Podcasting has the potential to create new and lucrative revenue streams for media owners, according to John Hirst, head of global content and podcasts with the UK’s Global Radio group, which in its latest financial year (which ends this month) has generated an income of £1m sterling from this channel alone. Podcasting also offers opportunities for brands that want to engage in a more meaningful way with consumers, he says.

Hirst (pictured), who was in Dublin to address the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland Annual Conference, told businessandleadership.com that the group – which has stations and hubs in 60 locations in the UK, some 18 million listeners and a number of household-name brands, including Capital Radio, Classic FM and LBC – has been involved in podcasting, and indeed vodcasting, for the past four years. After spending a year in the planning stages, the group had £40,000 sterling in sales in the second year and £450,000 sterling in year three. “This is a very valuable additional source of revenue, and it is growing significantly at present,” he said.

While podcasting has a natural kinship with radio, Hirst does not believe it is limited to this medium. “We’re finding that we’re starting to compete in that field with other media – press in general, publishers of books, but also non-media companies. Gadget companies or scientific companies, for example, might also publish content. For us, we’re leading the way in the UK, along with the BBC, but it’s opened up a field for lots of other media and general people to publish their own content.”

Being able to actually generate revenue from this channel will depend on the company’s existing resources, according to Hirst. “If it’s a newspaper that currently has revenue streams, it would sell advertising onto the podcast in the same way as we would. It would be an extension to what it sells in its newspapers. For an individual or company that isn’t set up for media sales, it’s more difficult. I can see a time in the future where you might have an individual sales house representing whole groups of companies or individuals who publish podcasts.”

Hirst said that revenue from podcasting in the Global Radio group is currently being generated through a combination of production skills and advertising. As well as selling advertising around the additional content, stations are also offering a podcast or vodcast element to advertising campaigns.  Hirst said the podcast or vodcast dimension can be in the form of short ‘mini-programmes’ relating to the product or company which are available on the station’s website or on the advertiser’s website.

“In the UK, stations are making money from their production skills and facilities in making the podcasts on behalf of advertisers. In addition, by offering vodcasts they are opening up new markets. Advertisers are saying ‘we didn’t know you guys could do video’, and when they find out they can they are also looking for things like DVD production.”

It’s interesting to note that Hirst’s team is also making a proportion of its turnover from subscribers. “LBC in London has around 5,000 subscribers paying £2 per month to download all available podcasts from the station,” he explained. “But the subscriber model really only works for speech stations with a lot of original content. I don’t think that model really works with any other station.”

While podcasting is obviously important as a new source of revenue, Hirst believes that the fact that it helps to engage people more is also critical. Of his own particular sector, he pointed out that radio stations need to attract additional listeners and they need ensure they stay tuned for longer. “And I think this helps do both,” he said. “It engages listeners so we have a deeper relationship. And it gets them to listen longer because they’re listening to off-air content.”

Offering exclusive content increases audience reach, he said, giving the example of 95.8 Capital FM. “It is mainly a music station but it has podcasts on topics such as fashion and what’s on in London available exclusively on its website,” he explained. “People who don’t listen to the radio station might download the podcasts and still have a relationship with the radio station.”

Audience loyalty is also an important point, he said. “By offering listeners a range of free podcasts on your site you can strengthen the connection with the audience and build loyalty at the same time.”

But podcasting is also relevant to other media and to wider brands, according to Hirst. “Any brand wants to engage with their customers,” he said.  “If you have a podcast about your product or service, that’s engaging with customers in a deeper way.

Pictured: John Hirst, head of global content and podcasts with the UK’s Global Radio group