Oct. 14, 2021

Let's Talk: The Growth In Podcast Technology

Let's Talk: The Growth In Podcast Technology

Pete Birsinger, CEO and Founder of Podscribe, has been testing and creating new technologies in podcasting for the last five years. I am fascinated by the growth and expansion in podcast technology, so I invited Pete to join me on the show to talk about what he is seeing happen in the industry.

Pete Birsinger, CEO and Founder of Podscribe, has been testing and creating new technologies in podcasting for the last five years. I am fascinated by the growth and expansion in podcast technology, so I invited Pete to join me on the show to talk about what he is seeing happen in the industry. 


We cover some of the pros and cons of podcast tech and why it may not be easy to create new software. We also talk about how YouTube may impact the podcast industry as they move to hire executives focused on podcast growth.


Pete shares his thoughts on how podcasters can leverage NFT's to monetize their shows in creative ways.


You can visit Podscribe to learn more about Pete or connect with him on LinkedIn.



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This transcript has been edited.

[00:00:29] Heather Osgood: Hello and welcome to the Podcast Advertising Playbook. I'm your host, Heather Osgood, and on the show today, I have Pete Birsinger, and he's the CEO of Podscribe. I'm excited to have the conversation with him today because he has made many strides within the tech space as it pertains to podcasting.

[00:00:47] Welcome to the show, Pete. 

[00:00:49] Pete Birsinger: Hi, Heather, thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here. 

[00:00:53] Heather Osgood: So I'm trying to think back to how long you and I have known each other. I feel like it's been several years now. [00:01:00] How long has Podscribe been around? 

[00:01:03] Pete Birsinger: The company has been around since about 2016. So we've had, uh, some ups and downs.

[00:01:09] We started initially as a podcast listening app. Our focus was transcribing podcasts, analyzing the topics inside them, and then recommending new podcasts to listen to based on their similarity. So, it started as that, had a couple of hiccups and then a couple of pivots, and here we are now.

[00:01:31] Heather Osgood: Awesome. Awesome. So I feel like one of the things that I hear all the time is that we need better discoverability in this space that, like people can't discover the best podcasts to listen to. So it seems like it makes a ton of sense that you would go down that path. I'm curious why you feel like that direction didn't work out for you.

[00:01:49] Pete Birsinger: So I think it's still a pretty big issue, and I think it's still tough to find good podcasts. I think the issue hasn't been solved, and I think it's still [00:02:00] relevant, and similarly, that matching engine to match listeners to podcasts they want is also equally relevant to match advertisers, to shows who their message will resonate with, but why it didn't work out, I think several reasons. We learned fairly quickly that podcast listening apps are hard to build, but they're sort of a commodity these days. And it's really hard to distinguish yourself as a listening app. So really, the best way now to do it is to have a bunch of great content on your app that's exclusive to it. So as you see with Spotify buying Rogan for a hundred million and then almost everybody else, so we realize that we started to make a couple of our own shows, but it was a bit too late and we weren't really talented production people. We were more technical people. I think also our, our model was a bit I to this day, I actually do think I'm obviously a little biased, but I think we did [00:03:00] have one of the best discovery and recommendation engines I ever, I did see, and we did grow to a couple of thousand listeners, but we just weren't really able to monetize in time. We ran out of money, had difficulties. But I think the high level is that it's just listening as relatively commoditized and you need exclusive content.

[00:03:20] Heather Osgood: Yeah, I think that makes total sense. So you were able to see that through what you created while it didn't really manifest itself in what you ultimately had a vision for that you could take what you created and pivot that. So, so talk a little bit about how you pivoted the company and where you are today.

[00:03:41] Pete Birsinger: So we had a couple of different pivot attempts. One of them was, we were, so we knew. We're familiar with transcriptions in the podcasting space. So I was thinking, well, who could benefit from this? And I thought, deaf people because there aren't..., how do they listen to the podcasts? Like they can't really, [00:04:00] so that was one attempt to make a site for deaf people.

[00:04:03] I think the intention was good, but the issue is maybe they're just not marketed on enough there are not enough deaf people. I think it might be slightly illegal to sell the people's transcripts. So there were a couple issues with that. Eventually, then we focused more on just making a subscription service for podcasters to transcribe their podcasts.

[00:04:22] And we added a couple of somewhat unique things, such as auto transcribing it, right when the episode is published in the RSS feed, and SEO from the embeddable player and all search widgets. So we added a couple of unique features there. So we've got a good amount of podcasters using us for that service and that's growing still, which is great, but since then I would say one of our bigger focuses where we've focused a lot of attention in the past year and a half is more on the advertiser side. So we started as just tracking ads in podcasts as a competitive intelligence tool. So you could see where other brands are spending in the space, but[00:05:00] we have that and that's, that's available as a bit of a planning tool, but where we've found more traction in the past year and where we've really doubled down on is as a quality assurance tool. Instead of just giving you the airchecks, we help you basically scale your podcast advertising by doing all the QA for you. So verifying, was the promo correct? Was there any, are there any brand safety issues was the ad in the right spot? So making that all super easy to help podcast advertisers scale their advertising effortlessly, you know, without having to have a huge internal team.

[00:05:33] Heather Osgood: Right, right. Well, and I think that it's so interesting because I know I was in a staff meeting earlier today, where we were talking about a company, ironically enough, cause I know you and I've had this conversation in the past where their URL is .co and instead of .com and we discovered that a podcaster for ads deep had been saying, go to this company.com instead of .co, and [00:06:00] now, you know, shoot, we've got a big issue on our hands because the advertiser isn't seeing any conversions, big shocker, when they're, sending people to the wrong URL. So really, having a service like yours is really a critical piece for advertising companies, because there are so many components and when you're talking about a host-read ad, everything is a little unpredictable. If you have a script and this is the script, and you're supposed to write it, even though, of course, it did say in the talking points that it was .co and not .com. When you've got a script, it's really easy to say, I know that this person said exactly this, and you can even obviously, you know, double-check that ad. I know that there are services out there that will help you, in proofing ads, but, when you've got a host out there saying, God knows what, truthfully on their ad, having a quality assurance team is really important, to make sure. And especially with some of the larger agencies [00:07:00] where they're placing millions of dollars worth of ads a year, not having a tool like that could really, cost them a lot of money, ultimately. So, is that kind of, I'm guessing, why you decided to go down that path? 

[00:07:13] Pete Birsinger: It's definitely, there's definitely such a big need. And I think the spontaneity and the host read ad is a lot of the attraction and beauty of podcasting, but I think it just leaves a little bit more room for error sometimes, which I think is fine, but just, you just want to be aware of it and know when it's happening. So yeah, I think that's definitely correct. And when we first started doing the promo code checking, actually. I thought, , are we ever going to find a mistake? But we have, I didn't really know if we would, but yeah the first week we found like three mistakes and I wasn't, thrilled to see an ad goofed up, but I was like a little relieved that okay, there, this tool is something that's going to be useful.

[00:07:55] Heather Osgood: Yeah, for sure. No, I definitely think, it's useful. [00:08:00] So I'm curious because you have had so many renditions, you've been, entrenched in the podcast tech space a bit. What initially attracted you to want to innovate and to create products for this particular industry?

[00:08:13] Pete Birsinger: I think I kinda got randomly drawn in, to be honest, but, because I was working at another company and another guy on my team, he mentioned he was doing some interesting work with podcasts on the side. He was taking a data science boot camp and he was analyzing the transcriptions of podcasts and doing some data science stuff with them, and I thought, that's interesting. I actually do like podcasts. I listen to them on my own and I think I could help make that a lot better. So that's sort of how it started. A little bit random, honestly, but I had been listening to them and I was interested in the application. But since then, I would say I've stuck with it because, one, I continue to listen to podcasts a lot and I think there's a lot of value in the medium. I think it is. It's not the absolute fastest growing space ever, but it is growing steadily and quickly. And I think [00:09:00] it's, provides a lot of value to a lot of people and it's, you know, relatively young, still and exciting so that's also a bonus. So those are some reasons I've you know stayed here and continue to work in the space. 

[00:09:11] Heather Osgood: To me, I feel like the best part of podcasting is that we, as an industry are literally creating the industry. All the people who are here and present and who have been working on it for many years now, we are the ones that are really sculpting I think the future of what is to come. And, if you look to so many other mediums out, there are so many other industries, they're already so far down the path that while of course innovation can exist in any space. It's really fun to be part of such a growing, and you know, I think when we think of growing, I always think of it as just like a dollar amount, but to me, it's not about growing the dollars, as much as it is growing the whole industry. knowing that we have this medium, that everybody, loves so much and [00:10:00] that we know the medium itself is growing in interest in popularity, but we also know that the infrastructure, is really growing and still needs to grow.

[00:10:08] I'm curious as you've journeyed through this. What kind of advancements have you seen in technology in space? 

[00:10:15] Pete Birsinger: I think there's been a lot, but also on the other hand, very few, depending on how you look at it. I think maybe one of the biggest is the consolidation of everything with Spotify, which I think they're obviously playing their game very well over there.

[00:10:32] I think there is an argument that they're doing a bit of a detriment to the space by going away from the open RSS. So there's that argument. I think for better or worse, it is bringing a lot more money and attention to this space even if it's a slightly warped version of the space that they control. On some level that's a good thing. So that's one big adaptation. 

[00:10:51] I think definitely DAI targeting and attribution are getting better and better. I still think podcasting still in a lot of ways is the stone age is [00:11:00] relative to other mediums. I think with, some of the attribution trackings, like with Chartable and Podsights, I think those are pretty innovative and they make a lot of sense. I'm not sure where exactly with privacy that may make them take a little bit of a step back. But I think overall they're definitely pretty important, I think for bigger brands. I think still though there's a ton of room for improvement. Especially as we see how the process of how a lot of buying in the space works with agencies and, Brands and networks.

[00:11:30] I think those still, it still feels pretty early. It seems like in a lot of cases, a lot of companies have figured out independently their own little solutions to their own problems, but there aren't a lot of tools yet out there. I think there's still a lot of tech to be built.

[00:11:46] Heather Osgood: I totally agree. I'm curious if you have seen this, I feel like tech companies come into this space and they're like, we're doing something that's never been done. Let's [00:12:00] do something that everyone else is doing. It's like they think in their mind that they are doing something that no one else is doing and yet, we don't need another hosting company. You know what I mean? I just, it feels to me like the same thing gets created over and over again, which is like, I feel like the most popular things to create right now are, hosting companies that have an ad component that have, oh, you can record your episodes here and, do fundraising for your show.

[00:12:32] Let's just like rinse and repeat, and every new tech company is just doing that over and over again. I think it's so ironic because, number one, it feels to me like they all think that they're doing something unique when in fact, I don't think that they are. The other thing that I see over and over is that I don't think that there are enough tools that are being created for the space.

[00:12:54] These very closed ecosystems, right? So it's like, well, you come over here, you be, on our platform. And then everything is just gonna be on our platform and you aren't gonna need anything else cause we're going to have everything you need right here. And to me, I feel like when everybody is trying to keep everything like their arms wrapped around it so tightly, it really isn't allowing the entire industry to grow and develop because I think we need to do a better job of actually working together and creating tools that are going to really just advance the whole industry. Do you feel like you see that as well? 

[00:13:29] Pete Birsinger: Yeah, I definitely do. I think to some of the reasons some tools haven't that built yet is I think in some cases, maybe podcasting, isn't always, it depends on the tool, but for some tools in the space is not a VC backable business, and for, for some certain tools out there. So I think as podcasting grows, I think that's going to change, especially as podcasting and YouTube, more or less become synonymous.

[00:13:51] Um, I think that argument goes away for a lot of tools, but yeah, I do agree. I think I forgot to mention earlier, but some other tech changes I've [00:14:00] seen in the industry, are ways for creators to monetize such as subscriptions. I think that's, an interesting one, and private RSS feeds. Separately I've seen one or two apps that let listeners basically pay in small amounts of crypto real-time back to the creators as they're listening. They're like tipping them like a cent or two. And then, other ways for creators to monetize will continue to grow. I mean, and those can be used in conjunction with ad-supported models or not, but I've definitely seen some development there as well. 

[00:14:28] Heather Osgood: I know that you definitely have a lot of interest in the NFT space. Can you talk us through some of your interests there and maybe how you see that being manifested within the space? 

[00:14:42] Pete Birsinger: Yeah. Well, so I think I'm definitely not the first person to think of it. I think Mark Cuban mentioned it at the fireside announcement at Podcast Movement in Nashville, and people have been doing it.

[00:14:51]  I do think there's an opportunity for podcast creators to leverage NFTs as another avenue to monetize on their [00:15:00] shows. There's a bunch of different ways they can do it. I think these spaces probably in a bit of a bubble, maybe a huge bubble, but I do think there is some ground level value there that it can fall back on. Such as, perhaps I saw yesterday an NFT on a podcast selling for 20 K was the highest bid, and basically, they were selling it for five minutes of time on the person's podcast.

[00:15:21] Heather Osgood: Was this, okay so you don't have to say who this was, but was this like a really famous person? Cause that seems like a lot for five minutes on a podcast. 

[00:15:29] Pete Birsinger:  It was, the podcast is called my first million with Shane Pirie and Sam Parr. So I have to double-check, but I think they get a couple hundred thousand downloads per month, but I can provide the link to you afterward. I do think though that for podcasts for smaller podcasts may be, it's always a bit of a challenge to monetize. But, for bigger ones, I do think this could be a model on the level of ad dollars.

[00:15:54] So selling like NFT for moments of time on the podcast or for [00:16:00] selling NFTs for specific moments in the podcast, like highlight it, favorite moments that the fan might buy and there could be perks to owning those NFTs. You always get to have a QA a question in a certain QA or there could be benefits.

[00:16:17] So I think there are some ways that that could be interesting. And actually, yeah, one. So we've been looking at that at Podscribe. Ways to potentially even use transcripts to help with creators growing their show and monetization. And one thing we were I've actually been looking at very closely now is using transcripts to train an intelligent bot to make it have the personality of the podcaster using all of the podcasters past episodes, to make it have the personality of the podcaster to look and sound like the podcaster, and then you can make that an NFT that you could sell. I think that would be interesting. So that's one thing, like on this very random, to get out of a tall rabbit hole, but yeah.

[00:16:58] Heather Osgood: I read something this week. [00:17:00] I don't, was it in Pod News? I read somewhere that somebody put together like a whole podcast that was like all robot generated. 

[00:17:08] Pete Birsinger: It's very doable. Yeah. The AI is coming along these days. So we're looking at some, using some of the latest AI techs, cause I think it'd be really cool to have basically like, for instance, this podcast, you could have a Heather Osgood, a bot trained on all your past conversations about ad tech, and then you could ask it a question, and then it would admit some semi-intelligible answer. 

[00:17:30] Heather Osgood: And I know somebody is also, , I've heard, there are some folks out there working on like how we can recreate ads. 

[00:17:38] Pete Birsinger: Yeah Copied.ai is one platform that uses the AI engine GPT three underneath, which is, I think the cutting edge thing that most people are using.

[00:17:47] So falling back on that, but yeah. So I think, yeah, the NFT idea, they're all, I think there are a lot of ways that creators could use it to add a whole new avenue of monetization that could also up fan engagement too. [00:18:00] 

[00:18:01] Heather Osgood: Yeah. There's that interaction, right, that's happening there that I know that's always been one of my big issues with podcasts is that there isn't the interaction.

[00:18:10] Of course. Then you could say, oh, well, there's Clubhouse and Fireside now, like we've got that. But to me it's still very different. I still really love the format of a podcast. But, yeah in ways that you can try to incorporate your audience into the show, I think that in and of itself is really powerful, but the monetization piece through an NFT, I don't know, there are so many opportunities and possibilities. 

[00:18:33] Pete Birsinger: My girlfriend, one of her ideas is for instance, for The Bachelor podcast, say if there was a way they could sell some NFT where it's like a 30-minute date or you get, they make some like video of themselves, like saying hi Heather or whoever.

[00:18:48] And then basically you own the entity, you get that or something like that to let the fans get closer and interact. I think there's a lot of ways we'll see that pop-up like that, down the line. 

[00:18:59] Heather Osgood: Very cool. [00:19:00] Very cool. So I think one of the last questions I have for you, is about YouTube. Recently, and maybe it's not so recently, but people certainly are listening to podcasts on YouTube, and I know we spoke about Spotify. I know, as we've talked about the RSS feed, a bit and my favorite thing is when somebody says that they have a podcast and then I'm like, oh, I can't find it in iTunes. And they say, oh, it's not in it's oh yeah, it's not in iTunes, it's on YouTube.

[00:19:34] And I'm like, well, if you don't have a podcast on iTunes, then you don't really have a podcast. You have a YouTube channel. From my perspective, that's what it is. It's a YouTube channel. It's not a podcast. But I know that those lines are becoming extremely blurred. And I also feel like from a listener perspective, when you talk to people, they will say that they listen to podcasts on YouTube.

[00:19:59] [00:20:00] Of course, Tom Webster talks about this and there have been many conversations about what exactly a podcast is. One of the questions I have for you is as we're creating all of these technologies to work within this kind of podcast, you know, ecosphere. What happens when everybody just goes to YouTube and suddenly, I don't personally think that the RSS feed is going away anytime. I still really love my podcast listening apps. I know that there are millions of people who do. I don't necessarily think it's going away tomorrow, but I guess just thinking about it specifically from a tech perspective, how would you envision, or maybe how do we, as an industry make sure that as we're creating these innovations that we're not just, cornering ourselves into using this set of technology when maybe we should broaden it to things like YouTube or other platforms.

[00:20:57] Pete Birsinger: Right. So I, I think, [00:21:00] well, first of all, I think it's a mistake for any podcaster to solely abandon the RSS feed. I think in my opinion, I think podcasters should have their own website and be fully in control of their own content and then not have any specific platform like YouTube, Spotify, whatever, as their main focal point their end goal should be to pull everybody to their website, get their emails and have a direct relationship with the listeners.

[00:21:24] So, you're never totally dependent on YouTube or Spotify or Apple because those platforms in the end are looking out for themselves. On the other hand, though, I think your content should be everywhere and anywhere. I don't necessarily, I think the more places you are to be discovered and consumable the better.

[00:21:41] So it makes sense to be on all listening apps, YouTube, to have your own website where you can be discovered with SEO, you can link people there. So I think it's important to use all the tools and be all over as many platforms as you can, without relying on them.

[00:21:59] I think it's just so long as you keep in mind that I think the most important thing is to have your own site that you control as the kind of the anchor point and with the open RSS feed as the central crux to at all, I think that's a good way to approach it. And I think there's still a lot of power in the RSS feed, just because of how it's open.

[00:22:18] Anybody can read it. With the closed model, with Spotify streaming for some shows, is great if you're a creator and Spotify comes to you with $50 million, I think that's hard to say no. Although when you look at their listenership decrease and compare it to what, if they do a bit of a fan-supported model and an ad-supported model, maybe I don't know exactly how the numbers play out, but I think it might be closer for some creators to stay open and give their content a wider reach than closing it off. Just some random thoughts that sort of answered the question, but not really. 

[00:22:50] Heather Osgood: No. I think that's great. And I also believe that the RSS feed, while I know that it is antiquated or at [00:23:00] least that's what I hear that it's antiquated. I still like the reason that it is still here is because of what it is.

[00:23:06] It wouldn't be here if it didn't function and it didn't have a place. I guess what I'm curious about is you know, if we just look at it from a tech perspective, Podscribe, for instance, you've built Podscribe around the idea that people are using podcasts in a certain way.

[00:23:26] So what happens to all of the technology we're building when suddenly half or three-fourths of you know, the shows ended up on YouTube. And when we talk about VC funding, for instance, is the fragility or the unpredictability, of the industry.

[00:23:46] Do you think that that is keeping people from investing more in this space or do you think that from a technology perspective, we're really considering maybe. The future, like 5, 10, 20 years, even [00:24:00] down the road of what's going to happen to the podcast space? 

[00:24:04] Pete Birsinger: Yeah. I think, I think so you're sort of saying, is that a potential risk that bigger closed platforms like YouTube or maybe Spotify might come in and just because of their benefits, overshadow and crowd out the open RSS stuff and all the tools and investments we're putting in it might be just pushed away.

[00:24:20] Right? I do think that is a bit of a threat. And I do think there's, some maybe hidden or not so hidden resentment at some of these platforms like Spotify or YouTube in the podcasting space for doing it. I think for somewhat, for good reason, because I think there is something to that threat because it's such like a, a juicy target to go in and claim the open podcast space and monetize it since Apple hasn't really done anything.

[00:24:44] It's just not massive, but decent size and growing target. You see Amazon coming in too. So I think there is some risk of that, but I do think the RSS feed and people's open websites do have a lot of power [00:25:00] on their own. So I think they will always be there in some capacity. Although I think some platforms may really start to take A lot of the money. I think the RSS feed in people's websites and putting the content there will still have a place, but I do think platforms will. They'll definitely, they're definitely going to try to make as much of the pie as they can. I mean, rightfully so on their part. I think it's tough for them. 

[00:25:24] Heather Osgood: Yeah yeah, for sure. 

[00:25:25] Pete Birsinger: One of the best things we can hope for is all the big platforms compete. And none of them win out entirely and then everyone has to fall back to the RSS. 

[00:25:33] Yeah. One app that I saw coming out and they have come out is, um, I think it's called the collin app. one famous VC in Silicon Valley, David Sacks. He came out with it. It's similar to Fireside, I think with interaction, and I think they also just publish it to your RSS feed as well.

[00:25:51] So I actually, I'd probably look into a little bit more, but I, I know that's a big decently funded one coming out. May have already come out a little bit ago, but, they do [00:26:00] fall back on putting it on the RSS feed which is nice. 

[00:26:03] Heather Osgood: That is good. Yeah. I'll check that out. Well, Pete, thanks so much for being on the show with me today. I really appreciate it. I'm excited about the things that you're doing in this space and just the fact that you're here and, innovating is terrific. Doing things that not everyone is doing, which is exciting. If people want to connect with you, where is it a good place for them to reach out?

[00:26:22] Pete Birsinger: You can email me directly at pete@podscribe.com or just check out podscribe.com and write it on the chat bot or play around with the site. 

[00:26:31] Heather Osgood: Awesome. Thanks so much for being on. And I'm thinking for listening, I'm excited to continue to bring you great information about podcast advertising. And since we talked about YouTube so much on this episode, if you haven't subscribed to our YouTube channel, please go on over and check that out.

[00:26:48] We would love to have you as a subscriber at our YouTube channel. Thanks so much and have a great day. 

Pete BirsingerProfile Photo

Pete Birsinger

Founder & CEO

Founder and CEO of Podscribe.