Ira Glass, the radio host who became a podcast pioneer who became a movie producer, says the past few years have been a boon for podcast advertising. In fact, he said, the podcast for his hit show, This American Life, now makes more money through advertising than the actual radio show does.
Speaking on the final day of South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, Texas, Glass said CPMs sometimes reach $50 to $60 for ads during the podcast of the popular radio show he started two decades ago.
"It's crazy; it's amazing," Glass said. "It's unbelievable. It's boom time. It's a bubble!"
Asked if he thinks the podcasting bubble is actually going to burst, Glass said yes, but hopefully not for a while.
"I don't know, hopefully not very soon," he said. "But of course, like, audio—really? That's going to be No. 1? When virtual reality headsets come in, we're going to be listening to audio?"
While the promise of virtual reality is a hot topic in 2016, brands experimenting in the space say the technology still has to scale before it becomes mainstream. Meanwhile, Internet brands like MailChimp and Amazon, along with plenty of startups, have been successfully pursuing new audiences through podcasts.
According to estimates from ZenithOptimedia, ad spending on podcasts in the U.S. could hit $35.1 million in 2016. That's only 0.06 percent of all digital ad spending, but some say that estimate is low and that it could go as high as $50 million this year.
It's been two years since Glass decided to move This American Life away from its partnership with Public Radio International in favor of independent distribution. Since then, he also has launched other successful podcasts such as Serial, which is currently in its second season after a wildly successful Season 1. He said it took four years to get 1 million people listening to This American Life, but Serial broke the milestone in just four weeks. It currently draws 10.7 million downloads for every episode, according to Glass.
That kind of growth, he said, has allowed his team to spend more time on stories, putting reporters in the field for longer periods of time.
"Basically, really serious journalism people are having such trouble surviving," Glass said. "And then, weirdly, it's like we happen to be holding the winning ticket, and then suddenly because of podcasting, we have all this money and can do investigative reporting and can do things like stage a musical with Lin-Manuel Miranda."
Glass attributed some of the growth of shows like Serial to technological advances that give listeners better access to podcasts. The same month as Serial's debut in 2014, Apple debuted its preinstalled podcast app on the iPhone.
Now, Glass and his staff are trying to move ahead of the current technology by investing in ways to help audio go viral like videos, photos and text. He said he wants listeners to be able to select a 15-second audio clip that can be shared across various platforms.
"We realized that audio would do way better in social media if you could share it better," he said.