Gimlet Media Hopes to Be the HBO of Podcasting

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From: Upstart Business Journal

Podcasting has been around for just over a decade, but the past year has seen an explosion of interest in the form, with “This American Life" spinoff “Serial" breaking iTunes records and a host of new podcast networks popping up to carve out their niche in what's being called the “new golden age of radio."

“I think what we want to be is the HBO of podcasting," Gimlet Media CEO Alex Blumberg told an audience last night at Social Media Week in New York. That is, a high quality brand with the flexibility to stretch the form, the way HBO offers scripted dramas, documentaries, original films and comedy. "There's a big demand for the kind of content we're creating."

The public radio veteran left his job less than a year ago to build his own network of high quality podcasts, documenting his journey as first-time CEO along the way on his podcast, StartUp (yes, a podcast about starting a podcasting company).

StartUp was a hit. Blumberg told Social Media Week the company hoped to reach 100,000 downloads in roughly a year. It took only a few months. Since launching in 2014, Gimlet has launched a second podcast, Reply All, with plans for a third this spring. The company has raised $1.5 million.

And if Gimlet isn't turning a profit yet, it's at least pulling in revenue (more than expected at this point although Blumberg didn't get into details). Advertisers see value in podcasts for the way ads are built into the content. While a 30-second pre-roll spot may grate when played before a song on Spotify or a YouTube video, on podcasts they're almost always read by the host (who the audience already likes), or otherwise cleverly incorporated into the show.

“The economics are very different in spoken word," Blumberg said. “You form an emotional relationship with the audience."

On StartUp, Blumberg actually interviews his sponsors about their product. At one point he actually asks a sponsor how the ad is going for them.

Despite the upsurge in interest, the podcasting world is still surprisingly small.

“There isn't enough content really," Blumberg said.

That looks to be changing quickly. This week, Slate (which has long played the podcast game) launched its own podcasting platform called Panoply which offers media partners support in production, audience development and distribution.

Tags: startup Gimlet Media Alex Blumberg podcast This American Life Serial iTunes Social Media Week