‘Holding the winning ticket’: Ira Glass admits podcasting is riding an advertising ‘bubble’

Glass: Podcasting is in a bubble which we will have to ride out.

Podcasting is in a “bubble” in terms of the amount of advertising dollars being ploughed into it, according to the man behind the popular This American Life radio show and podcast, Ira Glass.

“It’s a bubble and we’re going to ride out this bubble,” he told an audience at SXSW in Austin overnight, saying CPMs were “$50 or $60” for their shows, far outstripping the traditional radio model.

He added: “Really serious journalism people are having such trouble surviving and we happen to be holding the winning ticket, and because of podcasting we have all this money, suddenly.”

Glass admitted they had been “late” in getting into podcasting with the successful This American Life series, which had come about as a by-product of the radio show but now includes extra and uncensored content.

He revealed his team were now creating a tool to share snippets of audio from the shows on social media, something he said had been “missing” and would help to grow the medium further.

“The only thing we’ve done to move ahead of the technology is realised audio might be better if you can share it better – investing a little bit of money in inventing a tool to share 15-second clips from shows.”

Glass said that innovation had been driven by a younger staff member as his social media use is limited.

“I’m not on Facebook because I’m busy – I had a brief period when I tried to and I couldn’t respond to everything and my job,” he said.

“A younger staffer told me this is a problem and we’ve got to fix this – I usually have to be informed by others. The answers are usually pretty obvious when someone points out what to do.”

SerialGlass is also the editorial director of the most popular podcast ever, Serial.

Talking about the success of that format, which tells a complex story, week-by-week and has had more than 10 million downloads per episode, he said: “We didn’t anticipate it would necessarily work.”

“The business plan was if we can get 300,000 people to download each episode we could make enough money from advertising – at this point we’ve had 10m per episode,” he added.

“There were technology changes the month Serial came out, which helped – that month Apple came out with a podcast app. Until then it was hard, then everyone on an iPhone had an app that you push once and it lists all the top podcasts.”

Glass admitted it had been a struggle to get This American Life, which has been running for 20 years, on to radio, having to pitch it to the programming directors of every public radio station to get it up.

He quipped: “It took four years to get a million people to listen to the show – it took Serial four weeks because people can find things on the internet now.

“At the beginning our show was not a sure bet. To sound like I sound as host of a radio show – programming directors were like ‘are you going to get a real host?'”

But he said he had become obsessed with making the program a success.

“The more off-centre your mission, the more weird, the more different to other people you are, the more cunning you have to be on the business side. I was, like, ‘I’m going to fucking kill on the business side’,” he said.

To do that they played on the pledge drive – the ads run on public radio in the US to get people to donate money to keep them going – saying they made skits to play in other, more popular shows that were funny and started to bring in cash.

Alex Hayes in Austin



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