Folks, step right up. It is miraculous. It is rare and unusual. It’s a bona fide frrrrrrreak of nature! You will not believe your eyes. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, venture into the tent and see something rarer than a two-headed goat, a panda-roo, an Alabama liberal! Feast your eyes on a wonder of the world! Yes, friends, behold and take care not to swoon:
It’s an obscenely profitable, ad-supported media enterprise!
No joke. In a world of fragmentation, aggregation, plummeting CPMs, ad avoidance and audience parsimony -- in other words, amid the most chaotic media scenario in 300 years -- there are actually ways to build an audience and turn a buck.
I refer, of course, to The Adam Carolla Show.
Okay, it ain’t the Metropolitan Opera. Or, say, Serial. The ACS is a free-form daily podcast, 90 minutes of interviews, anecdotes, punchlines and patter for the benefit mainly of people with penises -- not altogether unlike cable’s erstwhile The Man Show where he (and his then sidekick Jimmy Kimmel) became prominent by playing to the lowest common inseminator. This is a fellow who markets a wine-and-fruit drink actually branded “Mangria.”
For several years after leaving The Man Show, Carolla hosted a syndicated morning drive-time program with the unenviable brief of a) replacing Howard Stern on terrestrial radio b) into the teeth of the Great Recession. The Adam Carolla Show lasted until early 2009, whereupon he began a podcast of the same name. It earned not a penny for a year and a half.
In 2014, it earned more than $2 million on revenues $4.4 million -- including $3.1 million in advertising. Or so reports Carolla and his CFO, Mike August, who figured they present a pretty good counter narrative to the tales of gloom, doom and certain death I’ve been spinning for 10 years.
“We are very comfortably growing our advertising base,” August says. “We add new sponsors constantly. In the last week we’ve added Burger King and Geico.”
That was a key development, because those deals are more or less standard brand advertising, versus the direct-response stuff they’d been limited to until recently.
The growth, Carolla says, has been remarkable. “It started as nothing. It was a year and a half of we’re not doing anything. Then (advertisers offered) ‘every time our phone rings, we’ll give you a dime.’ And now it’s gradually starting to move into brand stuff.” The success he credits partly to his audience -- 1.1 million ages 25-44 -- and partly to the precise measurability of podcasts.
“When I did terrestrial radio they went off a little diary which people filled out every month with a golf pencil. There wasn’t any accountability. “
There were also much higher costs.
“I saw a lot of fat in the radio business,” he says. “We don’t have a whole bunch of executives floating around here doing nothing. Big high rise buildings on Wilshire Boulevard. When you walk into those buildings it would be a couple of floors with hundreds of people with a pretty big monthly nut.“
So, yeah, lean and mean. Unlike the the bad old days, nobody is doing coke lines out of strippers’ bellybuttons. Nobody is whisked by black cars to the corporate jet. Carolla and August flew to Vegas this weekend via Southwest. There are also diverse revenue streams. In 2014, they did $25,000 selling merchandise, $420,000 on live-show box office and $700,000 on affiliate fees from Amazon.
“Everything from diapers to spark plugs,” August says. ”if you click through to our site, or bookmark our site, and you then you go to Amazon we get a 3-day grace period for anything you purchase. It’s the greatest business ever. Click on the Amazon button because we get a little love back from whatever you do. We do about 100,000 clicks a month to Amazon and about a 33% conversion.”
Now podcasting is enjoying a boom at the moment, and one very real possibility is that the novelty will lead where the rest of the internet has: to the ruinous economics of glut. But August doesn’t see it that way. He sees audience growing with no significant increase in overhead. And he sees their modest ad rates going up with listenership.
“We haven’t even scratched the surface of what this medium is worth,” he declares.
Which, if true, would be bad for the freak show industry, but good for everyone else.
The people proclaiming the golden age of podcasting deserve the snark. But the medium deserves attention. As others have pointed out, where else in this digital world are you getting people's attention on a weekly (or daily in Carolla's case) basis for 15, 30, 45 minutes or more? Podcasts do that. Compare that to the micro-attention span of Buzzfeed readers, etc.
Podcasts would be much more popular if it weren't for the damn name. Most consumes hear the word "podcast" and automatically think it will be too confusing or too geeky for them to care.
Again, as others have pointed out, as more and more podcast content shows up for easy consumption via in-car stereo systems, the format will become even more popular. Would you rather listen to a 30 minute podcast with 1 or 2 minutes of well produced ads? Or, would your rather subject yourself to the monstrosity of terrestrial radio where you'd get 28 minutes of ads, and a 2 minute song or interview squeezed in there somewhere?