Episode 8

Mark Asquith on Spotify and YouTube's Relationship with Podcasting, and Why RSS Isn't Key

Mark Asquith has been involved in podcasting since 2013, and has focused on helping podcasters grow their businesses. In 2019, he co-founded Captivate, a podcast hosting platform that helps serious indie podcasters grow their businesses. In this conversation, he discusses his goals for the platform, and how it helps podcasters grow their businesses.

Mark talks about the company's journey from Podcast Websites to Captivate, the world's only growth-oriented podcasting platform. He talks about how the company has always been focused on helping podcasters grow their businesses, and how they built Captivate with that goal in mind. He also talks about the success the company has seen so far and how they plan to continue helping podcasters grow their audiences and businesses.

Mark talks about how he always knew Captivate would do well, because he approached things with the goal of helping users first and foremost. He talks about how the company's acquisition by Global has not changed anything in terms of the company's goals or focus, and how the partnership is beneficial for users because of Global's talent and resources.

Mark and Danny discuss Spotify's recent acquisitions and how they believe YouTube will take a similar route in the future. They also touch on how podcasting has become an industry and how Spotify's focus is on the media format rather than the individual podcasts themselves.

Key points:

00:00 Podcasting Veteran Mark Asquith on Creating Solutions

02:54 The Success of Captivate

10:51 The Future of Podcasting

15:41 The Importance of Dynamic Insertion for Podcasters

19:33 The Benefits and Challenges of Dynamic Content in Podcasting

26:13 The Future of Podcasting: An Industry Insider's Perspective

30:54 The Power of Direct Sales

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Contact me: danny@dannybrown.me

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Today I'm delighted to welcome Mark Asquith to the show. Mark is a podcasting veteran who's been involved in the space since 2013 with his first podcast, Two Shots to the Head. This led to Podcast Websites and Poductivity, with a focus on helping podcasters grow. This culminated in the creation of podcast hosting platform Captive FM that he co-founded with Kieran McKeefery and launched in 2019, becoming the world's only growth oriented podcast host for the serious Indie Podcaster. We'll be chatting about that and more in this episode. So without further ado, that UK podcast guy, Mark Asquith.


Hello, sir. How are you? You're all right?


Good, thank you. And first things first, you became a dad at the beginning of the year. So how are you and lovely Sam doing with Dottie?


Good, thank you, mate. Yeah, all doing well. She's like three months old now, so that's bizarre, isn't it? All flies past, but, yeah, everyone's doing well. Thanks, mate. It's a fun ride, as you know.


That's awesome. And I mentioned in the intro you've been in the podcasting space since 2013. Was the goal to always be involved and create SaaS products, or was it all just about podcasting then?


I don't think it was either. First it was just getting involved in podcasting and creating content, but that sort of happened at the time that I was ready for a new challenge. Anyway, I was running an agency that was doing well. We'd grown it, we were working with some amazing clients, but it was just boring to me, and podcasting just interested me. So whilst it wasn't the goal to create SaaS as such, I think it was more to create solutions. Whether that had been content, the amount of content I've put out over the years is pretty heavy. So I don't think it was necessarily SAS. I think it was just solutions. And we had the skill set for Sass and we'd built Sass and we'd done Sass and we'd grown a lot of other things that are similar to how you grow Sass. So it was a fairly natural fit, I think. But Captivate came much later. We only launched Captivate, I think, in 2019. That was into beta in August. And podcast website was much earlier than that. So we'd been walking the floor for a while. So it was more solutions, I think, than SaaS.


And you'd mentioned probably the business you're most known for now, you had podcast with podcast websites, but Captivate is probably the business most known for. And from the start it was always marketed as the world's only growth oriented podcast, which is a strong statement, but one I think any Captivate user would agree with. I mean, did you envision it being as successful as it is and adhering to that goal that you set out for it?


I think there's a couple of ways to look at that. One, I think there's sort of financially successful and then successful as a product that helps people. The latter, yeah. I always knew it would do well with that because we just built it for us in 2019. Kieran and I, we were working heavily, heavily on this. We were doing late night sessions on it most nights and building it page by page. And we didn't approach it like a standard SaaS platform. I wasn't really interested in what users thought. I wasn't really interested in what podcasters thought because when you talk to them at that point it was very much about, well, here's what we've got and we'll compare it to that. And I knew that that wasn't what was needed in the space. Otherwise you'd end up with another hosting platform like all the rest of them. So I was pretty confident that it would do well in helping people. The financial side of things, the business side of things, that's just a byproduct of doing good work. And I think I'm being a fair open. I approach things as had a foreign experience. We captivate. There's sort of a set of rules that we play by and the customers have to play by. We've always been pretty confident in that, which has led to the business doing well because it's attracted to people that like the way we do business and it's naturally filled out the people that don't like how we do business and that's just a really valuable thing to do. I always knew it was going to do well for podcasters, whether we had ten users, 50 users, 100 users. We didn't really know about that until we got users and it grew very quickly. So yeah, the goal has always been users first and help them. That's it. That's why we do so much content as well.


And obviously there's no three plan on captivate. It's always going to go that it's for the serious indie podcaster. Do you think that would ever change? Are you clearly captivated purely for growth and people want to grow the podcast properly?


Well, I think the demarcation there is that we never introduced a freemium plan because we never needed to fill the funnel. We position ourselves as a premium podcast hosting platform for people that identify as serious podcasters. Doesn't matter how far along you are in your journey. If you identify as a serious podcast to Captivate can help you. That is it? Sure. We've got resources for starting one and for growing one. And we'll ask you the question, are you starting or growing but that's mainly so we can tailor the experience and that we can tailor the content that we give you. So we never needed a freemium model because it's shaky ground, because you always have to fill that funnel. Look at the other hosts. Look at a bus sprout of the world. I like Tom, I like Kevin, I like Albert. I like John. I like everyone over there. They're actually good friends and we talk a heck of a lot and I've got so much respect for them. But that business model was never for us when we first started out. Because you have to attract people that sort of are trading on price. And the challenge with that, when your bootstrapped and you don't have the revenue behind you. We didn't want investment, we didn't want any of that was that it could easily detract from the mission, which was to help people with high quality, serious growth, focused podcasting tools. And the easiest way to just decide is Captivating. For me is am I willing to pay for my hobby or for my profession or for my whatever podcasting is due? Am I willing to invest $20 a month in it, just like everything? Am I willing to invest a little bit? And that's been really important. Now, I never say never to anything. I'm not saying we will never be a host that wants the masses. It's just pod chat. We do. We want to help a really specific set of people. So that's been our approach. We didn't even offer an annual plan until we hit a certain MRI threshold because then we could sell finance even better than we were when we were bootstrapped. So everything has been very sensibly done with Captivating. Everything has been built on really strong foundations for that. And that's been by design. None of that has been by accident.


And obviously you mentioned that it had a very specific approach from day one as to what you saw for, say, the five year plan or the journey for Captivate, which saw Global, massive media company in the UK, one of the biggest acquired Captivate at the tail end of last year. So what's been some of the changes since Global come on board and what can say Captivate podcast or expect with Global involvement?


Well, there's no real change. There's been some logistical changes, of course, there have been changes around internal things like, how do I get this invoice paid for a merch supplier, you know, little tiny things like that, but nothing, nothing major. The goals haven't changed, the personnel hasn't changed. We've not slowed down, the focus hasn't changed. It's really about what can we do as part of a bigger organisation. So integrating with things like that, being able to access talent. I was with Ash on Tuesday, the chat that owns Global and just talking about the very unique opportunities that Global brings. When you consider talent, I can't think of probably anyone else certainly in the UK that can put people on TV and radio and really kind of bring them to the summertime and the winter balls and expose talent and help podcasting and creators in the UK quite like Global can. And Global got lofty ambitions for audio, always has, always, probably will have. And podcasting is a part of that. And Captivate, part of the benefit of having Captivated is that you get Kieran and I have ten years of experience in the space and we see the landscape. We're not backwards at coming forward. I'll tell exactly what I think to anyone. We treat everyone the same. It doesn't matter who you are. Pod Chat straight talking approach is the way the Global seems to work as well. So that's been really good. And it's only good for the user as well. Look, we sold the company that was paying our wages. We were waking up every single night, inevitably for years and years and years thinking, right, okay, we've got to build this thing. Otherwise we might not pay the mortgage next month. And Luckily, Captivate has always done that. It's always done really well for that. But as a founder, sometimes you got to think, well, how do I derisk this so I can get the foot down on things that are not going to worry me as much? It's been a really good move. It's been really interesting. And that's only just begun running three months into it, four months into it. So there's so much more to come. We barely even got started with that.


Now when you were on my other show a couple of years back, actually one of the very first guests on the podcast, The Story Show, we spoke about Spotify at the time and some of the acquisitions that were going through and whether that was good or bad for the industry. And also two years later, Spotify still making some big acquisitions with the Charcoal and podcasts acquisition. So it seems like Spotify is all in, which is great to see. We've just seen Facebook announce that they're pulling back from podcasts on Facebook, and YouTube announced that they're going to be looking to integrate podcaster stories effectively than currently the setup currently. I'm curious, do you think YouTube is going to be in it with Spotify, or do you think they might take the Facebook group? What's your thoughts on the YouTube news?


I think YouTube will take the YouTube route. We probably need to step back a bit. Podcasting has become an industry now. It's not a cottage media. It's not just media that independents create or hobbyists create. It's a media format. And Spotify doesn't care about podcasts. But I'm not saying that like some other group of people would say. I'm saying that actually quite pragmatically and positively, they care about users staying in their ecosystem and serving them audio. It doesn't matter what the audio is, whatever audio they want. That's what Spotify wants to give them. And this is what I think a lot of people don't understand. You get a lot of people that are in the audio and especially the podcasting space. I got lambasted. I've said this 1000 times to in public a million times. Totally lambasted years ago for writing that Spotify probably would be an RSS feeds off. Eventually got some fairly notable people calling me an idiot for that. I'm all right with that. I can take. I'll just wait and see. Guess what? We waited and see. And there we go. They don't need RSS fees anymore. Anchor is submitting, probably by API, and that gives a lot more flexibility. Is that nice to hear for podcasters? No, of course it's not just 2005 me like that. No, of course not. Who cares? The point is that Spotify wants to serve its audience with audio, and it simply does not matter where that audio comes from or whether it's called a podcast or not, because it's something that was called a podcast ten years ago. It's not the same thing anymore. Podcast is just a catch all term to describe on demand audio. That is it. I'm really desperately sorry for those that are upset by that, but that is the truth. So to bring that into the now with YouTube, well, what does YouTube want? Youtube wants people in it because it's not getting into podcasting for us, for the creators. It's getting into podcasting for itself because it's seeing that people are searching for podcasts on its platform and they're getting either really decent quality, they're getting really three levels of things, really good quality, well produced video that is alongside an audio version of a podcast, multi camera, high quality productions. It's getting this, you and me, which is sort of the next tier down. We're not multi camera, but we're on camera. And then it's getting like the repurposed stuff to stick an image on and put the waveform over. And frankly, I imagine the vast majority of podcasts that are on YouTube are not doing very well for the creators, nor are they doing very well for YouTube. Because unless they're that top tier, it's not a YouTube product. It's not something that the algorithms are going to like. Nor is it anything that the YouTuber that watches X amount of things on YouTube and expects a certain style. I'm not going to like that either. So YouTube will do it its own way, and it will develop search algorithms that understand that you want an audio podcast. That means that the vast majority of audio that's put on there is audio only with a static image or one of those kind of bath EQ things. The search will serve those better, because he probably knows that I want it in the background while my boss is hovering around me and I don't want them to see them on my phone. They will do it their way and they will index differently and they will show discoverability progressions differently. Pod Chat Spotify is doing Spotify is primarily a passive thing, whereas YouTube is a very active thing, except for, of course, the audio portion of it. So they will do it their own way. They will do it very differently. It will start out the same, but eventually, in three years time at one degree difference in direction will be vast. The gap will be vast off the back of it. So that's what I recommend.


It'll be interesting to watch. I know there's a lot of people looking to see what their approach will be, so I will revisit this in three years. Time to see where that 1% took them. Now, you'd mentioned earlier, obviously, podcasting that was a huge industry with so many options and so many tools to help creators, whether it's podcast hosts, whether it's like YouTube, other things. And I guess one of the biggest ones over the last twelve to 18 months, maybe it's been dynamic content and how that's really helped. Podcaster Stories shows one of the big things that all podcasts want to do. Captivate has our own Amy in house platform. And now you've mentioned with the Global Connection and DAX, there's a lot of stuff coming down that's really exciting. So I'm curious, how important do you think dynamic insertion is for the average podcaster and what are some of the ways that they could be doing it just outside of normal ads?


Yeah, I mean, dynamic content, it's mega useful when it's useful, if that makes sense. It's not one of those things that you need to clamber to get to. You don't need to worry about. I'm a big fan of doing what you're capable of doing with the time that you've got it. And I would never say you've got to be doing X, Y, and Z for your podcast. Otherwise, there's no point in doing it because I think that's really unfair. There's a lot of people that do podcasting differently and they're a hobbyist and only ever want to be a hobbyist. So I don't think anyone needs to do anything. The way that dynamic content and dynamic dynamic insertion comes in is that it can make your life easier. It can make your listeners life more entertaining. For me, it's very much about and this is why we design naming like we did, take the toolkit that you have and understand that that's there to serve you. If you've got a sponsor message, of course, it's great for that. But actually, can you get creative with your content? Like, we spoke about it a few times, I know you've tweeted about it a few times. Can you give listeners extra content? Can you do something more fun? Can you do something more interesting by varying your mid rolls or your post rolls or your pre rolls post credits, a teaser for the next episode, and so on. And so like, there are so many different things, but the key way to succeed with this, as with everything, is to design it. It's not to just go at it half baked or to shoot from the hip. It's to design this thing out. How am I going to use dynamic content insertion and actually get content that can be rotated in and out of my episodes in such a way that it's useful to me? And it's not jarring. In fact, I go even further. It's not just jarring, but it's actually useful and or entertaining for the listeners. Now, if you can hit those marks and if you can sit down and design it, it can make things quicker. It can make things easier. It can make things better. It can give you a listener a better experience. But if you do it sort of from the hip, it's not going to benefit you. It will stagnate. Suddenly, the content isn't dynamic. It's the content that is dynamically inserted a year ago that you've never touched because you've just never thought to change it. So I think just get savvy with the tools at your fingertips. We designed Amy to be really easy. One of Captivated missions is to bring the elite tools, quote unquote elite tools to the masses. We did that with everything from, quote, unquote advanced analytics that you've got to pay more for on other hosting platforms to dynamic content so it's understand how the tools work first and then design something and then implement it slowly. Pod chat would be my advice, rather than I think a lot of people like, shoot from the hip. A lot of people just like, oh, I've seen this. I should probably spend an hour on it. No, spend half a day on it. And if that half a day, it takes you a month to get through that's. All right, take the month. There's no one claming for you to have dynamic content today, but it is there, and you probably should get to grips with it.


And you mentioned about planning out and using different forms of dynamic. And I know yourself and Gary are head of design at Captivate. You both have the Star Wars show, and you've been experimenting with putting that little teaser at the front saying, don't forget to stick around to the end. We've got a special announcement. How does that work out? Because that's pretty new this year. I think you started that. Yeah.


I don't really like it.


Don't listen to Gary said Gary.


Yeah. Sorry, mate. I think he's too long, and I think that's a lesson to learn. But you got to test these things as honest as anyone you should test. And if you don't like it, you don't like it. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. Has it worked? Yeah. We've got some new patrons. I don't like it, though. I think it's too long. I want to get to the content. So I think it's interesting because you'll learn what you I suppose what suits your voice and that's one of the interesting things with Preroll in particular is that if you aren't careful, it's the stickiness of your podcast that can be detracted from. And I think it's very important to understand where that line is. Like, I think we should have a pre rolling, then I think we should be using it for that. But it should be like, Hi, this is Mark and Gaz from Spark Rebellion. If you want a sticker Chuck as a quid, Sparkerbilling compatre onto the show. What's that? 6 seconds. So I think that is where it's at for me. It's a prompt. Do you know what? I do like this show? I meant to do that last week. I'm going to do it now. Last week I was driving. Today I'm not. All right, I'm going to do it. I'm going to get onto it. So for me, it's very much about that marketability. It's the touch point. How many times do I need to tell someone to do something before they consider doing it? We see that a lot in podcast advertising. Recall of a brand is much greater in podcasting than it is in many other media formats. So, yeah, just guess what? Design it.


Speaking of dynamic and designing it, one of my early guest, Prime Barletta was talking about the combination of dynamic and programmatic and how these can really work together a pretty cost effective level as well, to really nail down what advertising you want, what sort of call to action you want at the right time. And I'm wondering, obviously you see a lot of stuff you might be able to talk about at the moment, might not 100% appreciate that, but you see a lot of stuff. What DAX is doing, what's coming with global, what programmatic is doing from agents point of view, how do you see all this working together? Maybe the next twelve months for podcaster stories, all levels.


I think the sad fact is that it's not for podcasters of all levels. Right now, programmatic is where you set your parameters and say what kind of advertisers you want and they do the same and you match and you'll sell a slot and the ad will be dynamically insert into that. But it doesn't work, does it? It doesn't work unless you've got mass numbers. And I think that's the challenge is that a lot of people sign up with someone like Anchor because it's got checkbox monetization turned on and they realise that it's crap. You make what, a quid a month, two quid a month, ten quid a month, 20 quid a month, 50 quid a month. Basically, you don't make the amount of money that you think you're going to make when you press the Monetization button and it's the same on YouTube or whatever. Now, Anchor is a great platform. I've got nothing against it. I'm not one of the anchor bashes. I don't care if you use anchor or not. But what I do care about is that you understand what monetization means and monetization means in the programmatic and the dynamic AdSense. It means that you have an audience that is big enough for someone to say, I want impressions of my ad to reach that audience. And that is only going to work if the audience is big enough. And that is where the opportunity lies within podcasting is that actually if you put the things together, brand recall is huge. On podcasting, niche audiences are really powerful, and the intimacy that's created between a creator and the listener is a much more powerful bond than many other mediums. But yet we've not yet figured out how to programmatically leverage small niche audiences and to track that through. And Brian used to shout about Privacy, not so much anymore. I don't know why he stopped doing that, but let's assume that it's because it's really hard to solve the problem and you stick your head on the chopping block and don't have a solution. People notice. And I get that because I feel the same about Privacy. Have we all solved it yet? No, we haven't, because it's really tough. And this is what I mean. Programmatic really only works when generally advertising. So not just podcasting. Advertising works when it can be measured and it becomes more difficult to measure it, the more money comes into it, because measurement becomes more specific. And specificity becomes really important because suddenly podcasting develops from being a nascent medium that people having a punt on to a media that's included in a media mix in a marketing budget. Pod Chat has to fight its own fight against display and against outdoor and against TV and against broadcast. If it can't stand up against that with measurement, then it ain't going to survive. So there's a huge challenge. We're not finished with it yet. It's still a very nascent medium. The point is that it doesn't benefit creators of all levels yet direct sales are better. I go out and sell Star Wars, my Spark Rebellion podcast for ten times more than I could sell it for programmatically with a fraction of the download numbers because I got a thought bubble convention in leads and said, you want a six month slot at the beginning, a ten second pre role saying, get a ticket. That's far more valuable to them, it's more valuable to us. So programmatic, we're doing things like every other medium at the minute. We're doing things like radio and TV and display. That's fine, because that's all we know. But the developing tools will be the interesting part, and how that continues to develop will be fascinating. I don't want people to buy into that programmatic will help everyone to monetize because it won't programmatics just a technology to match things, match me to an Advertiser and vice versa, and just do so using a set of parameters. It's just not manual work, isn't it? That's all that is. We got to be careful how it's sold, I think.


And I know, like you mentioned, niche is so key to help even the smallest, for want of a better phrase, even the smallest podcaster to monetize the show because they can reach out to a niche partner and use attribution links on a host link captivate, for example, to really start tracking how effective that call to action is. So, yeah, that's great advice. Mark. You've obviously been in industry a while. You're very well respected in space. You have your finger on a lot of policies as to what's happening. So I'm curious, do you see a lot of stuff coming down the line? Is there anything that's got you really excited, whether it's through captivate, stroke, global, or the industry at large within the next year or so?


Honestly, no. Honestly, no. And I know that's a controversial answer, but I think the time, the time for exciting things needs to take a break, and we need to get really good at the basics. How do we measure things? How do we make sure that all creators are represented fairly? How do we begin to educate that podcasting is different depending on your scale? It's all right. People shouting and crying online and saying it's not a podcast. If it's not got an RSS feed, go and tell my mum that the on demand audio that she's listening to, that the advertisers paid to advertise on isn't a podcast. Just because it's not delivered via RSS, it doesn't matter, right? We've crested the wave of consciousness. All right? It's a nascent industry. It's a nascent media format, but it's now becoming more mainstream. And a lot of some people say it is mainstream, but those that say it's mainstream are generally in the industry. Believe me, it's not yet mainstream. And I think the time for exciting developments. And I don't want to say innovations, because that should never stop. But we've got to stabilise and get good at the basics, get good at describing and teaching and showing and demonstrating what podcasting's unique proposition, both to advertisers, to creators and to media companies is and understand and teach people that your hobby podcast is not the same as Doctor Death or as Inside Star Wars. And that's all right. But it's different to what it used to be. You know, I always use the analogy of film. Like, my iPhone movie that I shot is not the same as YouTube, just on my phone versus YouTube. And it's out there in the world, which in turn is not the same as Netflix, which in turn is not the same as going down a blockbuster, which in turn is not the same as, guess what? Going to a movie Theatre or streaming, but it's all video. It's all movies. So I think podcasting is at that juncture now. What does big media need from it? What does independent need from it? The hobbyists different needs different requirements, different focuses, and I think it's easy to jump from this is the thing I advocate. Pod chat will transform the space, then it doesn't and it gets figured out that it's a bit hard. Now this is the thing that I advocate for in the space and we should be excited about that word. That's hard as well. Here's the thing that's going to do it. So I think what we should be focusing on is stability. Understand that podcasting has become an industry. It's become a media. It's become an industry that has a range of tiers and that each tier needs serving differently and helping differently and focusing on differently. And we can't just say podcast monetization is the same everywhere. We can't just say that programmatic will do its job. We can't just say that direct sales will do the job. We've got to say that, look, this is a subset of people that will benefit from X, y, and Z. This is another subset of people that will benefit from a, B, and C. And where do we want to play? Who do you want to help? You know, it's no longer good enough to say. I just help. Podcaster stories help serious independent podcasters to grow their audience in meaningful ways. As an example of captivate, maybe not the answer you're expecting, but that's what.


I believe, you know, noise words and I think words that anybody, any podcaster of any level can take away from. So for any podcaster that does want to learn more, Mark, Where's the best place to connect with you online? Grab your newsletter because I know you put out a really insightful newsletter. You've got a great podcast version of it or to learn more about captivity, etc. So Where's the best place for people to connect and learn more from you.


Just go to Twitter, just go to Mark live Twitter. That'll take you straight to my Twitter profile which will you'll get everything there, all the info and captivates there. The accelerate podcast accelerate stuff is there so that's Mark live Twitter and that'll take you straight there.


Perfect. And I'll drop that's an easy one to remember. It's a nice little link there, but I'll drop down a few notes. So you're listening on your favourite podcast app is not make sure to cheque the shown it's out for the link there. But again, Mark, thanks for coming on the show and sharing your wisdom and it's always a pleasure.


Thanks, man, appreciate it. Bye.

About the Podcast

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Pod Chat
Insights and Trends from Podcast Experts

About your host

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Danny Brown

Danny Brown is the host of One Minute Podcast Tips, Pod Chat, and several other podcasts. He's been in the podcasting space for over 10 years, and has the scars to prove it.

He's the Head of Podcaster Support and Experience at Captivate.fm, the world's only growth-oriented podcast hosting, distribution, analytics, and monetization platform.

He lives in beautiful Muskoka, Ontario, Canada with his wife and two kids, where he spends winters in front of a cozy fire and summers by the lake.