Have you ever been in a job interview where at the end the interviewer asks, “Do you have any questions for us?” and you totally draw a blank? It’s the wooooorst. 😬
Figuring out if you want to join a podcast network is kind of like figuring out if a job is a good fit: Yes there are benefits, but there are also drawbacks.
So we’ve made a list of questions that you can literally read off to podcast networks. No drawing blanks. No panicking and asking weird questions like “um well do you all have good vending machines?”
Of course, you don’t have to read these off as you talk to a live human being at the podcast network. You can simply use the questions to guide your research into learning about a podcast network.
But before we jump in, let’s first cover what a podcast network actually is. 🤔
What is a Podcast Network?
Broadly speaking, a podcast network is a group of podcasts united for mutual benefit.
Podcast Networks of the Ye Old Days
The concept got its start back in the days where there wasn’t much infrastructure for podcasts. Producing and editing episodes was more difficult than it is today. Distribution options were limited. Marketing was labor intensive. Monetization tools were basically non-existent. The value networks offered to podcasters was mainly the ability to pool resources, learn from each other, and gain visibility with other podcasts’ fans.
Some of the podcast networks around today reflect these early groups. That is to say, there isn’t much hierarchy and the focus is mostly on mutual support, the opportunity to learn from each other, and boosting visibility among the podcasts’ listeners. They may also be able to get group discounts from hosting platforms or other opportunities. 🚀 They are pretty organic and have relatively modest requirements for joining them. They have ‘share and share’ alike culture. 🤜🤛
Just because they may be smaller or less stringent, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask them the same questions you ask the larger, more exclusive networks. You should! (Be sure to keep reading, we’re going get to those exact questions).
Growing Strength of Individual Podcasters
Over time, two things changed in the podcasting world.
1️⃣ First, common, shared, free infrastructure developed for podcasters. Dozens of podcast directories developed so it was easier for people to listen. Search engines vastly improved around audio content. Organizations like the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) were founded and created standardization for podcast advertising.
2️⃣ The second is that super power tools became available to individual podcasters. Producing and editing media became less time-consuming while the episode quality increased. With social media tools and data analytics, podcasters could target new listeners like never before. With new monetization tools, podcasters could more easily create their own revenue streams. Heck, even creating a logo is easier now!
Not to toot our own horn, but one of the best examples of this is the Ausha hosting and marketing platform. 💜 It combines all these tools into one integrated powerhouse. Indie podcasters from even just ten years ago couldn’t dream of having such a powerful all-in-one hosting, marketing, and revenue-generating tool set of their own.
These technological advances made available to thousands of podcasters changed the game. Now indie podcasters alone could achieve in one day what would have taken months of time for a traditional podcast network to achieve.
Dominant Podcast Networks Today
Because of this evolution, the life of podcast networks changed. Like we mentioned earlier, there are still podcast networks out there that are pretty lowkey and more about community support than anything else. But those aren’t the dominant ones.
Podcast networks still have one major benefit they can provide to podcasters in this day and age: Facilitating bulk ad buys by major business advertisers. So that is how many of them are structured. 💪
Think: SXM Media, Audacity, Wondery, Podcast One, iHeart Radio, etc.
Ad Buyers Perspective
Major ad buyers want to spend their money in places where they can reach their target audiences consistently. In the podcast world, that means they want to be assured that episode quality and quantity are consistent. They want to make sure the podcasts are attracting and retaining a certain kind of listeners. Major ad buyers also prefer to diversify across multiple podcasts in case one starts to lose the target audience, but just as importantly, they want to advertise across different podcasts in order to be able to buy ad space in bulk. Podcast networks check all of these boxes.
They ensure their member podcasts meet certain quality and quantity guidelines. For example, all their podcasts may have professional hosts. They may all release one episode per week. The idea is that when you see that a show has a network’s logo, you know you are going to get a consistent, top-notch product.
Podcast networks provide business advertisers access to their target audiences by being made up of podcasts that attract certain listeners. Many times networks have subnetworks to target specific sub-demographics.
For example, the iHeart Radio network has a subnetwork called the NFL Podcast Network and a subnetwork called Shondaland. Of course, we don’t know their audience data, but it is pretty safe to assume that the audience for the NFL Podcast Network are male fans and the audience for Shondaland are female TV watchers. This kind of specification is what major business advertisers are looking for.
And remember what we said about major business advertisers wanting to spread their money across different shows. The NFL Podcast Network probably has top listener numbers in November because there is a ton of in-season news, hosts have tons of fresh takes, and there is just more to talk about in general. But if you compare a week in November to a week in July when the NFL doesn’t play, the November numbers are going to be a lot higher. That’s why iHeart Radio has other shows that they can pivot ads to, like their comedy ones.
Most importantly, podcast networks lower risks and costs to major ad buyers because the buyers can have one centralized place to go where they trust their investment will be in good hands.
From the individual podcaster perspective, these networks are the gatekeepers to big-time ad money. If an individual podcaster has 30,000 downloads a month, there is no way that a major ad buyer is going to listen to their pitch or make an individual deal with them- it just isn’t worth their time and effort to vet the podcast, figure out data analytics, etc. But that same podcaster would probably be really attractive to a podcast network, and through the podcast network, the individual podcaster could get some of the revenue from the major advertisers’ bulk ad buy.
But of course this is the 10,000 foot view. Each individual podcaster, each podcast network, and each ad buyer is a little different in their own way. The specifics matter quite a lot. To get at those specifics, you need to ask questions.
And that leads us to what we promised in the opening of this blog post: Questions to ask of podcast networks, whether you are interacting with them directly or just doing research about which ones to pitch your podcast to.
Without further ado, let’s get after it! 🚀
Questions to Ask About Networks
Is there a minimum level of downloads I need to already have? A certain frequency of episodes?
This should always be your first question. Are you even allowed in the group- do you meet their minimum requirements. Don’t worry if you don’t yet! Remember as an indie podcaster you have access to all the tools you need to reach those numbers. 📈 Then you can circle back to the network once you have achieved them.
Do you have exclusivity rules?
As you are evaluating if a network is the right fit for your podcast, you need to know if you are essentially saying no to every other network. That impacts how you weigh the pros and cons– if the group states that it is exclusive, it better have lots of pros!
How much content freedom will I maintain?
Sometimes, especially in the most dominant podcast networks, podcasters have to give the network veto power over the content of their show. Sometimes the network even guides the podcaster in what content to produce. This is really important to some podcasters, less so to others. Think about what stories you want to tell, what role you want your podcast to play in the world, and what your current fans already love about your show. Will you still be able to do these if you are under a network contract?
What are the other shows in the network?
One of the core concepts of network groups is that they bring each other visibility and credibility. This is generally a good thing. However, what if some of the other shows in the network have very different values than yours. As part of the network, you may have to promote them and be associated with them.
On the flip side, you may find out that the other podcasts in the network are run by awesome podcasters who you would love to ‘play on the same team’ as. Being united with them could be an incredible benefit!
This question is also just to make sure your show fits in the network theme. Is it a network about animal life and your show is about life advice? Do you mostly focus on New York related news and the network is mostly British culture shows? If so, maybe this network isn’t for you.
What is the approach to revenue sharing?
You need to know what percentage of the network’s revenue you get, plus how that percentage is calculated. For example, there is quite a difference between a contract that states you get a 20% share of ad revenue and a contract that states you get 10% share of ad revenue after network costs are subtracted. Let’s say the ad revenue is $100,000 and network costs are $50,000. That means a difference of you making $10,000 vs. you making $5,000. Read the contract carefully and don’t be afraid to ask questions! 🙋♀️
Who is responsible for bringing in advertisers?
You need to know if you are responsible for helping bring in advertisers or if that is the job of network employees. If you are responsible for bringing in advertisers, then you need to know what exactly is expected of you.
What is the approach to advertising?
You need to know the network’s overall approach to advertising to see if it is a good fit for your podcast. For example, how many commercial breaks will be put in your episode? Are there limits to who gets to advertise their product and how they get to advertise it– as a podcaster you don’t want to be in a position where you lose a lot of the people who listen to your show because suddenly they are bombarded with a lot of ads that are screaming about used cars.
What kind of data analysis is offered?
The foundation of digital advertising, including podcast advertising, is data analysis. Without strong data analysis, a network won’t attract and keep advertisers. You’ll also want to know if there is data transparency- do you get to see the data or do you just have to trust the network employees’ word.
Do I need to change my hosting platform?
Podcast networks generally want all their shows to be on the same hosting platform so they more easily run ad campaigns across multiple shows, track data, and overall have everything in the same place. If the network does require that you change platforms, you’ll want to evaluate if the platform is any good. Plus you may have to pay to switch over, or you may lose the money that you already invested in an annual subscription at your old hosting platform.
Does the network help me with production and marketing work?
If the network is placing a lot of production requirements on you, you probably want to learn what support you’ll get in order to meet those production requirements. For example, if they are picky about who is on your show, will they help you get in touch with the kind of people they do want on your show? If they want certain technical media specifications, are they going to provide you with the tools you need to make those media specifications?
You also want to learn what the group will do to help with marketing your show. If your show is about Indegionous Peoples, are they only going to promote you in November (Indigenous Awareness Month) and then not help you again until the next November? Yes, having the network’s logo on your show is helpful, but you want to make sure they will consistently promote your stories and bring in new fans.
What sets your network apart from others?
This is the big question at the end of the day. There are all kinds of podcast networks out there. All different shapes and sizes. You need to know why you should join this specific network. Specifically, ask them what sets them apart from similar networks so you are comparing apples to apples. For example, comparing WNYC and The New York Times podcast network makes more sense than comparing All Things Comedy and Twit (tech news).
Listen, if there is anything you learn from this blog post, we hope it’s that your podcast is awesome and any network would be lucky to have you! That’s why you need to take the time and work to ask the right questions, learn all the business details, weigh the pros and cons.
If you can, talk to other podcasters in the network and see if they can share their experiences and stories. 🤝 Ask them what the culture is like. Listen to what they find to be the best parts and the worst parts. What do they love, what do they hate. Being able to listen to current members and learn about their experience is critical before you start to sign any contract!
Don’t forget – flying solo is the best decision for some podcasters. Remember you have a ton of awesome audio recording, editing, distribution, marketing, and monetization tools that are available to you as an individual!
Enjoy the journey! We’re your biggest fans! 💜
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