Dispatches from the On Air LA Business Summit

On Air Fest
November 6, 2023

Last week marked the 2023 On Air LA Business Summit: a day of rapid-fire provocations, participatory sessions and new ideas from leading voices across the industry. 

We’re excited to share back some of what we learned, but first, we want to extend a special thank you for the support from our partner AdsWizz, an advertising and CMS platform that powers podcasters to scale their content, analyze listenership, reach new audiences and maximize revenue.

And now, a few highlights from the Summit:

What is a podcast?

It's changing. And fast. Today “a podcast is whatever a listener thinks it is” says Paul Riismandel, Chiefs Insights Officer at Signal Hill Insights, (who, sidebar, says he’s “swimming” in YouTube data they’ll be releasing soon) and “audiences are becoming more and more platform agnostic.” We heard the same message from Mack Sovereign, EVP of Content and Strategy at Wave Sports + Entertainment. In conversation with Bloomberg News’ Ashley Carman, Mack described building Wave (home to the New Heights with Jason and Travis Kelce podcast) into a next generation media company that is all about finding and acquiring creators with audiences to build their roster. Wave simply calls their shows ‘digital series,’ which maps with the evolving perception of ‘podcasts’ as something that goes beyond the traditional listening experience. Adding to the conversation, Steve McLendon, Product Lead at Google shared that “it’s a mistake for us to think of it as audio versus video.” Adding, “what people do on YouTube, you can actually describe as listening… Sometimes you're cooking, or doing laundry… People for the last 50 years have had TVs on doing the same thing.”

Footnote: Mack also dropped that Wave has a social lead attached to every show at Wave Sports. How many podcast networks do this? Asking for a friend.

ISO The Next 100 Million

There are two billion active daily users watching videos on YouTube every. Single. Day. Yet, there are only 500 million active podcast listeners. What has to change? With lines starting to blur between media formats and the definition of a podcast hanging in the balance, the challenge was raised for the audience to think about how they can drive new listeners by using all the formats in their arsenal… And cultivate listener growth outside the US. Christabel Nsiah-Buadi at Spotify chimed in that “part of that billion is going listeners from Africa and the diaspora.”

AI Translation… powerful, but imperfect

Just recently, Spotify launched a program that allows for AI-powered translation of podcasts into different languages. Business Summit attendees reported listening to Armchair Expert in Spanish as translated by AI and shared back their takes. In short, the tech is promising and hearing the podcast in Dax’s voice according to Adonde Media’s Martina Castro functionally worked, but language contains a lot of nuance and frequently the translation itself missed the mark. “You have to localize to the audience. Is it Mexican Spanish being spoken or Spanish from Spain? There's got to be a human touch there that right now is missing.”

A leading publisher described her hesitation around using AI tools and looking to her team before ultimately choosing to leverage AI to impersonate Elon Musk himself. If nothing else, she encouraged the room to recognize now as a moment for standard setting across the industry; to think critically about where the line around ‘appropriate’ use of untested tools should be drawn. 

It’s time to recenter artistry

A recurring theme throughout the day was a call to support new, original storytellers, rather than invest in derivatives of tried and true (and overdone) storytelling formulas. Attendees were asked to do the hard work of listening — a lot. Listen with empathy, scour for new ideas and identify storytellers with something unique to say. 

Stephen Perlstein of Viral Nation recounted the early days of My Favorite Murder, saying “there was a period where everybody was like, ‘let's do a female murder podcast!’ And I think that was the wrong insight. At the moment, what was actually happening was that women with that interest were underserved, and now they are very well served.” KCRW President Jennifer Ferro underscored this idea, sharing that “in a world of abundance and convenience, it’s our job to create something that people feel they need.”

With so much being made of a reset in the podcast industry, the tone at the summit was one of optimism.

New talent discoveries, new tools to fuel growth in listenership, dissolving walls between media formats and new collaborations within the industry. As KCRW’s Jennifer Ferro put it, “I look at the future, which looks challenging, and it excites me because constraint begets creativity.” 

In short, ‘podcasting’ whatever that means, is as relevant as ever.