As pitches to potential advertisers go, Blindboy’s tweet on Saturday was as unconventional and provocative as the Limerick man in the plastic-bag mask:
“Irish companies. Sponsor my podcast ye stupid bastards. I’ve more listeners than most radio shows on RTÉ and Today FM. My audience are adults who are okay with cursing, this shouldn’t be a barrier. Cop on and grow up.”
It’s hard to imagine there was a stampede of media buyers or well-funded big brands contacting the Rubber Bandit writer and performer on foot of that plea – and not just because the tone of the maverick commentator’s tweet was a bit too teenage boy stomping to the bedroom to inspire the sort of commercial confidence companies need before they part with marketing budgets.
He does have a point though.
His weekly Blindboy podcast – the latest is the 90-minute "Rectum Pen Pals" recorded from a bedroom in his house – brings in the sort of numbers that compete with commercial radio.
There's a 'Netflixisation' going on in podcasting, people will pay for ad-free quality content
His Irish weekly listenership can hit 160,000 (his worldwide listeners – or international c**ts as he welcomed them this week – would bring the numbers higher according to Wolfgang Digital who supplied the figures; Blindboy's representatives won't, unusually for such a measurable medium, release listener figures or advertising details) so the Blindboy podcast could reach higher figures than Pat Kenny's 155,000 on Newstalk and Matt Cooper's 142,000 on Today FM.
Blindboy on the Rubber Bandits Twitter feed claims to have one million listeners – for one podcast or many, it’s not specified.
And while radio has always sold itself on offering a highly-personal relationship between presenter and listener, podcasts easily trump that.
Users seek out podcasts – it’s a very deliberate personal choice with a one-to-one audio experience that most radio, particularly daytime radio, doesn’t match.
Alan Coleman, chief executive of Wolfgang Digital, a Dublin-based marketing agency makes podcasts for clients as part of a wider digital offering but his agency also sponsored the Blindboy podcast for a short burst last year.
“The numbers of course were a factor,” he says adding that what brought him to the podcast was the “cultural connect”. “People in the office were talking about the Blindboy podcast, they were listening to it, they loved it, so I could easily understand how it might be right for us.”
“Podcasts are uncrowded space commercially,” he says, in that an advertiser could easily find themselves the lone commercial voice in an episode.
He advises clients that “it’s best to tap into a podcast relevant to your brand” – indicating that it’s not just about the listenership numbers.
But seeking radio-type advertising is just one – old school – funding model. Another is subscription-based through platforms such as Audible (£7.99 a month) whose US-made podcast the 13-part West Cork about the Toscan du Plantier murder was a hit last year.
And, unusually in a media landscape that favours bite-sized piece of information, the proliferation of multipart podcasts such as Serial, Dirty John and Slow Burn have proven people are willing to invest time in long-form content.
A digital disrupter in this space is Patreon, a global membership platform for 13,140 podcasters where listeners can either listen freely and if they want to be “sound or supportive donate a dollar or more” or pay a fixed-price subscription.
Blindboy is on the platform with the dollar or more donate button but he would do well to examine how the commercially savvy Irish sports podcasters Second Captains are leveraging the reach – and simplicity for consumers – of the US-based platform.
Second Captains signed up to Patreon in February 2017 offering subscribers access to podcasts, a blog and live events for a €5 non-contract monthly fee.
Last week, its World Service Broadcast was third on the list of highest monthly earners on the platform. First was Chapo Trap House, a US political humour podcast that made $118,348 last month from its 26,502 Patreon subscribers; and while no income figure is listed for third-place Second Captains, it's not hard to do the maths on the Dublin-based podcasters 11,313 "patrons" who each pay €5.
"In our first week on Patreon we had 5,000 subscribers," says Ciaran Murphy of Second Captains, noting that by the time they decided on the subscription model they were already a well-known name having had a radio show on Newstalk, an Irish Times-linked podcast and an RTÉ television series.
“People knew what they were paying for,” he says adding that subscriber numbers have shown a “gradual upward curve ever since”. The captains make six podcasts a week – four accessed via subscription, but the two they put out on Mondays are free.
“Each of those gets 40,000 listeners,” says Murphy, making them a smart showcase for the brand and encouraging sign-ups for the rest of the week.
Not having to have a marketing department negotiating with sponsors and advertisers was part of the appeal of the subscription model but there was also another factor: “We see it as a contract between us and the listener,” says Murphy.
“There’s a ‘Netflixisation’ going on in podcasting, people will pay for ad-free quality content,” says Coleman, referring to the music streaming service Spotify’s acquisition of podcast network Gimlet and listening app Anchor earlier this month.
The move makes Spotify the second-biggest podcast platform after Apple and signals a pivot by the brand – with 96 million paid subscribers – into becoming an audio, not just music, streaming service.
Whatever about Blindboy’s assertion in another tweet last weekend that advertisers “don’t know what the word podcast is and it seems odd and new to them” – there’s little doubt that listeners know what they are. And if they like what they hear enough, they are increasingly prepared to pay for it.