AI, video, and subscriptions: the hottest topics at this year’s Podcast Show

All the top highlights from this year’s Podcast Show

Credit - Luke Dyson

The second-annual Podcast Show took place this week at the Business Design Centre in Islington and featured a huge range of panels and sessions from audio industry experts, and endless networking opportunities with creators, producers, CEOs, and many more. 

During many of the sessions, there were a number of topics that came up repeatedly, including the evolution of artificial intelligence and how it can be used in podcasting, the popularity of video podcasts and the need to diversify your podcast format, and how to increase your revenue stream in a sustainable way through subscriptions. 

Based on learnings from industry leaders such as Veritone, GlassBox Media, Magellan AI, and more, we’ve put together a list of the key takeaways from this year’s Podcast Show.

How AI could be your ultimate helping hand 

While AI technology isn’t new by any means, using it in podcasting has become a major point of discussion this year. Recently, production company Distorted experimented with the limits of AI by using the software to create and release a narrative podcast in just 24 hours, which used its capabilities to create everything from the script and voiceover to music and artwork. Audio giant Spotify has also reportedly started to experiment with using AI for host-read ads, according to The Ringer founder Bill Simmons, and hinted at the potential of using AI to create personalised ads for listeners. 

According to Sean King, senior vice president of AI company Veritone, AI is “not here to displace work, it’s here to accelerate work”. While AI could be used to pick up certain areas of podcasting work or, as King called it, the low hanging fruit - such as transcription, show notes, et cetera - it shouldn’t be considered your end-all or be-all. 

“It could do 60% of the work but it won’t have the human touch,” said King. “[AI] should be the ultimate tool in your creative box, but not your only one.” 

Future innovations where AI may be used in podcasting include using synthetic voices of well-known podcast hosts to generate host-read ads, which could make it easier to increase revenue. CEO of podcast platform Glassbox Media David Segura added that for that to happen, creators need to “lean in”, as companies will have to purchase licenses and usage rights from them to use their voice. 

King also added that there are concerns regarding licensing in IP, and emphasised the importance of creators being careful about signing away the rights to their voice being cloned by AI. 

“If you’re a person of relevance and importance, you need to effectively own your clone,” said King. “The same things we expect in life, we should expect in digital. Your voice is a part of your IP so someone coming and taking that is infringing on your rights and representation of yourself.”

“We just wonder if the brand will consider [AI-voiced ads] to be authentic, even if it's perfectly read,” Segura told PodPod. “And I honestly don't know the answer to that. There's ethical and even legal questions around it, but if we could somehow leverage AI to do this much more quickly, it opens up a world of commercial possibilities for, I think, a lot of companies in the space.”

According to former Podfront managing director Ruth Fitzsimons during the advisory panel session on Preview Night, people shouldn’t be afraid of AI as there was the same “moral panic” when social media came, and from an advertising perspective, it makes complete sense to use it for host-reads. 

“It’s an opportunity, especially when the scripts are signed off by the production team and hosts,” said Fitzsimons. “It still sounds very authentic and natural.”

Fitzsimons also added that another way that AI might be commonly used in the future is for translating podcasts into other languages in order to grow the podcast’s audience in other global markets. However, these AI translation services can only really work if they are being used alongside someone who is working locally in the region that’s being targeted to fine tune the script. 

Diversifying your podcast format through video 

With the increasing popularity of video podcasting and with YouTube moving to integrate podcasts into its platform, it’s becoming more uncommon to not have video as part of your podcast’s format.

“You’re only setting yourself up for failure if you don’t have video, especially if you have a conversational podcast,” said UTA partner and head of audio Oren Rosenbaum during the advisory panel session. “All it is is broadening the form that it is currently already in.”

Amazon Music senior podcast manager Megan Bradshaw echoed that view, adding that creators and companies need to stop thinking of podcasts as just an RSS feed. Creators can also use video to promote their podcasts across social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram with short clips, but added that this won’t automatically mean that social media viewers are converting into podcast listeners. 

With the use of video podcasts on social media, it can also help creators reach audiences that wouldn’t otherwise find them on other platforms, and can especially help them reach younger generations. According to Reuters Institute journalist Nic Newmanduring a session with Sky News, video-based political podcasts will be an important feature of the next general election. 

“I think YouTube and video podcasts is obviously something that people are wrestling with,” Stak co-owner and creative director Pete Donaldson said. “The old school idea of not wanting to cannibalise your listens by putting it out on video has been consigned to the past a little bit… It sounds ridiculous to say in 2023, like it's the most exotic thing in the world, but video podcasts are still in a nascent state.” 

In terms of how YouTube can be used to increase revenue, podcast advertising database Magellan AI reported during one of the sessions that creators can monetise a lot more effectively using this platform as the advertiser renewal rate is much higher and ad load is working better for advertisers. The CEO of ad sales and hosting platform Julep, Steffen Hopf, also added at a separate session that there is an additional benefit of being able to deliver audio-only ads on YouTube which will further increase creators’ revenue stream. 

“For me personally, YouTube will be one of the biggest podcast competitors against Spotify and all these other podcast platforms,” said Hopf. “Not only because of video podcasts, but because we can deliver audio only ads on YouTube.”

“I think video is still on everyone's minds,” said Triton Digital senior vice president Sharon Taylor; “whether podcasting will become video, whether it's already video, whether video will swallow podcasting.”

Using subscriptions as a sustainable revenue model 

Due to the economic climate and uncertainty in the market, a number of podcast advertisers started to pull back in the past year, which led to financial difficulties with podcast companies having to cut back on costs and reduce the number of investments they’re making. 

While podcast advertising is still growing - the IAB projects revenue to more than double between 2022 and 2025 and grow to $4 billion (£3.2B) - podcast companies and creators have started to look at other, more sustainable options to continue increasing their revenue in a way that would not be impacted by the overall macroeconomic environment.

According to Donald Albright, CEO of content creation company Tenderfoot TV, one way that companies could look into diversifying their revenue streams is through subscriptions. “If you have a direct line to your consumer then you have a lifeline, whether you’re in bad economic times or not,” Albright said. 

A number of podcast companies have already started to do this, including Wondery and Apple Podcasts, which offer monthly subscription packages to podcasts with incentives such as ad-free listening, early access to episodes, and bonus content. The New York Times recently launched an audio journalism application for news subscribers to listen to exclusive podcast content as well as access its back catalogue of other podcasts in one space. 

Additionally, independent creators can also use subscription platforms such as Patreon and Substack to create their own tiered packages for subscribers and have creative freedom on what bonus content they want to offer. 

“Based on [The New York Times audio journalism app], they're moving things into more of a subscription model, and I do wonder if people are gonna start playing around more with bundling packages,” said Taylor. “If you were like the New York Times, you could run ads as well as sell subscriptions. I think we're gonna see a big push of that, especially with Apple doing what they're doing.”