Podcasts will kill the radio star: Acast
Radio consumers and advertisers are sick of its “old-school finger-in-the-air measurement” and will abandon it in droves if the industry doesn’t get its act together.
This was the argument of Acast’s SVP of content in the UK, Susie Warhurst, who said if radio hosts don’t move with consumers and advertisers across to podcasts they “risk being consigned to the history books”.
“At Acast, there aren’t many weeks that pass where we don’t get approached by a radio presenter, coming to us saying they’re fed up with the confines of radio, and they want to launch a podcast,” she said at Advertising Week. “They’re tired of being told what to say, having no ownership of their idea, having no revenue that comes from the ads that they voice, and not being able to build their own brand or identity. It’s all dictated by the radio execs and they’re tired of being background noise.”
Her stance was supported by Steve Ackerman, the chief content officer and vice chairman of Somethin’ Else – one of the UK’s biggest independent audio producers across podcasts and radio.
Ackerman, however, noted that the radio talent itself was half the problem.
The debaters (Clockwise from top left): Steve Ackerman, Matt McAllester (moderator), Susie Warhurst, Phil Riley and Angie Greaves
“Imagine a world where the majority of voices you hear are older, white blokes with deep voices and very bad one-line dad jokes. Or a world where ‘great’ creative content is seen as members of the public phoning in to shout at each other. Or a world where the height of creativity is playing 10 songs in a row. I present for you, radio,” he told the virtual audience.
“Imagine a world where debate is limited to a narrow world view, where diverse voices are limited to ‘specialist’ shows or urban radio stations… Imagine hearing folks on entertaining breakfast shows talking about newspaper stories – remember those? newspapers – or what they watched last night [on TV]. Oh, that would be radio again.”
And then, he said, there’s those in charge.
“Imagine a small number of mainly white blokes making decisions on what you can or cannot hear because they’re the ones who choose what constitutes a great idea, and not only that, they choose what time of day they think you should hear it. Yep, you guessed it, it’s our old, with the emphasis on old, friend, radio.”
He argued podcasting is the “shiny new place” which offers joy, happiness and “creative ideas in abundance”. In podcasting, creativity and all voices are welcome, he said, making it “audio creative heaven”.
The debate’s moderator, Matt McAllester, the CEO of Intelligence Squared, did push back on the diversity claim, noting that even the podcast charts, and those earning big bucks from the medium, are predominantly white men.
Warhurst conceded this is a problem, but contended podcasting will move faster to address, and alleviate, the problem, than podcasting will.
“Yes, I think that’s a real, serious issue. Podcasting has to 100% face that. What I would say is the audiences are increasingly diverse, now the gender split is 50/50. That was not the case five years ago… It’s dramatically shifted and the age group has also come down quite significantly as well.
“But you’re 100% right that the top charts are still far too much filled with white men. Companies like Acast, we take that very seriously, because we absolutely think it’s crucial to diversify voices in podcasting…. We have time to change it and companies like ours are really committed to doing so and are putting serious investment into this sector, whereas I don’t think radio can claim the same.”
Ackerman said radio had had decades to offer diversity and to diversify, “but, well, playing 10 records in a row was obviously a more pressing matter”.
On the issue of measurement, Warhurst had another potshot at COVID-19’s impact on radio’s research process in the UK – issues which were mirrored here in Australia.
“You’ll probably hear today that radio has unrivalled scale. But how exactly is that measured? … In the UK, they go door to door and ask a sample of the population which radio stations they may have listened to, and for how long, and they have a guess at what that would look like if that was the whole country. It’s so archaic, that they currently have to pause while they look for a more modern way of actually gathering that data that doesn’t involve face-to-face contact.
“It’s not much more than a guess, which means there’s no way to reliably and confidently prove any return on investment for advertisers. And that’s why ad revenue is just as quickly following the audiences out the door.”
Phil Riley, the former CEO of Chrysalis Radio and Orion Media, however, said podcasting was getting too big for its boots, and radio wasn’t going anywhere.
“Right now, even being generous, podcasting is about a 10th of the size of the radio industry,” he said, contending it simply couldn’t overtake the sector.
“Breakfast TV didn’t kill off radio, neither did the internet, nor did [TV], YouTube or 101 other lazy, bogus headlines. I think we’re safe too from being killed off by podcasting.”
Prior to the debate, 53% of live viewers agreed that podcasting would kill radio. 30% disagreed with the notion, and 15% were undecided.
By the debate’s end, sentiment had shifted to podcasting, with 66% agreeing that podcasting would kill radio. Those who disagreed fell to 28%.