Why Top Publishers Are Turning to Podcasts for Growth 

Traditional news outlets are constantly innovating to stay relevant and expand their reach. One strategy emerging at the forefront is the integration of podcasts into their media offerings. As every corner of the industry buzzes about this audio trend, it’s worth exploring why even the most print-centric publications are embracing podcasts to engage their audiences in new and meaningful ways. 

This shift towards audio isn’t just about keeping up with the latest media trends; it’s a calculated move to tap into new demographics and build deeper connections with listeners.  

With insights from industry leaders at the 2024 International Journalism Festival, we dive into how podcasts are becoming a pivotal part of the news media landscape, fostering loyalty and broadening the scope of traditional print journalism. 

Interested in podcasting products and strategies? We’ll explore this topic and many others at Twipe’s Digital Growth Summit in Brussels on October 8th, 2024. Learn more about this event for media professionals.

What makes podcasting attractive to publishers?  

New audience reach 

Podcasts can help publishers reach new audiences, allowing for a wider group of people to become familiar with their brand.  

For both The Guardian and the Financial Times (FT), podcasts were a medium through which they could tap into international audiences – and they’ve done so with great success. Nicole Jackson, Head of Audio at The Guardian, shared that 50% of their podcast audience is tuning in from outside their national UK market.  

Podcasts are also a means to enter younger audiences’ media consumption diets. The Reuters’ Digital News Report shows that audio news is increasingly favored by those under 35, with 17% preferring audio formats over other media types. The Guardian’s podcasts have seen a similar trend, finding that under-35s are their most significant demographic group, even though their strategy was to cast as wide a net as possible. 

Finally, podcasts allow for an alternative approach to storytelling. This can bring in audiences that prefer an audio-storytelling approach that might not otherwise engage with print content. Jackson shared that this was also a key consideration for The Guardian’s podcast strategy: “We are always thinking about innovating and diversifying the type of stories we tell and how we tell them. I think that’s really important: This idea of not just retaining subscribers, but also trying to add on to that audience space.” 

Highly engaged audience 

Podcasts are also highly engaging products, as people tend to spend a lot of time consuming this kind of content. As Cheryl Brumley, Global Head of Audio at The Financial Times, said, “It really is the only medium that I can think of where people have a higher tolerance for longer content, which is very powerful in this world where everything is just sound bites and TikTok videos.” 

Why might audiences enjoy longer content with audio? Mark Garrison, Senior Line Producer of Apple News Today, provided a theory: “[Audio] gives you more chances to engage with your audience: They can’t necessarily read your article or watch your video while they are driving, exercising or things like that, but they can engage with a podcast.” In short, podcasts can fit into different moments in people’s lives that print cannot.  

As a result, podcasts are an effective habit-forming product because readers can listen to them during a variety of day-to-day tasks. For instance, mundane tasks like taking the dog out for a walk or doing the dishes can trigger the habit of listening to a podcast.  

This graph shows that an adult’s average day length is 32:24 hours, highlighting that some activities are done simultaneously – such as listening to podcasts and doing other activities.

Podcasts are effective not only at forming habits but also at developing trust. Indeed, they lend themselves to intimacy. As mentioned, people spend a lot of time listening to podcasts and can develop a trusting relationship with hosts as they become familiar with their voice and reporting style. “People come to [podcasts] almost to form a parasocial relationship with the host,” noted Nishat Kurwa, SVP and Executive Producer of Vox Media Podcast Network, “It’s this intimate relationship that feels like somebody I have in my life is delivering me this essential news and information.”  

Once publishers have built this trusting relationship with listeners, they can more easily cross-promote other products across verticals. Podcasts can also act as a part of a bundled offering. As Lena Beate Hamborg Pedersen, Senior Product Manager at Aftenposten, put it, “I think what we already see is that it will be like a bundle. So, you’re not only subscribing to the paper. You’re subscribing to everything we are doing, and you are more likely to stay with us if we are relevant to you in more situations.” 

What strategic risks should publishers be aware of?  

With great audience comes great responsibility 

Brumley highlighted that the FT spends a lot of time and resources to understand audience needs as they believe it is critical to building suitable products: “We’re very rigorous on audience needs and identifying gaps and niches within the market.” In fact, they run regular surveys on their audience to understand where, when, and why they listen to their audio content.  

The lesson for other publishers is that audio cannot be a one-to-one print re-formatting. With a different medium comes different user needs and product requirements. Publishers, therefore, need to think with an audio and audience-first mentality. With this information, they can then change their products to suit their audience’s needs better.  

An example of the FT’s agility in responding to audience needs can be seen in the shifting format of their Tech Tonic podcast. From 2016 to 2019, this was a long-form interview podcast exploring innovations in the tech space. In 2019, they reformatted the show to be seasonal while maintaining the long form. This change was made from deep analyses of the audience’s needs, the podcast landscape for the subject, and an understanding of the FT’s type of journalism. The result was that their audience grew. When the audience began to plateau, they did the same exercise again. From this, they found that their audience wanted more regular content instead of just seasonal. So, in 2024, they made Tech Tonic a short-form chat show with some occasional long-form content. 

AI is amazing, but… 

Publishers no longer need to spend hours in the studio recording articles, and AI audio article summarization is creating a whole set of new product offerings. The potential benefits of AI in the podcasting and audio space are immense.  

That said, publishers are also expressing a need for caution before fully launching it to the public. As Ezra Eeman, Strategy and Innovation Director at Dutch broadcaster NPO, stated, “A lot of what we do now with AI is happening under the label of ‘innovation’ and ‘experiments’. This is because trust is at the heart of our relationship with our audience.”  

AI has revolutionized audio with more natural-sounding synthetic voices, but there’s potential for trust erosion since synthetic voices can’t replicate the unique relationship between hosts and their audience. Authenticity and credibility remain paramount, as listeners often form habit-driven, parasocial bonds with their favorite hosts. 

Quick tips from the panelists 

We’ve explored how podcasts present an opportunity for publishers to reach new audiences and build loyalty and engagement among them. Yet, endeavors at making a successful podcast can also come with risks, namely, not catering to an audio-first offering and risking erosion of trust with the use of AI.  

There are, of course, many other opportunities and risks. So, we end this article with tips from the panelists that may help publishers in their own endeavors:  

  • “Part of the success is so much about getting your colleagues on board” Nicole Jackson, Head of Audio at The Guardian  
  • “Consistency is important. So, if somebody has habituated around a show […], generally knowing that it’s the same length helps people stay with you and keep you in that part of the day that they normally listen to you.” Nishat Kurwa, SVP and Executive Producer of Vox Media Podcast Network 
  • “Don’t lose sight of your mission. Our mission is to provide a resource for changing audiences. […] We are not standing still by any means and we are constantly evaluating audience needs and the changing audio market.” Cheryl Brumley, Global Head of Audio at the Financial Times 


Sarah Cool-Fergus

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