How the podcast industry can weather the coming recession

There may be turbulent times ahead, but it’s not all doom and gloom for podcasts

Now that the Christmas and New Year festivities are out of the way, it’s time to settle back into the world of work once again - and for many of us, that likely means setting out our agendas for the coming year, and figuring out what our top priorities should be.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this - not just in terms of myself and PodPod, but also about the top concerns of you, the audience, as we march into 2023. With this in mind, now seems like a good time to gaze into my crystal ball and make some predictions for where I think the biggest opportunities - and areas of concern - will be for podcasters and podcast professionals for the next 12 months.

The main threat that’s currently looming over everyone’s heads like the Colossus of Rhodes is the prediction of a coming recession, combined with the continually-increasing cost of living. This was certainly a significant focus of our sister title Campaign’s Year Ahead breakfast event, which was held this week at London’s Regent Street Cinema in partnership with Merkle. 

Performance marketing was a topic of debate, with some speakers predicting it to take a larger portion of marketing budgets for the coming year. For the uninitiated, performance marketing essentially refers to channels where advertisers only pay based on the amount of users that take a specific action, such as registering their details or clicking through to a website. 

Unfortunately, podcasts as a broader category aren’t enormously well-suited to this kind of marketing funnel, as there’s still limited infrastructure for tracking user journeys from podcast players to external sources. Efforts are being made to improve advertisers’ ability to track potential leads within this space through tools like Chartable and Podsights, but they’re still a far cry from the trackability offered by other digital platforms. 

What this means for podcasters is that marketers may choose to hold back some of their budgets from podcast advertising - which is typically seen as a brand-building exercise, rather than a tool for driving direct sales conversion - towards more reliable pipelines. 

It’s not all doom and gloom however; podcast advertising is comparatively cheap compared to visual formats - as noted by Spotify’s EMEA head of sales Rak Patel - and so scaling-back of budgets in areas such as TV and VOD ads could lead to more money coming into podcasts from those areas. 

We may also see lateral moves within the space, as brands switch from baked-in host-read ads to vertically-focused spot ads, which can be delivered across multiple podcasts on a programmatic basis for lower cost per thousand (CPM) rates. 

The advertising opportunity within podcasts is likely to see a big surge, too. As we saw during the pandemic, the parasocial relationships the podcasts elicit can be a great comfort in times of crisis, and with an economic downturn on the horizon, there’s a very real chance that we’ll see a spike in podcast listenership as people seek solace in familiar, friendly voices. 

To compound this, the volume and popularity of current affairs shows and money management podcasts will almost certainly see big boosts - at least, if the impact of the recession is as significant as forecasted. More people will be seeking guidance on how to manage their money, and what effects the global economy will have on their finances, and organisations will (and should) be trying to cater to those needs via podcasts.

To cope with this increase in competition, podcasters will be leveraging a wider variety of marketing channels (both new and old) to maximise their audience, reach, and discoverability. This means TikTok, email marketing and good old-fashioned feed swaps will likely see a boom over the next 12 months.

It’s fair to say that it’s probably going to be a tough year all round, and podcasters themselves are no exception. For independent podcasters in particular, monetisation will be more of a priority than ever, and if advertising budgets slow or shrink, we may see a greater reliance on subscriptions revenue as podcast creators try and increase their incoming revenue to make ends meet. 

As has been frequently pointed out, recessions and other periods of economic turbulence are often the fountainhead for a renewed surge of creativity, and over the last several years, podcasting has proven itself as one of the best ways for existing and aspiring creators to channel that creativity. While the prospect of a challenging financial year is an understandable cause for anxiety, there are certainly bright spots to look forward to - particularly for those of us in the podcast industry.