The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Jake Shapiro is CEO of Public Radio Exchange (PRX), an online marketplace for public radio programming. Today Knight Foundation is announcing new support for PRX’s Radiotopia project, a collective of story-driven shows that set a Kickstarter record in 2014.
Radiotopia has been a remarkable success since launching just over a year ago. The network has accelerated in a short time, now nearing 7.5 million monthly downloads across 11 shows, anchored by “99% Invisible,” the breakout show on design hosted and produced by Roman Mars.
Today we are announcing $1 million in new support from Knight Foundation to help take the network to the next level of impact.
Radiotopia has played a pivotal role at the epicenter of the newly expanding galaxy of podcasts. Our goal has been to create a new model for helping independent producers make their best work, reach audiences across new digital and mobile platforms, and generate sustainable revenue to reinvest in the shows and the network itself.
With this Knight support, Radiotopia will expand to give producers more production, logistical, technical, fundraising and marketing services; create a pilot fund to cultivate new ideas and talent; and bring on our first-ever executive producer to provide editorial vision and leadership (this job will be posted soon and will be an awesome opportunity). As we have throughout this journey we will continue to share what we learn along the way.
Our vision for Radiotopia is built right into the name itself: an epic quest to create a place where extraordinary stories, gifted producers and curious listeners come together. We are using the emerging power of digital and mobile experience to reclaim and reframe “radio” as a term that conveys community, curation and craft—beyond even the broadcast technology that first forged its path. Part of podcasting’s appeal for creators and audiences alike is the freedom to break loose from the conventions of radio—the tone, the timing, the pressures of fitting a particular format. But with podcasts competing for attention with every distraction on your screen, there’s still a real need to achieve quality, editorial integrity and distinctiveness that is not yet common in podcasts beyond a handful at the top.
When PRX teamed up with Roman Mars to hatch the idea of Radiotopia, we saw it as an opportunity not just to experiment with the forms and formats of new shows, but also with new modes of distribution, funding and engagement with listeners. We have learned a lot in the past year on each front, perhaps nowhere more powerfully than the success of Radiotopia’s record-setting Kickstarter campaign. While it’s clear that sponsorship revenue is a vital and growing source of revenue for all of podcasting—just last week saw the first-ever podcast “upfronts” for advertisers—we are also focused on developing a crowdfunding model that extends beyond a one-time event. Radiotopia fans are asking to do more to support the shows they love.
On the distribution front, we’ve worked closely with the significant listening platforms—iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, Audible and more—as we continue to make our own sites—beta.prx.org, www.radiotopia.fm and www.prx.mx—places to directly engage audiences and understand listening up close. There are a lot of problems yet to be solved in podcasting—metrics, discovery, social and monetization among them—and Radiotopia works as a laboratory to test, learn and develop solutions that we at PRX and others can tackle as we grow.
It’s a fascinating moment to be building a network amid a rapidly evolving ecosystem. Audiences are growing, media, brands and funders are paying attention, and the number of new players as well as incumbents getting into the podcast space is surging. It is still a nascent field ripe with promise, and we are excited to play a part in what comes next. Stay tuned!
A huge thanks to Knight Foundation, to Radiotopia listeners, to our sponsors, and most importantly to the Radiotopia producers who pour their souls and hard work into creating these incredible programs: