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The future of podcasts is growing beyond the screen

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Photo: Nicholas Green

Photo of Annie Langston
by Annie Langston

Podcasts are breaking out of isolated, digital consumption and into real-life experiences. At this year’s On Air Fest, the Pod Loft hosted a series of podcast activations for a variety of shows, including My Favorite Murder, where fans – known as Muderinos – gathered to see fan art and tributes to the show. These experiences illustrate how the future of podcasts goes beyond digital platforms. As platforms shift their focus to the listener experience, fostering fandom is a crucial component for not only serving small-but-mighty podcast niches, but also expanding to larger audiences. 

Fandoms are key for podcasts growth 

As the podcast market becomes more oversaturated, creators must find ways to cut through the noise. Fostering a dedicated fanbase is equally as important — if not more so — as creating good, consistent content. As the content landscape continues to oversaturate, helped along by the rapid advancement of artificial intelligence (AI), these themes will become even more prominent. While cultivating a digital fandom is essential to a creator’s career, the next step is IRL fandom. This can be even more powerful, because while digital experiences are now ubiquitous, live events are scarce, unique experiences. 

Tapping into niche experiences 

In this new normal, consumers are balancing the return of in-person experiences with the digital entertainment boom of lockdown. This creates new opportunities for creators to host events to foster fan connections. For instance, Chris Gethard, host of the podcast Beautiful / Anonymous, where anonymous callers discuss their lives, is bringing those stories to a weekend convention. This convention will feature some of the anonymous callers, comedians, live music, and a live recording of the show, thus cultivating a unique fan experience. This builds the show's fandom by connecting fans to the podcast host as well as other fans, while also providing a new revenue source for the creator and new sponsorship opportunities for companies. At these events, brands can be more directly involved with a fanbase rather than just placing an ad in a show. While the main focus of these events is fostering a show's current fanbase, they can also serve as marketing tools to reach a wider audience. Karina Longworth, host of You Must Remember This, a show that explores early Hollywood history, is partnering with American Cinematheque for an “Erotic Tuesdays” series to showcase films discussed in her podcast. This event further contextualizes the podcast and brings both fans of the podcast and film together.

Moving beyond merchandise 

The economic downturn is creating challenges in the foundations of podcast advertising, prompting creators to expand their monetisation strategies. Podcast merchandise such as T-shirts, mugs, and home décor are some of the common items found in creator stores. However, podcast creators can move beyond these items to reach mass consumers as well. Dan Pashman, the host of The Sporkful, a self-described “podcast for eaters”, created a signature pasta shape with Sfoglini, called cascatelli, which was one of Time’s best inventions in 2021. Moreover, Pashman documented the three-year journey of making the pasta shape in his podcast, bringing his fans along on the quest and amplifying the connection to the product itself. This success allowed him to develop three more pasta shapes and companion cookbooks. In addition to live events bringing podcast fans to new IRL spaces, these types of products go in the opposite direction, bringing podcasts into more parts of consumers’ daily lives.  

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