Is 2024 the Year Audio Does More for Equity?

Jan 15th

A lot of commentators have described 2023 as podcasting’s ‘year from hell’, where we witnessed a ‘market-correction’ from the business side of the audio industry. Francesca Turauskis argues that 2024 is an opportunity for course-correction of the industry’s values and priorities…

I have personally found it difficult to say for certain that 2023 was a particularly bad year in the audio industry. I came into ‘the industry’ during the pandemic period, so my years of reference to compare to are limited, but I can say for sure that the last year has been turbulent.

The predictions Content Is Queen made last January came to pass: there has been downsizing in several high-profile companies including Spotify, Pushkin Industries, Acast and NPR. Despite that, we are still seeing other companies expand into audio. We have seen a drop in monetary support within audio, as marketing and production budgets are tightened. However, we also saw an injection of funds in the form of advertising revenue, particularly as advertisers move away from linear forms of media.

Listeners will have noticed an impact this past year as well, whether that’s because they listened to shows on a now-defunct podcast app or because their favourite high-profile shows have been cancelled in 2023. Awards and high praise from journalists couldn’t save shows widely considered some of the best.

From a business perspective, these decisions can be explained away as a ‘market-correction’ as the focus on profit margins was tightened. But from a community perspective, this turbulence has been felt by some whilst others appear to be on a different plane that landed in 2024 safely.

The events and initiatives affected were often the ones by diverse founders and leaders (including our International Women’s Podcast Festival) and when the results of the UKAN State of the Audio Industry revealed that women and BIPOC audio professionals are earning less than they were three years ago, it was frustrating to see that white men’s average earnings had actually increased somehow. It should be said, there are likely many people within the demographic wondering how that happened as they see their own pay stagnate.

So if 2023 was the year the industry chose market-correction, 2024 is an opportunity for course-correction with the industry’s values and priorities. Here’s what I think the audio industry can do in 2024 to encourage both equity and growth.

Stop saying “the podcast boom is over”!

I could go into how people have different definitions of ‘boom’, but my point here is that we need to stop giving air to the phrase itself. If the ‘boom’ is over, too many people think “well it must be bust” – which just isn’t true. Podcasting is a medium of growth. The growth is decelerating, but listener numbers, advertising revenue, and the amount of shows are all growing. With so much pointing to the continued success of podcasting as a whole, I’m starting to hear ‘the boom is over’ as code for “actually, I don’t understand podcasting” and that’s perhaps because it appeals to people that traditional media doesn’t usually reach.

Distribute money more equally

As pointed out in the open letter to the audio industry last May (for which Content Is Queen Founder Imriel Morgan was Lead Author) “How does a sector seeing continued growth in advertising revenue openly and honestly say there’s no funding for events or activities explicitly targeting underrepresented groups…”. It would be easy to say this is just the responsibility of those in charge of big budgets and commissioners, but this is something individuals can affect as well. The highest absolute day rate for a male audio professional in 2023 was £2000 – imagine if that individual pushed for (at least) less disparity in all his projects…

More (relevant and representative) podcast events

2023 was something of a Jekyll and Hyde year for podcast events. We saw new podcast events, lots of live podcast shows and conferences with a business-focus getting larger. But there was also a re-wording of the Equality In Audio Pact because some established organisations weren’t prioritising accurate representation, and of course we saw valuable events cancelled.

The challenge in 2024 is to make sure the audio events that are being supported are the ones pushing the industry forward, rather than those happy with the status quo. Just last month, Emma Vaughn (head of advertising business development and partnerships at Spotify) wrote that podcasts are at the centre of cultural movements, and this gives me hope for industry support.

Different business structures

Many audio productions are either publicly funded (like the BBC or NPR) or set-up and supported as profit-making entities, but as Martin Austwick pointed out on Twitter there is an alternative. Maximum Fun is a podcast network founded in 2005, and in June last year it became a worker-owned cooperative. Whilst the day-to-day is structured like a regular company, it now has a Board of Directors who are responsible for the company’s strategy and business decisions, and the monetary support comes largely from listeners. With this structure there is an emphasis on creators owning their work, which is something that will no doubt appeal to the podcast side of audio in particular.

More podcasts in global languages

Data from YouGov Global Profiles suggests that both the UK and USA are behind other global markets in regular podcast listening and yet English is the most widely used language for podcasts. Likewise, there are plenty of podcasts that English speakers are missing out on. We’ve seen some interesting projects in this area in the past: Ochenta Studios has been creating award-winning multilingual shows for nearly a decade, Spotify’s 2021 show The Last Days of Maradona was released in six languages simultaneously, and last year Mags Creative produced an English language version of the Spanish show Blum.

Multi-language productions do take a lot of resources, but there are other ways to appreciate global voices in podcasts. The International Women’s Podcast Awards introduced a category in 2023 for languages other than English (on the other hand, the British Podcast Awards quietly backpedalled when they removed the Welsh-language category last year). Another option that is more viable for small shows could be to automate translation – a survey from Acast showed that 80% of listeners were comfortable with AI being used to translate captions to various languages.

More accountability

It was announced last year that UK Audio Network and Content is Queen are grabbing the torch of the Equality in Audio initiative. Phase Two of EAP is about holding companies and individuals more accountable for the pledges they signed up to in 2020. There are plans to launch certification that will allow signees to display their promises for the diversity, equity and inclusion of the audio industry – and allow others to ask for transparency if those pledges don’t appear to be upheld.

Phase Two is a big project, and will take time to do properly. But regardless of when it goes live, there are many of us who will be hoping to look back on 2024 as audio’s ‘year of equity’.