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The four podcast stories that will shape 2024

The four podcast stories that will shape 2024

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It’s been a bad year. But after the fallout, next year could be one of reinvention for the industry.

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Hello! Apologies for the late send, I have been buried in Hot Pod Summit prep. I promise it will be worth it! We’re putting together a great lineup for 2024. We’re still working on our invitation list — if you’re interested in attending, let us know here.

This is about the time yakky media folks like myself come out with predictions for next year. Nick Quah published takes from people across the industry today for Vulture. Yesterday, The Podglomerate’s Joni Deutsch had a piece for Nieman Lab with her own predictions. I highly recommend checking out both!

Today, I don’t have predictions so much as stories on which I am keeping a close watch. Let’s get into it.

Talent deals up for renewal

Many of those big-money, multiyear deals announced in 2020 and 2021 are coming up for renewal in 2024. Companies spent tens of millions of dollars (or, in Joe Rogan’s case, hundreds of millions of dollars) to snatch up top podcasting talent. Now, they have to decide: was it worth it, and will it be worth it to play that game again?

As media companies become more austere in their spending, it is easy to assume that we won’t see these minimum guarantee deals again. But celebrity chat shows, for better or worse, have endured. Rogan is still untouchable, SmartLess is bigger than ever, and Apple just named Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ podcast Show of the Year. One agent told me that despite the doom and gloom of the industry, their clients have had a growth year. These hosts have audiences, and audio companies are going to have to pay up to keep them. 

That is not to say everyone will get a renewal or that a renewal will mean the same kind of deal as before. Arrangements in which the minimum guarantee is smaller but the revenue potential is higher (like with Trevor Noah’s Spotify deal) could become more common. 

And not everyone may get a renewal, after all! It’s hard to see how Spotify would not fight for Rogan or SiriusXM would not pay to keep Ashley Flowers. But maybe that is less of a priority for, say, Dax Shepard. Armchair Expert ranked ninth on Apple Podcasts in 2020 and was snatched up by Spotify in 2021. Since then, it has lost its buzz, and Spotify decided to distribute it across platforms earlier this year (which the company has not done with its two biggest stars, Rogan and Alex Cooper). Today, Armchair Expert ranks 30th on Spotify and 118th on Apple. That is nothing to sniff at, but I would be surprised if he got another $50 million deal.

Regulatory changes in Europe

Some long-simmering tech regulation in Europe is going to come to a head next year. This has been championed first and foremost by Spotify, which has railed against Apple’s control over in-app payments for subscriptions and audiobooks. But if things shake out the way the EU intends, it could make for a more competitive audio industry overall. 

In 2022, the European Union adopted the Digital Markets Act as law, which prevents “gatekeeper” companies (Apple, Alphabet, Meta, Amazon, ByteDance, and Microsoft) from employing practices that derail smaller tech companies. There is a lot involved, but one of the key tenets is banning those companies from self-preferencing their own products and services in places such as search (Google) or marketplaces (the App Store). Those companies have until March to be in compliance with the new law.

This could potentially be great for Spotify’s bottom line. It could also make it easier for audio startups to compete in the open market. The tangible effects in the US next year will be minimal, if they are anything at all. But if the next great audio company can emerge in this new landscape, the podcast industry may have something to gain in the long run.

More AI (duh)

This year, I noticed a distinct shift in the industry’s attitude toward AI. When I left for maternity leave in April, people (including me!!) seemed to be really nervous about what innovations in AI technology would mean for podcasting, especially as examples mostly came in the form of fully AI-generated podcasts like The Joe Rogan AI Experience. When I got back in September, it seemed like people had reached the stage of AI acceptance. 

I don’t think that means we will see too many significant podcasts that are totally AI. Instead, I think it means we will see AI seep into podcasting in subtle ways. Voice cloning technology, like that by ElevenLabs, is getting better and has been used by studios like Dear Media for Believable: The Coco Berthmann Story and Vox Media Podcast Network for Land of the Giants’ season on Tesla. Spotify’s new tool that automatically translates podcasts into other languages could be a game-changer for scaling shows. And there are probably a million other ways it can be used that I am not thinking about because that is simply not how my brain works.

If my vibe earlier this year was that the robots will destroy all media jobs (still a possibility!!), I am more hopeful that there are ways AI can be deployed that do not fundamentally alter the core of a podcast.

A year for reinvention

I know you are already aware of this, but a lot of people were laid off this year. It has been devastating to watch talented producers, engineers, and ad professionals be cut adrift because of companies that got into podcasting without a solid strategy. Unfortunately, some of them won’t be able to wait around for those jobs to come back and will move on to other sectors. But some will remain and make things that push the industry forward.

I want to be clear, this is not a replacement for good jobs that allow people to live their lives while making good work (and, you know, have health insurance). But out from under the thumb of corporate overlords who demand yet another true crime show or haphazardly throw in programmatic ads or impose (and then change) metrics, people in podcasting will innovate. Maybe that means funky show concepts that would never get approved by a SiriusXM or Spotify. Or that could mean alternate business models and ownership structures. Or maybe we will even get that long-anticipated fix for podcast discovery.

This time last year, things (rightfully) seemed bleak. And people have a lot of right to feel betrayed by the companies that threw money at podcasting just to drop it a few years later. But I am hopeful that 2024 will bring good things in podcasting, though probably not from the people or places you expect.

Anything you are thinking about going into the new year? Feel free to reach out at ariel.shapiro@theverge.com.