DWNLOAD REPORT: Q1 2024

A look at growth and the investment opportunity in audio. From DWNLOAD Media.

Hello and welcome to The DWNLOAD Report: The State of the Podcast Industry Q1 2024.

DWNLOAD Media released our first-ever DWNLOAD Report: The Case for Increased Investment in the Podcast Industry in early January. Our goal with that whitepaper was to share the realities of the podcast industry today and why it is one of the most undervalued investment opportunities in media. The TL;DR showed that audience and revenue continue to grow, and headlines claiming the “podcast bubble had burst” were not only clickbaity but also flat-out wrong. [Read the full report here]

Given the feedback and reach of our first report and now that the major companies have shared Q1 earnings, we thought it’d be worth checking back in and sharing some updates on the overall health of the podcast space and providing guidance on where the industry is tracking for ‘24 and beyond.

I’m always happy to share more insights on DWNLOAD Media and the podcast industry, so don’t hesitate to reach out with any comments or questions. Also, I’ll be at the London Podcast Show May 22-23 - if you’re in London or plan on attending, let’s set a time to connect!

Let’s dive in.

Chris Peterson, Founder & CEO of DWNLOAD Media

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THE DWNLOAD REPORT: Q1 2024

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s happened in Q1: 

  • All major platforms (Spotify, SiriusXM, iHeartMedia, Acast, etc) continue to see out-paced growth in podcast revenue compared to their overall business. I break down each company with thoughts below.

  • The IAB released its latest revenue study, showing that podcast revenue slowed in 2023, growing only 5%—missing projections.

    • But major platforms saw growth. Why did the market “cool?” Well, simply, the mid-tier companies struggled as brand dollars focused on the scale players. We’re already seeing dollars trickle back down to the smaller guys in ‘24 and increased spending on the big guys. It’s all good.

    • Podcast revenue is projected to more than double its 2023 ad revenue growth rate in 2024 and is tracking to a total spend of $2.6b by 2026, so it remains a strong revenue growth story in digital media (and a great investment opportunity, too!)

  • Edison Research released its latest Infinite Dial, which showed continued growth.

    • An estimated 135 million people in the US listen to podcasts monthly, up from 104 million in 2020.

  • We also surveyed over 50 podcast CEOs to gauge their opinions on the space, including which platform they see as the most important in the future, their use of AI, and more. The results are below (and might surprise you).

THE DWNLOAD DEEP DIVE

The Audience Opportunity

Edison Research released their '24 Infinite Dial' earlier in Q1. This is the longest-running survey on podcast audiences and the overall audio landscape.

It's no surprise that podcast consumption is on the rise. An estimated 135 million people in the US listen to podcasts monthly, up from 104 million in 2020. Not bad, eh?

However, this nugget stuck with me the most: A third of the US population is super into podcasts, another third is a casual listener, and the other third... well, let's face it, it's 55+. (Insert boomer joke... jk)

Breaking that down, ≈ 57% of people aged 12-55 listen to podcasts monthly (with 12-34 being the highest age group), compared to only 27% for people 55+.

So what does that tell us? Personally, I do think 55+ people are consuming podcasts, but they're on YouTube. They don't consider what they're watching* a podcast ("watching" while it's on in the background), so they aren't showing up in this survey.

That aside, the data shows that future generations are consuming spoken word content via podcasts, and the growth opportunity is historic as these demos age. We also see that once people try out podcasts, they quickly move into the lower third and become heavy podcast consumers, listening to 8.3 podcasts weekly! (side note: I really gotta pump my numbers up).

We're witnessing the transformation of audio consumption from broadcast to digital, just like we've seen in every other media sector, although at a slower pace.

The top of the podcast listening funnel will continue to get thinner as more consumers trickle down to monthly and, eventually, weekly podcast consumers. Weekly listenership, which was below 20% not too long ago, will grow to 50% + before we know it. Forget slow and steady growth and niche mediums; this is a major inflection point.

REVENUE BY COMPANY

Spotify

User growth missed expectations, which is usually what investors want to see. But revenue is up! And what is leading the way for revenue growth? Podcasts! Podcast ad revenue outpaced music, helping Spotify grow 20% YoY.

Not too long ago, Spotify was grappling with music licensing fees. However, their strategic foray into new products like podcasts, audiobooks, and AI has allowed the company to diversify revenue streams and offset some of the more expensive sides of the business. Spotify's push into podcasting, while not always clear and looked messy to outsiders, shows that their M&A has been successful, and their growth in this area is a testament to the industry's robust health. Their decision to widely distribute tentpole podcasts indicates their confidence in this sector's growth potential.

Looking ahead to Q2 earnings, I'm excited to see what's next for Spotify's push into audiobooks. And the early intel is that audiobooks are a hit! 25% of Spotify Premium users (in the US, UK, and AU) have “engaged” with audiobooks. In the US, new audiobook listeners are spending 2.5 hours longer in the app in the 14 days since starting a book. This could be a total game changer for the audio industry as they create a super app for audio, converting music listeners into audiobook consumers and audiobook listeners into podcast fans, etc. 

SiriusXM

When SiriusXM reported its Q1 earnings a week ago, the headlines were justifiably focused on its loss of subscribers (nearly 500k). Like all radio, its subscription business is highly vulnerable with the move to digital audio, especially in cars.

But a bright spot? You wouldn't be surprised if you paid attention to Spotify's earnings: "off-platform revenue." For SXM, this includes Pandora and podcast revenue, which saw a 7% revenue increase. During their investor call, they signaled the growth for podcasts, explicitly saying, "Podcasting revenue saw a 22% year-over-year lift in the quarter, while programmatic podcast revenue increased 12% sequentially and 97% year over year."

I'd love to see SXM break out the podcast numbers even further, but if you look at what they do provide, it's easy to conclude that podcast revenue is growing much faster than other segments. For example, Pandora continues to bleed users (64k paid subs in Q1 alone), so podcast revenue seems to be the tide lifting all "off-platform" boats.

When asked about their podcast initiatives, Scott Greenstein said, "One is, you know, the podcast thing and industry is really still in the second or third inning, so it's evolving." He is 100% right.

SXM also signaled that it will continue to license more podcast content and is not closing the book on exclusive content.

Another fun nugget: Podcasts were mentioned 30 times on the earnings call. Pandora was only mentioned ten times, SmartLess nine times, and Howard Stern... seven.

Where do you think their priorities are moving forward?

iHeartMedia

[Note: As EVP of Podcasting, I launched the iHeart Podcast Network in 2016 and led the acquisition of the HowStuffWorks podcast network. After leaving iHRT in 2019, I have no inside knowledge or information that isn’t public, and all analysis is speculative.]

The company made $799 million, down 1.5% year over year. If you take out political revenue, they're down 2.5% (and the stock reflects that, down ≈30% today as of writing this... eesh).

Their Digital Audio Group saw revenue of $239m, up 7%. Not bad! Thankfully, iHeart breaks out their podcast numbers, which were $91m, up 18%! If you remove podcast revenue, the digital group is only up 1%. So, like with SiriusXM, we see podcast revenue as the tide raising all boats.

So what does that mean? It's the same story as SXM: a declining business focused on radio that is desperately trying to grow its digital initiatives to offset losses from its bread and butter. And podcasting is the only digital venture that is working—and it's working well!

But will it work quickly enough? That's a tough one. Podcasting now makes up 11.3% of their overall revenue, which is tremendous growth but needs to be bigger to offset the rest. So, what happens? While the company tries to grow digitally as quickly as possible, it is also creating quite a valuable asset that could be attractive to an outside buyer. $400-500m/yr in revenue with an extensive podcast network, owned IP, ad marketplace, and technology could be quite the bundle for larger companies that have yet to enter the podcast space... 👀

More Revenue Odds & Ends:

  • Sadly, Apple & Amazon are just too big to breakout anything remotely close to podcast revenue, at least for now. So, if you’re wondering, that’s why we haven’t mentioned them much regarding earnings. Maybe one day…

  • Acast reported increased revenue, showing growth in the mid-tier + international segments. [More]

  • Cumulus did not break out podcast revenue but did say podcasts are “pacing up”... helpful.

  • Subscriptions! As predicted in the DWNLOAD REPORT, we see subscriptions as a massive opportunity, which will be a significant source of revenue for many companies moving forward. And while Spotify and Apple continue to push larger networks to launch subscription channels, Substack recently announced that podcasters on its platform are earning more than $100m annually. We’ve also seen data from independent networks now seeing tens of thousands of paying subscribers on the larger platforms… it’s growing.

PODCAST CEO CLIMATE SURVEY

We reached out to more than 50 CEOs across the podcast space, ranging from ad networks to studios, both independent companies with less than $5m in revenue to publicly traded companies, and from all over the world to get their take on where the podcast space is and where it is headed. Here are some highlights:

Compared to 2023, how is your company revenue tracking for 2024:

  • ‘24 revenue is outpacing ‘23: 72.5%

  • ‘24 revenue is similar to ‘23: 25%

  • ‘24 revenue is lagging ‘23: 2.5%

What are you most focused on for 2024?

  • Increasing profitability: 31.3%

  • Increasing revenue: 31.3%

  • Diversifying business & revenue streams: 18.8%

  • Growing your network/increasing downloads: 18.8%

Which platform will be the most important in 5 years?

  • Spotify: 50%

  • YouTube: 48%

  • Apple Podcasts: 2%

Now, this one is fascinating. The consensus among these industry leaders was clear: Spotify and YouTube are the future of podcast platforms. Their overwhelming endorsement of these platforms is hard to dispute.

Apple underperformed, and it has everything to do with being unavailable on Android. I don't understand the distribution strategy when Apple TV is available on Android products, but Apple Podcasts isn't. If they expanded to Android, their subscription offering alone could make them more important around the globe... but for now, this group of CEOs doesn't see them as the industry leader moving forward. Time to wake up, Cupertino!

Is your company currently using AI?

  • Yes: 50%

  • Not yet, but plan to: 37.5%

  • No plans: 12.5%

Where do you think U.S. podcast advertising revenue will be by 2030?

  • Under $6b: 0.6%

  • $6-7.99b: 22%

  • $8-10.99b: 50.7%

  • More than $11b: 26.7%

Are you looking to raise capital or considering M&A in 2024?

  • Planning to or currently raising capital: 12.5%

  • Not planning to raise any capital: 18.8%

  • Actively looking to be acquired: 6.3%

  • Open to being acquired, but not a focus: 62.4%

Despite headlines over the last year, the podcast industry continues to grow in audience and revenue. With many mid-tier companies needing to readjust priorities in 2023, investing in the podcast space at friendly valuations makes for an incredible time. As these companies right-size, track towards profitability, and, as noted above, see more brand dollars trickle down and subscription revenue increase, the valuations will proliferate.

If you’re interested in investing in DWNLOAD Media or want to learn more, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

See you after Q2!

Chris Peterson

About Chris and DWNLOAD Media:

I’ve been in audio my entire career, working with some of the most prominent names in radio, online streaming, and, eventually, podcasting starting in 2013. In 2015, I created the iHeart Podcast Network, which became the world's largest podcast network after leading the HowStuffWorks network's acquisition. I also spent over four years at LionTree, where we were active in acquisitions like Wondery, Serial, Stitcher, and more and actively invested in the podcast space.

Last year, in partnership with Red Seat Ventures, I launched DWNLOAD Media, a media roll-up focused on unifying best-in-class podcast companies to create a profitable media company focused on creating valuable IP, via the undervalued asset of podcasting.

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