AWS Startups Blog

How Castbox Helps Listeners Navigate Burgeoning Podcast Industry


Guest post by Castbox CEO Renee Wang

The Internet has transformed the way we consume content. Streaming video platforms like Netflix and YouTube have overtaken traditional video formats like cable TV and live programming among digitally-native audiences. The same transformation is happening across all types of non-video content, from downloadable e-books and digital magazines to even cloud-hosted, on-demand gaming. Today’s consumers want their content on demand, and they want to access it on any device, anytime, and from anywhere.

Audio content is following the same path. Traditional audio formats like radio are on the decline as consumers turn to on-demand audio platforms for their music, news, audiobooks, and podcasts. While music and audiobook platforms like Spotify and Audible receive all the attention, podcasting is the fastest-growing segment of on-demand audio. U.S. podcast ad revenues hit a record $314 million in 2017, according to an IAB study, and that amount is expected to more than double by 2020. The same study found that one-third of Americans ages 25 to 54 listen to podcasts monthly.

Industry Growth Pains, Fragmented Content

But the burgeoning podcast industry is facing growing pains driven by its ease of entry. Virtually anyone can pick up a mic and start recording. As a result, podcast hosting provider Blubrry estimates that there are roughly 540,000 active podcast titles today, with 2,000 new shows launched every week. There is simply no shortage of podcast content available to listeners.

And while podcasting is an empowering medium that gives voice to millions of people around the world, the sheer amount of content available also creates chaos. People from different walks of life are making their own shows and covering a diverse range of topics, resulting in an incredible influx of information. The result is a virtually non-navigable environment that’s problematic for podcast networks, advertisers, and most importantly, listeners. Discovering relevant, high-quality content is becoming increasingly difficult as the market is flooded with an endless supply of new podcasts.

Solving the Podcast Discovery Dilemma

This growing problem of podcast discovery, which creates a frustrating and fragmented listener experience, is the exact problem Castbox aims to solve. Castbox is a podcast platform that puts listeners first by offering an intuitive, user-friendly interface that makes it easy to search and discover new content. Our machine learning algorithms create dynamic listener profiles based on each user’s behavior and interests to provide personalized recommendations and better curate their listening experience.

Transforming podcast discovery takes more than a powerful recommendations engine and a clean interface. Our proprietary in-audio search feature utilizes natural language processing technology to transcribe and index all of the audio content available on Castbox. This unique feature allows users to search for specific words or topics within the actual audio, and across our entire content library, which currently exceeds 50 million podcast episodes. Timestamps are automatically added to every phrase and indexed into our search engine. For example, if a user searches Castbox for the term “blockchain,” the app will not only return blockchain-themed podcasts but it will also locate the exact moment when blockchain was mentioned in a specific episode, even if it wasn’t part of the title or description.

Going Beyond the Technology

As we enter the podcast 2.0 era, where the industry’s focus will be on delivering diverse, high-quality content for all audiences, technology and user experience are only part of the equation. That’s why we’ve invested in original programming with the launch of two dozen podcast titles as “Castbox Originals” over the last six months. Rather than putting our premium shows behind a paywall like Netflix and HBO, we’re distributing them through all major podcast-streaming platforms like Apple Podcasts so that anyone can freely enjoy our content from whichever platform they choose. We simply want more people to get into podcasting, because we believe podcasts have the power to enrich lives and unlock new perspectives.

Our push into original programming isn’t only about creating entertaining content; we wanted to address the lack of diversity in podcasting. According to The Economist, only 13% of the top podcasts are hosted by women. To address this disparity, we’re making a concentrated effort to promote female voices. Nearly a third of all of the shows we commissioned are hosted or co-hosted by women and the reception has been promising. One of our fan-favorite shows, Don’t Mess by Christine Sydelko, was rated number one in the iTunes comedy category on the first day it launched.

Looking Forward to a Hands-Free Future

Looking forward, we believe emerging voice technology will also have a major impact on the way listeners engage with podcasts. As Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri become smarter and consumer adoption increases, we will be able to leverage these voice assistants to make a true voice and audio-only interface. While this technology still has a way to go, we’re excited to continue building Castbox to meet the needs of the future.

The podcasting space, while overwhelming at times, presents a variety of opportunities for content creators, advertisers, and networks. On-demand audio is a quickly growing market, and we’re thrilled to be leaders in a space not only revolutionizing the way people communicate and receive information but learn, adapt and grow as people in an interconnected world.