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Podstruck’s May 2021 Month in Review

Welcome to Podstruck’s May 2021 month in review where Podstruck curates and analyzes podcast industry events and trends. 

This May review includes:

  • News from Big Media
  • News and Notes on the major podcast industry players
  • Additional Podcast and Podcast Adjacent News
  • Final Ramblings

News from Broader Media

Several May 2021 big media stories had relevance to podcasting:

News and Notes on the Big Podcast Players

A group of Podcast Industry frontrunners has emerged through growth/ consolidation.  The top dogs according to Podstruck are: 

*Spotify*  *Apple*  *iHeart*  *Audacy*  *SiriusXM*  *Amazon*

Here is an Airtable showing “Who Owns Who in Podcasting” by @evoterra

You can find the frontrunners among their public company peers in Podstruck’s Public Audio Market Tracker.  

Facebook may join the list pending the success of its recently announced audio initiatives including Clubhouse-like Facebook Live Audio, and Facebook’s podcast distribution plans both with Spotify’s in-app player, and on its own.

Industry momentum heading into May was dominated by Spotify and Apple announcing their podcast subscription plans in late April:

In truth, Podcast subscriptions have been around for a long time, and podcasters don’t need Apple or Spotify to offer subscriptions. Patreon,  Supporting Cast, Supercast and others have enabled podcasters to easily offer paywalled podcasts with private RSS feeds.  WonderySlate, and Cafe, for example, have had subscription plans for years.   

The promise is that Apple and Spotify can make podcast subscriptions mainstream by removing friction from current user upgrade flows, granting legitimacy to the subscription model with their brands, and marketing premium podcasts front and center to the bulk of podcast listeners.  This could create a rising tide that finally makes consumer payments a legitimate second revenue stream for podcasters of all sizes. 

May 2021 News by Company:





Audacy (formerly Entercom)



Additional Podcast and Podcast Adjacent News



  • The Podcast Upfronts took place from May 11 – 13.  Here is an agenda including speakers and companies.  If you were registered for the event, you can access recorded video.
  • BetterHelp continued its dominance of the top Podcast Advertiser slot in April 2021’s top spenders from Magellan AI.The biggest mover was Samsung which went from zero to $1.42M in monthly spend.    Click here for the full top 15 lists.
  • Around the Upfronts, the IAB released confirmation of 2020’s podcast advertising growth from (  There was $842M in 2020 Industry Ad Spending vs. $708M in 2019.  Podcasts ads are headed to well over $1B in 2021.  
    • While steady, double digit growth, it is linear vs. exponential.  At some point innovation, volume and marketer acceptance will accelerate spend.  The IAB report forecasts a jump to $2B in 2023 which would start to justify the investment and enthusiasm the big players have been showing.

Podcasts/Content News

Final Ramblings – Podcasting within a Media Perspective

We break down the Podcast ecosystem along the following lines:

  1. Context within the overall Tech and Entertainment Industry Economics.
  2. Context within the overall audio, voice, and artificial intelligence industries.  
  3. The leadership and influence of the Big Players on the ecosystem.
  4. The innovation and leadership of companies of all sizes below the top layer.

Podcasting sits broadly within the context of the overall media industry, and more narrowly within audio. 

In general, big companies focus on scaled growth, feature matching, and activities that exploit their leverage, while smaller companies focus on innovation and all manner of growth. Big companies that can execute successfully in both ways become true market leaders.

So what is the best analog for podcasting in big media ecosystem?

For now, the best analogy for development of the podcasting ecosystem is OTT streamed video.  The comparison carries along these lines:

  • The podcasting and internet video streaming ecosystems have enabled anyone to create, aggregate, and broadcast content globally at a minimal cost. 
  • Just as the OTT video business is an evolution of traditional broadcast & cable, and movies; podcasting and on-demand audio is an evolution of broadcast radio, recorded music and audiobooks;
  • While repurposing of content is valuable, technology and consumption patterns created by streaming/on demand media have deeply influenced and changed creative formats for both video and audio.  
    • Podcasting is a prime example of this, and, clearly there is a lot of connective tissue between OTT video streaming and podcasting when looking at YouTube.
  • Streaming and On-demand has expanded funding for a much broader variety of creative projects taking bigger risks and serving smaller niche audiences.
  • Video and audio business models center on both advertising/sponsorship and consumer payment  models.

There are lessons to be learned by comparing and contrasting audio and video business models and following consumer behavior in the more economically mature market. At some point we may even see premium audio and video products converge. 

Podstruck #6, April 12, 2021

Podstruck public Audio Industry list, Libsyn on the move, and more…

Feature Story

Podstruck introduces a dynamically updating list of publicly traded audio and audio adjacent companies with market data for those listed in US markets. The “Podstruck Public Audio Market Tracker” details equity prices, market caps, and other stats.  The tracker will include more companies and more information over time. Links to company background and news are included.  On first cut, we’ve put companies in three buckets:

1) Radio and On-Demand Audio:  Includes pure play podcasting companies, and radio + podcasting companies.  Based on market cap, Spotify and SiriusXM are by far the largest companies in this category.

2) Music and Media Industry:  Music labels and Media companies with a significant radio or podcast footprint. Liberty Media and Warner Music fall into this category.

3) Audio Tools and Audio Adjacent:  These companies are not primarily in the audio content or podcasting business, but, they either have business units that compete directly with companies who do, or have audio as a significant/dynamic part of their overall business.  Solutions companies, like Libsyn, who provide hosting or monetization to the audio industry also fall here. Some of the biggest audio and podcast players are in this bucket.  It includes Apple (podcast app, Apple Music, hardware), Amazon (Wondery, Audible, Amazon Music), Google (Google Podcasts), Roblox (virtual concerts), Peloton (Audio + exercise experience).

The Podstruck Public Audio Market Tracker is for the purposes of following the Audio Industry, and not intended for suggesting investment decisions.  The tracker is also collecting Internationally listed and Pre-IPO companies.  Over time these will be allocated to the categories above.  For comments and suggestions please email me at

Deals / Companies

Libsyn is on the move – making acquisitions and upgrading their platform (Libsyn 5).

  • Libsyn (LSYNraised $25 million privately, and acquired Advertisecast for up to $30 million.  Libsyn operates purely in the podcasting .  Advertisecast is a podcast ad planning and buying service.  The vertical acquisition adds monetization to Libsyn’s hosting business and an ongoing source of cash flow. According to the press release, Advertisecast generated $12 Million in revenue in 2020 and is profitable. Rain News reports that Advertisecast currently “represents over 1,500 podcasts reaching 40-million listeners per month.” and “This ad hoc network supplies an ad inventory of 7,500 spots.” Advertisecast could also pull customers into Libsyn’s hosting business.
  • Adding to its podcast monetization plan, Libsyn followed the above transaction by acquiring Podcast monetization platform Glow which according to the press release  “enables podcasters to build membership programs and generate listener-supported revenue.”  
  • Vox Media acquires Preet Bharara’s Cafe Studios – financial terms not disclosed.  Vox doubles down on political news and commentary with Cafe as well as acquiring a business with a premium subscription angle.  The main event is Bharara’s show “Stay Tuned with Preet” which is deep and serious as far as the category goes. According to The Drum, Vox now has over 200 podcasts. It’s an interesting add but may not have strong momentum given the drop in consumer interest in the news/politics category post “the former guy” (see:  “Trump predicted news ratings would ‘tank if I’m not there.’ He wasn’t wrong”).
  • Patreon raised $155 million in new funding on top of $90 million they had raised in September 2020.  The company is now valued at $4 billon. A 2021 IPO may be on the horizon.
  • The newly unionized writers and producers at Spotify’s Gimlet and The Ringer reached a collective bargaining agreement with the company.  Here are the terms posted on the Writer’s Guild website with links to the actual agreements.  Included among the terms are:
    • Minimum salaries and minimum annual increases of 2%
    • Guaranteed severance of 11 weeks regardless of tenure 
    • A mechanism for promoting opportunities for job candidates from underrepresented groups

Interesting / Curious / Buzzing

  • Entercom completed a total rebrand to Audacy including:
    • Entercom is now Audacy
    • Their stock ticker is now AUD
    • And app is now called Audacy (questionable move)

Content / Discovery

Research and Strategy

  • The headline “We Have now Crossed over 2 Million Podcasts” has made the rounds this quarter.  More interesting is to look a little bit deeper to see how many of those 2 million and growing are active and vital.  Amplifi and PodNews provided some insight and revealed that just 8%, or 156,000 podcasts have over 10 episodes and have released an episode in the past week.  26%, or 520,000 podcasts have over 10 episodes and have released an episode in the last year.

Closing Note

  • The 2021 IAB Upfront for Podcast Networks and Media Buyers is set for May 11-13

Podstruck #5, March 29, 2021

What is the most popular podcast in America?  Is it The Daily from the New York Times?   NPR News Now from National Public Radio?  Crime Junkie by Audiochuk? MANslaughter from Wondery/Amazon? Joe Rogan (exclusively on Spotify)?  Or, maybe, Lost Hills by Western Sound and Pushkin Industries?  Could it be all of the above?

Sure!  Since there is not a single authoritative, inclusive, “official” ranking/rating for podcast audiences, then, depending on what you consult, it can be!  For podcasts, there are no Nielsen overnight TV Ratings, no Arbitron, no Billboard Chart, and no Hollywood Box Office.  

In terms of popularity, there are a handful regularly published rankings including:

For more read the rest of the Podstruck Newsletter on Substack, and, better yet, Subscribe to get the newsletter delivered to your inbox!

Podstruck #4; March 15, 2021 (aka The Ides of March Edition)

Vincenzo Camuccini, 1806, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


  • Entercom acquired Podcorn for $22.5M ($14.6 cash with a performance earnout).  Podcorn calls itself an “influencer marketplace” and provides a self-service platform for podcasters to connect directly to advertisers. Marketers can either self manage as well, or work directly with Podcorn employees.  Podcorn charges a 10% platform service fee.Podcorn is a relatively modest way for Entercom to bolt on some podcast ad tech on top of their previous content acquisitions.  The platform exploits the long tail – brands can find niche creators at scale and smaller creators can find advertisers.  
  • Podchaser acquired Podcharts (cross app chart tracker) and Podrover (review aggregator) rolling together companies that provide marketing and data services to podcast creators, and, of course, start with the popular prefix Pod.
  • The Amazon/Wondery deal closed and Hernan Lopez exited the company.  While Wondery is officially an Amazon Music play, it also carries value for Amazon’s Audible business and Amazon Studios – not to mention Echo/Alexa.

Products and Content

  • Apple News:  Apple switches its labelling from “Subscribe” to “Follow” for podcasts.  Podnews broke the story and pointed out that several other significant players including Stitcher, Spotify, and Amazon (Music and Audible) already use Follow. Tom Webster of Edison cheers the notion that this change will clarify that these podcasts are free of charge, and will clear the way for the word “Subscribe” to apply to premium podcasts only.  I will attest to the importance of clear and simple labels — in the early 2000’s at Yahoo!, we changed a front page link from “Astrology” to “Horoscopes” and it drove the click rate through the roof!   
  • Apple slimmed it’s smart speaker line up to just the $99 HomePod mini by discontinuing the weaker selling $299 HomePod (which according to reviews had great sound quality).  While the HomePod Mini is cheap compared to the HomePod, it is premium priced compared to comparable products from category leaders Amazon (Echo Dot) and Google (Nest Mini).  According to Edison’s 2021 Infinite Dial Report (see below) the HomePod line carries just 1% of the smart speaker market.


Edison Research / Triton Infinite Dial delivered highly anticipated market research news this week. You can watch the full presentation here, and see the Slides); 

The 2021 Infinite Dial is drawn from a statistically significant survey driven from 1,507 phone interviews conducted primarily in January of this year.

Highlights include:

  • The Online Audio audience continues to grow:  68% of the US population, or 193 Million monthly consumers are online audio listeners;  91%, or 176M listen weekly for an average of 16 hours and 14 minutes per week; Both the weekly %/Monthly % and the time spent indicate significant engagement.
  • Audio Services:  Pandora has 83% brand awareness while Spotify is second at 76%;  However, When asked if they currently ever use a service: Spotify drew 31% and Pandora just 18%.  I would love to see the Net Promoter Scores for Online Audio brands.
  • Smart Speakers:  33% of Americans 12+ (94M people) own a smart speaker and its usually Alexa at 24% vs. Google Home at 13%; Apple HomePod rules the smart speaker roost in just 1% of households — but don’t discount the tens of millions of iPhone users talking with Siri every day.
    • A Majority (53%) of smart speaker households have two or more; and over a third (34%) have three or more.
  • Podcasting:  78% of, or 222 Million, Americans say they know what podcasts are; 162M (57% in total, or 73% of those aware of podcasts), identify as listeners at some point.
    • Podcasts have 116M monthly listeners, reaching 41% the US population;
    • 80 Million Americans (28%) listen weekly. Weekly listeners average eight podcast episodes drawn from 5.1 shows each week. Weekly listeners comprise 69% of monthly listeners 
    • Since 2018, weekly listening behavior has grown at a CAGR of 18%: from 17M to 28M

End Notes

A couple of music podcast recommendations to close the letter. They embody the best of both documentary and evergreen podcasting:

  • Final Sessions is a four episode documentary podcast leading up to the release of Harry Nilsson’s posthumous album Losst and Founnd. The Album and podcast were both released in November of 2019. If enjoy the series, you might also like the documentary film Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?

Podstruck #3 // Week of March 5

Deals / Companies

The Verge has a first look at Fireside.  Fireside appears to be a more thoughtful and evolved version of Clubhouse that includes podcast hosting, syndication and other services.  Mark Cuban is involved along with co-founder Falon Fatemi. I see Fireside as a host centric podcast and live conversation platform. It could move the space forward for a real number of creators and may set the next bar for minimum acceptable features from podcast hosting and live chat/broadcasting services.

Speaking of creators and Clubhouse, the New York Times declared that “The Era of Audio Creators has Arrived”.  The article covers the launch of a group called Audio Collective which will work with creators, agencies, brands, and studios on a variety of business and product/performance challenges and opportunities.

Square acquired Jay-Z’s Tidal music service for $297M, and Jay-Z will join Square’s board. Bloomberg ponders the reasons, but can’t really come up with a compelling case – concluding that the purchase isn’t necessary to accomplish Square’s music industry finance ambitions.


New privacy rules for third parties by Apple and Google have been in the news for a long time. These changes will impact the Ad Tech world broadly, including Podcasts.  Bryan Barletta of Sounds Profitable recently published a summary of how advertising attribution in podcasting works, and can adjust to the changing environment.




Nominees are out for The 2021 Ambies celebrating excellence in Podcasts active during 2020. Check the nominees out and you might find your next listen. The show will be streamed and winners announced on May 16th.

Apple is collaborating with Common Sense Media to create collections of kid friendly podcasts. The editorial is already up and running here (link opens Apple Podcasts).  Separately, over the weekend, the New York Times recommended 5 Music Podcasts for Kids.

Research and Strategy

Edison Research will be presenting its “Infinite Dial” study detailing consumer media and technology habits on Thursday March 11 at 2pm est.  You can register to Zoom-Zoom-Zoom-a-Zoom in here.

EMarketer and Insider Intelligence forecast that Spotify will surpass Apple Podcasts to become the #1 listening app in 2021.  They estimate both apps around 28M monthly listeners now, but then see Apple stalling at that level while Spotify adds 5M monthly listeners each of the next two years.

Soundcloud tried to create some thunder by announcing an experiment with how artists are paid on its platform.  The “user centric” model aims to more fairly compensate smaller artists for listener activity by calculating payments from each subscriber’s fees and activity vs. an aggregate pool.  This idea/model has been around for many years as detailed in this Pitchfork article from summer 2019 focused on European streamer Deezer.  Soundcloud will still use both the pro-rata method (with their major label licensed music), while layering in the user centric model for its large indie base.

Interesting / Curious / Buzzing

Tom Webster of Edison Research teases some upcoming Infinite Dial data revealing an “uptick” in survey respondents reporting they regularly smash the skip button on ads.  Webster points out that allowing ad skipping is unique to podcasts in the audio world.  

Skip-ability is tied to a basketful of important advertising and product decisions shaping the future of podcast user experience and monetization. On one end of the spectrum is a utopian vision of limited, gently integrated, highly relevant, host read ads with the listener still fully in control of the skip button. Conversely, at the dystopian end, skip-ability is abandoned, dynamically served programmatic advertising dominates an is intrusive, jarring, repetitive, loud, and cacophonous.

The reality will land somewhere in the middle, but exactly where will be important for the industry overall, and for each publisher. Keeping listeners engaged and maintaining a good user experience can be compatible with making money, but it takes hard work.

While the ideal condition is a blend of optimized monetization with optimized user experience, the resulting product usually involves sacrifices on one side or the other.  Aside from the issue of skip-ability, the equation includes ad position, ad load, ad quality, advertiser relevance, brand safety (for both publishers and advertisers), and more. This is not unique to podcasting or new – it’s a set of issues that has been part of electronic media since the first audio ads nearly 100 years ago.

Closing Notes

Acknowledgments:  In the early weeks of writing this newsletter I’m appreciating and leveraging the daily industry coverage from PodNews led by James Cridland, the insights of Edison Research’s Tom Webster (I Hear Things), and HotPod’s Nicholas Quah (paid newsletter).  Last but not least, Bryan Barletta’s Sounds Profitable has been a valuable resource on Ad Tech and Monetization.

What am I listening to this week (on top of the usuals)?

Thank you for reading.  Please follow Podstruck on Twitter

Betterhelp was U.S. Podcasting’s January Spending King while CarMax was the Biggest Monthly Ad Spend Mover

  • CarMax is the biggest mover, ramping up their podcast investment from $59K to $1.037 Million.

Magellan AI notes that the auto category has been slow to spend on podcasts.  At present, the auto category comprises only 2% of podcast spending; in 2019. this amounted to just over $14 mm out of $708 mm in U.S..

The auto industry’s relative slowness in embrace podcasting is rational. Other digital formats can target auto buyers with a granularity derived from Web searches, sites visited, and even gps data that places them at auto dealers. Within audio formats, both digital and terrestrial radio geo-target local markets and cover dealer spend very well — and have established attribution data

As podcasting ad tech matures, however, the auto category represents a rich opportunity. The category’s overall radio spend was $2.7 B in 2019. With a level targeting and attribution field, the unique benefits of podcast advertising will make it an attractive space for Auto industry spend.

*Ad spend numbers sourced from Zenith Media and the IAB

iHeart Adds Triton

In it’s biggest Podcasting acquisition to date, iHeartMedia purchased full stack podcast tech provider Triton Digital from E.W. Scripps for $230M (Podcast Business Journal).  In 2018 iHeart purchased Stuff Media for $55M and in the last quarter of 2020 Voxnest for $50M.

With all the consolidation in the industry, the buzz is about the main players including Spotify, iHeart and SiriusXM now having real audience scale to leverage their grown and acquired ad tech+sales+content. iHeart is the #1 podcast publisher in January 2021 by Unique Audience (29.1M), Global Downloads and Streams (254M), and, by far, Active Shows (539) according to Podtrac

The Verge has a piece extolling the importance of tech over exclusive content in the competitive Podcast space in the medium to long run with some insight on the deal, and agreement on the premise from iHeart management. In the long term, I disagree. This perspective will change – eventually we will enter a market phase where tech capabilities become less differentiated among several big players and the battle to attract consumers and the listening Apps they download and favor will be driven by content. Content attracts consumers, and consumers attract advertisers. It’s up to all of the scaled players to deliver a great UI/UX to listeners, and appealing solutions to advertisers.

Between Spotify, iHeart and SiriusXM (includes Pandora, iHeart is trailing app/distribution. With a market cap just above $1B, it would be a cheap and interesting target for Apple or Amazon.

With the deal, E.W.Scripps has completed their shedding of Audio and Podcasting assets having sold Stitcher (including Midroll) to Sirius last June at an enormous profit.  Scripps also did well on this deal having purchased Triton for $150M in 2018 (InsideRadio).