Philly podcast fest turns five, celebrates big growth

For clues on how big and lucrative the world of podcasting is getting, consider the Philadelphia Podcast Festival, planting flags at nine area venues this Friday night through July 23.

At the first fest five years ago, organizers had to dig to find a dozen local podcast creators to record shows before a live audience, said Teagan Kuruna, host of the podcast “Teagan Goes Vegan” and festival coordinator with her husband, Nathan.

Last year, the festival made room for 30 podcast sessions. And this year, there will be 55 sessions hosted by locals, with many more who “couldn’t be accommodated,” Kuruna said. All will be recording hour-long (max) episodes of their internet-streamed programs before a live audience, schmoozing about everything from books to pop music to Philly sports to serious social issues.

These intimate and inexpensive podcasts use an all-inclusive strategy for revenue — donations, subscriptions, and direct-response commercials with special codes — with some using the medium to promote their makers’ businesses. But to get serious advertisers on board, they need a verifiable audience of 20,000 or more. Sports are getting lots of attention. Philadelphia-based scene tracker Kurt Laufer of toppodcast.com sees podcasting growing “from a $220 million to a billion-dollar business” in the next five years.

The festival reflects that optimism. While most events will still be free, the first out-of-town podcasters ever invited will be tapping another revenue stream by recording in venues as large as the 1,200-seat Trocadero, at 10th and Arch, and charging listeners $5 to $25 for the verbal fun, sometimes scripted, often improvised.

These include the McElroy duo – hubby Justin and doctor wife Sydnee — who delight in recounting primitive medical practices of yore (“Sawbones”) and the wiseacre fans of bad movies “The Flop House.” Also, the (usually) long-distance gal pals of “Call Your Girlfriend” who schmooze weekly on their lives, said Kuruna. (All three visiting troupes are playing the Troc this Sunday, July 16.)

Importing such performers  – familiar through such platforms as iTunesStitcher, and audioBoom – should get them talking “about how great our city and our podcast scene are,” said Kuruna, a health-care researcher/writer by vocation. And local podcasters may take inspiration, she added, sensing  a “time-to-quit-your-day-job” opportunity amidst a labor of love.

Probably the best known of  Philly participants this year, said Kuruna, are Andrew (Cunningham) and Craig (Getting), cheerfully conversing on books and plays with the podcast “Overdue,” going live July 23 at 5 p.m. at the Kitchen Table Gallery. Direct-to-you food vendor Blue Apron is an “Overdue” sponsor.

Podcast revenue tracker Graphtreon.com says the duo, ongoing since 2015, are pulling in more than $500 a month through Patreon, a listener-support platform popular with smaller podcasts. Not enough to pull the guys from gigs as online tech reviewer and theater education director.

Another developing story, says Kuruna, is Timaree Schmit, a sexuality educator, former Philly.com contributor, and host of  “Sex With Timaree,” playing live July 21, 9:30 p.m. at the Ruba Club. “She’s created a whole media career around her podcast,” said Kuruna.

Seconding that is Steve Harner, who podcasts at “BridgeSet Sound” with wife Thao about the music they admire and the instruments, gear, and recording facilities they feature at their 710 South St. emporium of the same name. The podcast “has become a kind of calling card for the store and our services,” which include teaching fledgling podcasters (“most aged 25 to 40”) how to record better shows.

“People have come into the store and bought things because they liked our podcast and wanted to meet us,” Harner said. “With most people listening to podcasts on headphones, these shows can get inside your brain. You really come to think of your favorite podcasters as friends.”

The Harners have also inspired student clients, including local hospital dietitian Jennifer Dolan, “for whom we’ve created a website (jennifermdolan.com) and a podcast (“Jennifer’s Twist”) on healthy nutrition, featuring guests from the food industry. “She’s meeting all kinds of people, has a great voice, could wind up doing consulting or voice-overs for food shows out of this.”

Not incidentally, Harner will again engineer a multiday marathon of festival recording sessions at the nearby (530 South) Tatooed Mom bar – “how I first discovered this podcast world a couple years ago” —  and will hold a triple bill of talk-athons in his own shop Friday from 8 to 11 p.m. “There are no tickets for most. You can come and go as you want.”

On-demand shows, such as NPR’s multi-episode “Serial” and Kevin Smith’s weekly SModcast, score hundreds of thousands of listeners. Top Patreon-supported creators such as Philip DeFranco and Chapo Trap House (both news/entertainment purveyors) and Second Captains (stout-hearted Irish sports schmoozers) attract up to $70,000 in patronage-site donations each month, notes Graphtreon.

Apple’s coming listener metrics for iTunes podcasts will help deflate the hypesters and direct “now-reluctant advertisers to the real hits,” noted Laufer of toppodcast.com.

By his reckoning, Philly sports podcasters are gaining the most traction here with per-episode listenership in the “tens of thousands” for Spike Eskin (son of Howard) with his 76ers-themed “The Rights to Ricky Sanchez” and Kyle Scott with CrossingBroad.com. (Neither is in the festival.) “Spinning off his big sports blog, Scott launched a podcast he records Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 6 a.m., then puts up  online by 7:30 a.m, going up against the morning sports talk on WIP and The Fanatic. He’s really disruptive, really innovative.”

When listener numbers loom that large, podcast publishers start “offering you guarantees and ad profit sharing to carry your show,” said Laufer. “Or you can try a stand-alone premium subscription model — like the $4.95 a month Bill O’ Reilly is getting.”

But Kuruna bristles at such big-money talk, and doesn’t want the audio art form to lose its charms. “Sharing is its own reward; building a community around what you’re doing is fulfilling,” she said “…  I interview people all over the world through Skype. Record and edit shows on an iPhone. Then Archive.Org hosts them for free. I don’t charge anything for you to hear them. So there’s a very low barrier for entry.”

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