Under very specific conditions, being associated with a radio network can be beneficial for your podcast. But this is quite rarely the case. Too often, podcast network branding can do more harm than good to your show. With the work that they do at Podetize, Tracy Hazzard and Tom Hazzard have gained an in-depth understanding of how these podcast networks work. In this episode, they help us discover the hidden benefits and drawbacks of being in a podcast network. If you’re just starting your show and you want it to have more clicks and downloads, you might easily get swayed by pitches that show incredible numbers and statistics. Don’t take them for their word just yet. Join this conversation and learn what red flags you should absolutely be looking for when trying to decide if joining a network is the right decision for you.
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How Can Podcast Network Branding Transform Your Show? Discovering The Hidden Benefits And Drawbacks
In this episode, we are going to talk about and address the issue of how can podcast network branding transform your show. Also, discovering hidden benefits and drawbacks. There are more hidden drawbacks than there are benefits but I’m curious about what you think.
Are you going to preview that and throw that out there?
I’m saying my personal feeling on it.
We did do a show already quite some time ago but we certainly have an episode about whether or not you should join a network. We’re going to touch on that a little bit because we are going to tie it back together but should you join a network is the very first question you should be asking yourself. Secondly, is that network branding adds value and that’s what we’re going to be talking about mostly in this episode. Tom, you typically see radio networks more often but you do see networks that have a pervasive branding that they put across shows. Tell us a little bit about what that looks like.
The thing that I see the most with, I would say a lot of networks but not all, is that the network wants to put their umbrella brand on top of your show or maybe a better way to say it is to bring your show brand under the umbrella of their brand, both in the logo of your show, the cover art and also, in the show listing where the author field I see often is the network name instead of your name, the host.
That’s not a best practice or necessarily in your best interest as the host and the owner of the podcast because it hurts the discoverability of people that know you and say, “I think Tom Hazzard has a podcast. Let me search for his name in my podcast app.” When your name’s not in the author field, it has a negative impact on discoverability in your show coming up. That’s one example.
However, it could be a benefit and this is what I want you to consider. If you are a nobody and no one’s going to ever be searching for your name yet because you haven’t found your niche or your audience or you haven’t built your name yet within the industry, then using a network where somebody will search for it will be beneficial because then you will show up amongst their shows.
That’s what we need to consider. What stage are you at? Is it a drawback or a benefit? Is that network going to bring you a good association? Here’s the problem that I see too often and we touched on this probably predominantly within the Should You Be a Part of a Network episode that we did, which is this issue of the networks that are a shotgun approach all over the place in terms of their lack of focus in a particular industry or niche.
Barstool Sports is a great network in the sports industry and they have tons of different shows on different types of sports and topics. The Barstool Sports name brings sports fans. If you’re a startup in that, you don’t have a name for yourself in the sports industry yet and you get an opportunity to join one of the Barstool Sports brands, that’s going to be a great benefit to you to be able to utilize their name to get your name out there.
We’re raising our authority by association but they’re all focused on the sports niche. All the listeners they bring are sports. There might be some that don’t care about hockey and that’s what your show is about but at the same time, the largest area of sports fans in general are coming to Barstool Sports shows. That makes sense. We’ve seen that happen with sometimes meditation and wellness podcast networks. When they’re focused on one thing, that can lend you a lot of authority and value.
When they’re like, “It’s all entrepreneurs network,” it’s too general and where you fall through the cracks because what they’re doing is looking for their Joe Rogan or their top star to carry the network and make them a ton of money. When you’re not that person, they don’t care about you anymore. You’re only paying their bills. You’re only their subscription or whatever model they’re charging you on and most of them do charge you. Very few of them pay you. You have to have proven that you already have a great show and you’re going to bring them add value before they pay you.
To me, that’s the first big red flag. If a network is courting you and they’re wanting to have your show on their network, what’s the value for you? You need to look with a critical eye as to what value are you going to get from this relationship or what value they’re going to get. If they’re having you pay to be a part of their network and you’re a profit center for them, then they’re not getting a whole lot of value from you being on the network in terms of monetization. They’re trying to monetize through you.
If they have a network that is monetized and has lots of sponsors that are interested in that sports genre that you were using as an example, the more shows they have, the more money they’re going to make. It’s because they can sell more ad spots with more shows, episodes and listens. Why do they need to charge you anything to be on that? If they’re going to charge you, I often find that you’re helping them by being on the network more than they’re going to help you and bring you a lot of listeners. There may be exceptions.
The one thing that I do want to say here is charging beyond hosting. Let’s be clear here. I have no problem and I say you should pay for your hosting because if you pay for your hosting, you are in control of your show. When you don’t pay for your hosting, you are not in control of your feed and that show. Somebody else’s email address will be entered in there because they’re paying the bill for the hosting of your show. Be very careful about that. That is not what I’m talking about of you paying us. We’re talking about you paying $500 or $1,000 a month to be a part of a network, a radio show or something like that where you’re paying them for production or to be a part of the network.
This is the model of pay to be on a stage. It’s no different here. A lot of these networks are those same things. How many events have you gone to in the last six months and not seen an audience show up? We were at an event in LA and I’m not going to out them but it was the worst trafficked event I’ve seen since the pandemic started. It was worse than any event I’ve ever been to and this should have had thousands of people walking through that for the fees that they charged for the booze and the speaking spots.
Especially for a big metropolitan city location the event was in and I don’t think it outs the event to say it was in Los Angeles. You’re talking to one of the most populous cities in the nation. It was a huge community of people in that city and was also an easy destination for people flying in from other places. It was sad how low the attendance was. I have not heard of a large event. I’m talking about one that should have at least 1,000 people and maybe many thousands who have achieved those kinds of numbers post-pandemic and we’re seeing 200 or 300. It was low numbers.
If you’re paying in and they’re not delivering an audience in the network situation that we’re talking about here, what’s your recourse? Can you get out of the contract? Is it going to scale down? Will you pay less when you don’t have that kind of listener base or ad revenue that they promised you? That’s another one. There’s a lot that overclaims their download numbers and they sell you on that.
They say, “If you pay $1,000 a month, we get X million downloads per month.” What percentage of regular shows get that? Is that all on one show? They’re using the numbers for one show garners and it’s not cascading down to everyone. This is what will happen. 98% of the revenue is going to go to 2% of the shows. That’s what’s going to happen in any network. How do you get to be part of that 2%? It is the big question.
If you were a part of the 2%, they should be paying you not the other way around because you had a great show to begin with or you wouldn’t be bringing them that kind of listener base. This is where, “Should you be a part of the network,” is a question but also the questionable business practices of how branding that network makes some of those red flags that we were talking about, whether or not there are more benefits or drawbacks to it.
The number one thing I see is if there is a benefit to you to being associated with a network because of its focus and you require that authority build to get yourself known in an industry or a niche, then you might consider doing it. There could be greater benefits than there are drawbacks. With that being said, double-check the contracts for lots of these kinds of issues that we were talking about like how you off-ramp and get out of it.
The second thing that Tom pointed out though that I want to highlight here is the author’s name and field. If only Barstool Sports is the only name there and your name isn’t there also, you could have both of them. You can have two authors. You can have a person’s name and a company name. You can do that and I highly recommend that. Instead of putting your company name as your author field, do not do that because it hurts you, instead, put your name and the brand. Your name and the company, your name and the network.
Require that as a part of your contract because you are getting a co-authority built. It is working for you. If someone’s looking for Barstool Sports, they’re going to find your show. If someone’s looking for you, they’re going to find Barstool Sports. It’s mutually beneficial. That is one. It’s a key factor. If they don’t do that, I worry about whether or not there’s more for them in it than for me.
Here’s another thing that I would like to share as a friendly tip or suggestion to anyone considering adding their podcast to an existing network. That network will make a lot of claims about how many listeners they have or how many podcast downloads their network gets.
How many podcasts do they have in general?
My strong recommendation on this one is to ask the questions. “How many shows are on your network? What are they?” If they’re not willing to be transparent about it, that’s a red flag. “How many are actively publishing new episodes every single week? What are the total downloads for the network?”
You could ask for the average but it’s a little better to ask, “What’s the range? The show that gets the least plays or downloads on the network gets, how many per month? Also, the one that gets the most.” If a network is one of integrity and they have real value to you as a podcaster, they’re going to share it and answer those questions. If they’re shaky about it and glossing over, doing anything other than answering the question directly or giving you a good reason why they can’t give you an answer, then I would be skeptical.Your podcast can benefit from authority by association if the network you’re joining is focused on one thing that can lend you a lot of authority and value. Click To Tweet
Too often, they overstate the timeline or the number. They might say, “We have five million downloads,” and they make the implication that it’s a monthly number and that’s the lifetime number for the last decade. It is a big difference. There are comparison numbers out there. You can go out there and see that there are all kinds of reports on Barstool Sports that I mentioned because when they got bought, what were they doing in terms of numbers, dollars and all kinds of things and information about that?
There’s information on iHeart. iHeart has listed how many shows they have. They’re one of the largest networks. You want to look at that but they claim to have about 350 shows but the reality is less than 50 of them are actively posting. Most of them barely made it past one season. That’s not a great hitch ratio either in terms of the network. That’s also something to consider. When they’re taking those numbers and you’re taking a look at them, you’re dividing it by 50 shows because they’re the active shows.
Think about, “Are these numbers make sense? Are they jiving with what’s happening in the industry as a whole?” We’re talking about network branding and how it can transform your show. Can it help? Here’s the other problem that I have and Tom mentioned this. Your logo or cover art as we call it here in the industry. The icon for the show appears in all the search apps. Too many networks make a programmatic decision.
It means that their brand is all over this and the styling is your picture and the name of your show. That’s it. When listeners see that, they know it’s programmatic. They’ve seen it before. You don’t have any differentiation and solo value anymore. At that point, they look at it and go, “Do I like this network? Do they put out good shows? Does this show name resonate with me?” Maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t.
That’s not playing at the field you want to play at. That’s not attracting listeners. It’s detracting. They’re less likely to click it because of the network branding going on here. It harms the listener base and the overall long-term value of your show. We see that most often with radio shows. We don’t see it at iHeart. They don’t do it. The iHeart logo’s small on the bottom. NPR doesn’t even do it. They’ve got a small logo on the bottom. The New York Times network has it. It’s small and not overpowering.
However, being associated with the Wall Street Journal channel or New York Times Network are valuable. You do want that ingredient branding on your cover art but you don’t want it to take over the meaning of the show. Good networks know this. That’s why their logos are in the bottom corner. It’s small. Networks that are trying so hard to make themselves the players are a sign of them struggling if they’re working so hard and over-branding everything. To me, it’s a sign that this network is having to say they’re more valuable than they are in reality.
Internet radio platforms, which are a form of the network, existed largely before the last few years of modern podcasting. They often are pitching themselves to people that say, “I’m thinking of starting a podcast.” “You should start a radio show. It’s also a podcast.” They make it seem like you get all the benefits of podcasting being a part of their internet radio network.
All too often and this is a little friendly advice from long-hard experience is very often those networks are doing a very bad job of syndicating your show as a podcast. They do it because that’s what they said they’re going to do but they don’t try very hard or do a good job of it but they feel that they have the need to check that box of, “Yes, it’s a podcast,” if somebody asked them. Especially if you started your show with them, they don’t do a good job with the branding of the show or the description of the show, which is critical among other things.
They always put their name in the author field. They don’t put yours and all of that. They control your hosting. You don’t. This is the problem. When you leave them, you will fight with them to get your show back. Even if it’s in your contract, they’ll be like, “We don’t know how to get it off of there, how to do it or how to separate it.” They make it impossible for you to get your show back and they make you jump through a lot of hoops when you do.
We have a whole episode on radio shows versus podcasts. It’s a whole show about the complications of radio shows and what happens there. The last thing that I want to mention in terms of benefits and drawbacks is the website issue. That’s what radio shows do. They’re all focused on their website, where they house, have the home for their radio show and where they drive all their traffic because that’s where they make ad revenue.When a podcast network is trying so hard to make itself the player, it's a sign that it’s struggling because it’s working so hard and over-branding everything. It's a sign that it has to say it’s more valuable than it is in reality. Click To Tweet
Most online radio makes ad revenue off of banner ads. Ads on their website, not audio ads on their show. They make more money off the website itself. They want to drive traffic there. It’s part of their value, which means that they’re taking your authority value from your website. They will not allow you to have blogs. Some of them don’t even allow you to have your podcast on the homepage of your website. You can only link out to them. That’s where that is a huge drawback if you’re not allowed to maintain the integrity of your content and keep it with your brand or company.
Be very careful in any contractual issues with networks on that. There are many networks that do not allow you to have your podcast contained on your website. Keep that in mind. To me, at the end of the day, you’ve lost authority value that is too great unless they’re paying you. Like with Brené Brown, a couple of million dollars would be worth it. $140 million for Joe Rogan is worth it. You can have my brand.
If you’re making $100 a month at the end of the day, is that worth you losing all the residual value? No, because that’s sales and connection to clients. It’s your future value that you are working hard to speak your way to on each episode that you create. You’ve lost all that value and they didn’t pay you for that. Those are the big issues that I have with network branding and the network model. Listen to it.
The last thing that I want to bring up here is that most of these networks talk a good game but when you investigate and ask someone who’s been on the network, you even make some phone calls. It’s not like they don’t tout one of their shows. Usually, they’re all over their website. Call those podcasters. Reach out to them. Their email addresses are right in their feed and show links.
Click through to them and go to their website. Ask them. Check out how their show looks on the Apple App or Spotify. Do some checking. Don’t emotionally react to the sales pitch they give you about how great their network is. Check the references. Don’t check the ones they give you. Check the ones you see on the website that are similar to you.
There has to be a balance between the value for you, the podcaster, the value for the network and the value for listeners. As long as there’s a balance between all three of those, that’s acceptable to you. I’m not saying it has to be equal arrangements. You’re the owner of your podcast. You can agree to anything you want to. If it’s worth it to you, that’s fine. I’m not saying it has to be 33% of value everywhere. That’s probably unrealistic in some ways but you do need to make sure that you understand what you’re getting into.
You could easily get lost in the network and we want to make sure you know what your recourse is. You know what happens. We have networks on Podetize. What we liked and the reason that they came to work with us was the idea that they could create independence for their podcasters to be able to see their show statistics, own their show and stay hosting. They have control as a network to be able to do ad models, mix and match ads and everything like that.
That’s why they chose to come with us because we built our models so that the podcaster can’t lose out in the process when the network works on our system. Lots of systems and other hosting companies don’t work that way. We chose to work that way because we know that then we’ll get the right networks that make it a win-win for you, them and their advertisers at the end of the day. We wanted to build that model. That’s why we chose it. That’s why we have such deep insights into when it doesn’t work because when it doesn’t work, that’s the first thing. When they see our model, they go, “No. We need to be in control.” We don’t want them to see our statistics.
That’s the biggest red flag. When a network doesn’t want the podcast owner or host to have visibility to the specific plays of their podcast, it means they’re usually trying to make them believe their show’s getting more plays and reach than it is.
They’re sharing aggregate, not specific. This has happened in two different ways. One where a show then got spun off on its own and they were shocked at their numbers and very upset. The network lied to them and told them, “Your statistics got lost in the process,” which we know not to be true. The historical numbers don’t match that. The second time that happens is with producers. Not only do we see that with networks but we also see that with producers who promise you download numbers.When a network doesn't want the podcast owner or host to have visibility to the specific plays of their podcast, it means they're trying to make them believe their show is getting more plays and reach than it really is. Click To Tweet
They promise you they’re going to get you certain types of promotion levels and when they don’t achieve it, you complain and decide you want to go out on your own, they spin your show off. They put it in a brand new feed and say all your statistics were lost. You reset. What they did was they harmed you in that process. They removed all your listeners by giving you a new feed and everything. That is not ethical in our minds. If we see that happen with a producer or a network on our platform, we would fire them off of it.
You’re not hearing a lot of good rosy success stories about networks from us. I have to say, I’m sure there are lots of good networks out there that are providing value to the listener, the podcaster and themselves. It’s an equitable situation. It’s just that we’ve picked up the pieces of a lot of bad network relationships for podcasters and helped them recover their shows, audience and authority. We’ve seen a lot of problems.
This is a huge challenge. If you’re out there thinking about starting a network, one episode I was referring to about networks and ways to be successful as a network was what our episode was focused on. Go listen to that because this is a cold start problem. This is a problem of, “I want to start a network. I need the shows to get the listeners and I need the listeners to get the shows.” It’s the chicken and egg.
What stage are they at is the big question you have and maybe you want to be along for the ride. Maybe you want to be in early on and be a part of it but know that you’re coming in at that stage and you hold all the cards. You can negotiate a better exit, a timeline and branding opportunities or change the course of how that network works and make it more mutually beneficial.
It sounds great, Tracy. It sounds like a good place to drop the mic on this one. Do you agree?
Absolutely. Benefits, look for yours. Make sure you know what they are. We’ll be back next time with another episode on these deep-dive topics into whether or not there are parts of the podcast industry where tactics work or tactics don’t. That’s our core here. If you’re interested in talking about something, make sure you reach out to us. We’re everywhere on social media @Podetize and @FeedYourBrand. You can look in both places. We also are everywhere. The Hazzard with two Zs, it’s hard to miss.
Thanks for reading, everybody. We’ll see you next time.