The success of the podcast Serial is part of a wider “radio renaissance” that goes well beyond traditional broadcasters, according to streaming service Mixcloud.
The company has just announced the winners of its second Online Radio Awards, which aim to spotlight the best internet shows, with NPR Radio’s whodunnit documentary winning the best online talk radio show category.
“We’re in a bit of a radio renaissance. Apple’s Beats 1 is the big news story this year, but we’ve also seen the incredible growth of podcasts in the last couple of years,” chief executive Nikhil Shah told the Guardian. “Serial is going to be just the first of many viral, audio-only drama shows.”
“There’s been this one flagship show with Serial, and that’s created such a big conversation around the area, and inspired a lot of people who had previously discounted podcasts as a thing of the past,” added co-founder Nico Perez.
“This format makes a lot of sense, especially for the huge number of people who commute to work every day. And a host of new apps are making it easy for them to get the latest episodes of their favourite shows.”
Mixcloud is one of those apps. The British startup launched in 2008 with an emphasis on streaming DJ mixes, although it has since broadened its focus to include radio-style shows and podcasts.
It now has 12 million monthly listeners, and a catalogue of more than 8m shows and mixes uploaded by more than a million DJs, podcasters and media partners.
With Apple recently launching its own radio station, and Spotify and Deezer both adding podcasts to their services, it’s an intimidating time for a 12-person startup to be operating in a similar field.
“We’ve been talking about the importance of curation for some time now, and with the launch of Beats 1 and the human curation and radio anchors front and centre, it validates what we have been saying for 4-5 years now about the importance of humans,” said Perez.
Are those humans paying off for Mixcloud? The company has not published financials, but Shah said that a third of its revenue comes from standard advertising, a third from branded shows and sponsorships, and the final third from users upgrading to its £9-a-month Pro account for more uploading features and analytics.
The company hopes that the wider surge in podcast and online radio listening will fuel its future growth. Hence the Online Radio Awards, which Shah said aim to highlight the best online shows, whether they are available on Mixcloud or not.
Key winners in 2015, besides Serial, include Red Light Radio for the best online radio station, and the The Selector – produced by the British Council as a showcase for British music globally – for the best online music show.
“There’s a hell of a lot of amazing stuff out there: really cool specialist stations and shows from all corners of the world, including Africa, the Middle East and Asia. There are stations popping up everywhere, and they’re not necessarily about the most polished, over-produced ident-style radio shows,” said Shah.
“They’re often passionate music fans turning up in a studio with a bag full of records, and presenting with a huge amount of passion. The quality might start off pretty flaky, but you see the presenters evolve over the course of time: they learn as the station grows.”
Shah sees this as part of a broader trend for self-publishing that takes in platforms like Medium for blogging, and YouTube and other services for video production. “The growth of audio programming follows a broader trend,” he said.
For now, Mixcloud – unlike Spotify – is resisting the temptation to expand into video, focusing instead on improving its smartphone apps and making it easier for listeners to discover new shows they’ll like.
“It’s something that’s crossed our mind, but as we move more and more towards a mobile-first culture and mobile forms of consumption, actually, we are still listening in terms of an audio experience,” said Perez.
“A lot of the time, you don’t want to look at your screen. You want to hit play, put your smartphone in your pocket, and get on with things. For what we’re doing, video doesn’t make that much sense.”
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