Audio was one of the hottest revenue segments for the New York Times in 2020. The company said podcast ad revenue increased 24% last year to a record $36 million. That compares to $29 million in podcast revenue a year earlier. CEO Meredith Kopit Levien said the gains were powered by the company’s expanding portfolio of programs.
“We expect podcast revenue to be strong into 2021 as we continue to see steady demand for The Daily and our other shows, and as we benefit from our acquisition of Serial and rights to sell advertising against This American Life,” said Kopit Levien on an investor call Thursday. The Times struck a $25 million deal to buy Serial Productions and inked a multiyear partnership with This American Life last July. Kopit Levien said they see the biggest content opportunities in their cooking and crossword and games verticals, two areas the Times may look to expand its podcast lineup.
During the fourth quarter the Times said podcast ad revenue helped offset other weakness as its digital revenue declined two percent overall year-to-year. Total digital advertising revenue was $90.1 million and total revenues for the quarter increased 0.2 percent to $509.4 million.
The Times audio-focused revenue may grow beyond advertising in the coming year. Executives said they are looking to grow Audm, the subscription-based service that reads longform articles. The Times bought the company for $8.6 million in March 2020.
“What that gives us is an amazing petri dish for experimentation for what is really going to engage people in audio,” said Kopit Levien. “You can regard many, if not most the moves we make in product development, as pushing toward a subscription that is with the New York Times and our family of adjacent products that is more and more valuable than they already are and bring more people into the fold.” The company added 2.3 million net digital subscribers last year.
Kopit Levien did not directly address whether any of the Times-produced podcasts could be put behind a paywall, however. But she noted that digital subscription revenue has long been the Times’ fastest growing revenue stream. Last year also marked the first time that digital revenue overtook print revenue. “Those two milestones, and our best year on record for subscriptions, mark the end of the first decade of The Times’s transformation into a digital-first, subscription-first company,” she said.
The Times was a beneficiary of increased interest in news during 2020, and during the Trump era overall. But Kopit Levien played down the idea that a new administration will weaken that demand. “As long as the Times has been around, it’s always been bigger than one person or story,” she said.