In 2008, only 9% of the U.S. population had listened to an audio podcast in the last month. In 2021, that number has more than quadrupled to 41%. Because of the growing popularity of podcasts, everyone wants in on the action. Audio platforms which were initially created for music (e.g., Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music) are now competing for podcast creators, publishers and programs. Many refer to this phenomenon as the podcast wars. In this premium, subscriber-only article, we’ll tell you who’s who in podcasting, including who the major players are, their latest strategies and acquisitions.
The Seattle-based ecommerce giant was a little late to the podcast party, adding podcasts to its streaming audio offerings in September 2020. To help the company get up to speed, Amazon Music announced its acquisition of indie podcast publisher Wondery in December 2020. That purchase helped the company grow its podcast catalog exponentially. Wondery offers popular podcasts including Dirty John, Dirty John, Dr. Death, Business Wars, Joe Exotic: Tiger King, The Mysterious Mr. Epstein, JACKED and The Shrink Next Door. Though Amazon did not disclose terms of the deal, it was reportedly valued at around $300 million.
“We hope to accelerate the growth and evolution of podcasts by bringing creators, hosts, and immersive experiences to even more listeners across the globe, just as we do with music,” said Amazon in the company’s December 30, 2020 announcement. “This is a pivotal moment to expand the Amazon Music offering beyond music as listener habits evolve. Our commitment to podcasts, our focus on high quality audio with the Amazon Music HD tier, and our recent partnership with Twitch to bring live streaming into the app, make Amazon Music a premiere destination for creators.”
Prime members get free access to the podcasts offered on the Amazon Music platform. Listeners can choose from the Editors’ Picks (Dr. Death, Prince, CNN 5 Things, Follow the Truth: The Daniel Green Story, Park Predators, etc.); Top Charts (Solvable by Audiochuck, Crime Junk, The New York Times’ The Daily, Smartless, etc.); or Top Podcasts by Category. There is also a search function where listeners can search by title, creator or other criteria. Though many podcast titles are available with the standard Prime membership, there are some that require an upgrade to Amazon Music Unlimited.
Amazon Music has also partnered with creators to produce original, exclusive podcasts from popular artists like DJ Khaled who has developed a show, “The First One,” featuring friends and iconic artists who will tell their stories and broadcaster Dan Patrick’s “That Scene with Dan Patrick.” Amazon Podcasts are available on listeners’ favorite devices, including Alexa, and they are available for download for offline listening. At the end of last year, Amazon Music offered about 6 million podcast episodes.
Audible, owned by Amazon, also has podcasts available including Audible Originals July’s most popular podcasts: PunchLines, Days that Changed the World, The Genius Dialogues, Pitch and Get Smart. Access to some Audible books and podcasts are free with a Prime membership.
At this early stage, it is hard to determine what Amazon’s podcast strategy is, except for to get in the game and acquire or create as much content as possible, so they have a fighting chance against competitors like Apple and Spotify.
Apple Podcasts is an app for finding, following and listening to millions of podcasts, including free and premium, ad-free content available through subscriptions. They are available by title, channel and category and are curated into collections for easy and personalized discovery. Some of the programs are the same as those on Amazon Music Podcasts (Crime Junkie, Dr. Death, Smartless), but others are exclusive to Apple.
The Apple Podcasts app is pre-installed on Apple devices, and it can be accessed in iTunes on Windows or with an Alexa-enabled speaker. Podcast fans can listen online, or they can download episodes to listen to offline. They can also follow their favorite shows which are automatically downloaded to their library.
In June, Apple launched Apple Podcasts Subscriptions and channels to over 170 countries and regions. Apple Podcasts Subscriptions includes new shows and channels, spanning a range of genres and formats. Popular subscriptions include Birthful with Adriana Lozada, Pantsuit Politics with Beth Silvers and Sarah Stewart Holland, and You Had Me at Black with Martina Abrams Ilunga.
Apple Podcasts Subscriptions was a major upgrade for Apple’s podcast experience and a part of their business strategy moving forward. By making their platform friendly for podcast creators, they are reaching podcast creators and publishers who might have opted to go elsewhere.
In 2020, Apple purchased Scout FM, a podcast app on iPhones, Android devices and Amazon smart speakers. The Scout FM app identified a listener’s interests based on their history and developed personalized recommendations for them. Though the app was popular, Apple shut down the app after buying it, said Bloomberg.
According to eMarketer, Apple Podcasts and Spotify are pretty close in terms of monthly podcast listeners, but this data is not separated by ad-supported and subscription podcasts.
Though it ranks as a top podcast provider in the U.S., iHeart seems to offer a lot of the same content available on other podcast platforms (e.g., The Ben Shapiro Show, Revisionist History, Dateline, Dr. Death). One advantage iHeart has is that it brings together podcasts, live radio and iHeartRadio. In terms of content, in May 2019, the company reported that it had 250,000 podcasts, but we haven’t seen updated figures. iHeart is known for live radio and podcasts seem like an extension of talk radio, though podcasts are a bit more intentional.
Luminary is a relatively small player in the podcast game. Founded in 2018, Luminary is a subscription podcast network featuring award-winning original shows from popular creators like Dave Chappelle and Russell Brand. The network features more than 30 shows and over 1,000 hours of premium, original podcasts like The Midnight Miracle, Above the Noise with Russell Brand, The C-Word with Lena Dunham and Alissa Bennett, The Trevor Noah Podcast and I Am Rapaport.
Luminary is available as a standalone subscription for $2.99 a month, auto-billed annually at $34.99 for the first year. As an alternative, listeners can subscribe to the Luminary Channel on Apple Podcasts for $4.99 a month, or $34.99 a year, following a seven-day free trial. The latter option just became available on Apple Podcasts in June.
“We’re thrilled to collaborate with Apple, the house that built podcasting, to bring our original content to millions of listeners across the world,” said Simon Sutton, Luminary CEO, in a June 25, 2021 announcement.
“When we founded Luminary, we believed that supporting premium subscription podcast content was important to listeners and creators alike. Distributing our content on Apple Podcasts is a critical step in fulfilling our vision,” said Matt Sacks, Luminary Co-founder and Executive Chairman.
SiriusXM subscribers with streaming access can listen to a curated collection of podcasts through the SXM App or online. Their podcasts include 29 originals like Comedy Gold Minds with Kevin Hart, I Want My 80s Podcast, Huuuge Fan with Lachina Robinson, Jeff Lewis Has Issues, Marvel podcasts (e.g., Marvel/Method, Marvel’s Declassified, This Week in Marvel), true crime, news and politics, music, comedy, sports and lifestyle and entertainment.
Pandora, which is owned by SiriusXM, has hundreds of thousands of podcasts and episodes including some familiar titles including Crime Junkie, Dateline, Dark History, Park Predators, CNN Five Things and The New York Times’ The Daily and about two dozen categories including What’s Hot, SiriusXM, Art & Design, Education, En Español, Games & Hobbies, For Kids, Fiction & Drama, Spiritual, and more.
Pandora uses a freemium model, so some Pandora podcasts are free, but they are supported with ads. For an ad-free experience, Pandora Premium is $9.99 a month after a 60-day free trial or Pandora Plus for $4.99 a month after a 30-day free trial. Pandora doesn’t specific on its sign-up page which podcasts you can access with each subscription option.
This is an interesting combination of similar companies. Though Pandora is primarily music focused, SiriusXM is a mix of talk and music. Shows like Howard Stern’s programs were probably actually podcasts before the term podcast was every created – think “talk radio.” Like iHeart Radio, SiriusXM seems to be executing on its own business objectives, but doesn’t want to be left out of the podcast movement.
Spotify is perhaps the unofficial leader of the pack in terms of subscribers (music + podcasts) and podcasts. At the end of the second quarter of 2021, Spotify had 2.9 million podcasts on the platform, an increase of 0.3 million podcasts since the end of the first quarter of 2021. For the same period, the company reported 165 million premium subscribers and 365 million monthly active users. This includes both music and podcast listeners.
Also operating using the freemium model, Spotify podcast listeners have the option to listen to an ad-supported version for free or to pay a subscription fee of $9.99 a month for an ad-free experience. Though Spotify’s Podcast catalog was a little harder to navigate, they benefit from featuring popular exclusives like The Michelle Obama Podcast, Renegades Born in the U.S.A. (with Bruce Springsteen and Barack Obama), Son of a Hitman, Butt Dial, The Ringer, the Joe Rogan Experience and Higher Ground.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle launched their Archewell Audio podcast exclusively on Spotify in December, but they’ve only published one episode since. But then, they’ve got a lot on their plate with the passing of Prince Phillip and the birth of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s second child.
Part of Spotify’s success can be attributed to their many acquisitions. Here are the most recent.
- Gimlet Media, February 2019: The purpose of this acquisition was to help Spotify increase its IP development, production and advertising capabilities to support Spotify and its creator base.
- Parcast, March 2019: At the time of the acquisition, Parcast had launched 18 premium podcast series including Serial Killers, Unsolved Murders, Mind’s Eye and others. This acquisition gives Spotify access to Parcast content while helping Parcast scale and grow their brand of content.
- The Ringer, February 2020: Founded by Bill Simmons in 2016, The Ringer has popular sports and pop culture content that will attract a wide range of listeners.
- Megaphone, November 2020: Megaphone hosts more than 5,500 podcasts. This acquisition will help Spotify with its strategy to further expand into the podcast market and to better serve podcast publishers and advertisers with innovative tools, like Spotify’s proprietary Streaming Ad Insertion (SAI) technology which was introduced earlier this year. Using listener data, SAI serves up relevant ads in real-time to podcast listeners.
- Betty Labs and Locker Room, March 2021: This acquisition gives Spotify the ability to create a new live audio experience similar to Clubhouse. Spotify has since rebranded the tool, calling it Greenroom.
- Podz, June 2021: Podz is a tech startup focused on making podcast discovery easier and more personalized. We find their discovery process a bit clunky, so this acquisition will help them streamline their catalog and make shows, channels and creators easier to find.
Another part of Spotify’s strategy that will serve them well is being creator friendly. Spotify has developed a platform for podcast publishers and creators, making it easy for them to make their work available to fans and to monetize it.
Who has market share?
To some degree, it depends on whom you ask. In this October 2020 survey of 4,400 respondents 18 years and older, the highest percentage listened to Spotify, followed by Apple Podcasts. For now, it seems that Spotify has the edge, but with the recent acquisitions and investments that competitors are making, they could narrow the gap between themselves and Spotify.