger one is that…
  • …these days, it’s ALL about social media. Comedians absolutely SLAY social media. Touring comics focus mainly on Twitter and Instagram. Good examples: check out Kevin Hart on Instagram and Sarah Silverman on Twitter. Younger, up-and-coming comics are all over Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Snapchat is killing it these days, too, but the ephemeral nature of its content doesn’t lend itself to things like tour dates, which limits the platform’s utility for comics.

#WhatNowTour #comedicrockstarshit #Dopepic #Hawaii

A post shared by Kevin Hart (@kevinhart4real) on

Kevin Hart, so hot right now.
  • The word ‘blog’ is lame and has never done justice to the transformative power of what blogging is, fundamentally: digitally self-published self-expression. Similarly, the word ‘podcast’ sells its own medium woefully short. This is BROADCASTING, baby. On-demand audio for the modern world. Can someone think of a better name than ‘podcast’, puhlease?

Predictions

  • Apple introduced podcasts to iTunes in 2005. Growth in listenership remained tepid for many years before it began to accelerate in 2013. Growth will continue accelerating for the next several years. In the U.S., around 57 million people have listened to a podcast in the past 30 days. Within 5 years, that number will surpass 100 million.
Sample: U.S. Population 12+; Source: Edison Research / Triton Digital (The Infinite Dial 2009–2016)
  • Podcasting got its start in people’s garages, and while it will never entirely leave those roots behind, episodes recorded in front of live audiences will keep getting bigger and bigger, both in terms of the attention they garner and the money they make for podcasters.
President Obama stopped by Marc Maron’s garage to tape an episode of WTF in June of 2015. Photo courtesy of Pete Souza / The White House
  • Talent agencies and management companies have already begun expanding their client rosters to include popular podcasters, independent of their (sometimes thin) standup CVs. Agents and managers who are experts in podcasting will wield growing clout among their colleagues — and credibility among comedians.
  • There are two important questions around podcast engagement data whose answers are still not widely available, thanks to the primordial state of podcasting analytics. (1) If an episode gets X,000 downloads, how many people actually listened? (2) Among those listeners, how many didn’t skip the ads? Once we can reliably answer these questions, maximizing downloads will become much less of a priority for podcasters. Instead, their focus will shift more singularly to developing a loyal audience that tunes in week after week — and listens to episodes in their entirety.
  • The long-run impact of better data is that podcasters will be incentivized to devise and deliver more engaging ads for clients, which will increase CPMs and attract new advertisers.
  • Podcasting’s crossing-the-Rubicon moment will come when it starts attracting brand advertisers en masse. Today, by and large, the medium only attracts direct response advertisers (I’m good on underwear and stamps for now — thx). In the U.S., brand advertisers (whose goal is primarily to establish awareness of and affinity for a brand) spend about $3 for every $1 spent by direct-response advertisers (whose goal is to spark a transaction as a direct result of exposure to their messaging). Unlocking those brand dollars at scale is the most lucrative development podcasters can hope for. Better ad delivery technology and bigger audiences are prerequisites, here.
  • For the foreseeable future, RSS 2.0 will remain the foundational technology of podcasting — and continue to frustrate people with its limitations. However, more and more companies will be using technology to innovate on the “last mile” of podcast discovery and distribution. Continued innovation in this vein will make RSS’ shortcomings less problematic for the industry.
  • Podcast apps focused on specific content verticals will gain increasing market share. Depending on the unique needs of artists and listeners, these apps will offer compelling interactivity and functionality that’s complementary to the audio. For sports podcasts, it could be footage from games, press conferences, etc. For Laughable, our key differentiator is our comedian profiles, where you can find episodes an artist has appeared on and tap straight through to her social media pages. This makes sense for comedians but wouldn’t be logical for most other groups.
  • Going a level up from podcasts: the spoken word ecosystem in general — encompassing standup comedy, audiobooks, podcasts, and so on— will make huge strides over the next several years. Entrenched players like Spotify, Pandora, E.W. Scripps/Midroll/Stitcher, and Amazon/Audible are pouring tons of money into the space, and startups like Anchor.fm are doing really exciting things around user-generated content. So long as audience growth continues apace, there’s plenty of room for myriad companies — and artists — to thrive. The biggest winners of all, though, will be consumers.