Let me preface this with my admission that I am a huge Leo Laporte fan. Ever since he took my call on “Call for Help”, his TechTV show from back in the day when I was 15, I’ve been following the man. Like a mediocre song from the Police, I’ve been watching him.
Anyway, one of the business models that have always fascinated me is that of podcasting. When Leo started his podcast network I instantly fell in love with the weekly update format, and was impressed he could support himself doing what he does. From casual conversation during the program I’m guessing he does about $1.5 million in revenue each year for his network of podcasts and runs a budget of about $300,000-500,000 to make everything go. Not a bad business model in my opinion, so I’ve listened (watched when I could) with interest to try and figure out how he does it. Thus, one of my goals for the year is “Learn more about the podcasting model” and try and figure out where it goes from here.
So I decided I would go and spend a day with Leo and friends. I emailed him asking if he ever let fans come watch, he replied that he did and then passed me on to his sister for the scheduling. On my flight home from Hawaii earlier this year, I put a stop into LA on the way back, and my good friend Geoff graciously agreed to make the haj to Petaluma CA, about an 8 hour drive I think.
We got there early, intending to spend a show with him and ended up spending the entire 8 hour broadcasting day with him. He didn’t have much time to talk, which is understandable, so I observed and asked questions only when I couldn’t piece it together myself.
It was fun to get a bit more of the behind the scenes look at the operation, and I am amazed at what he’s able to do with what is essentially a one man crew.
His operation is really pretty simple when you get down to it – he skypes the calls into a board where it’s mixed then output to a server and recorded. A couple of mics and some video equipment and Leo has content that costs studios 10x the amount and investment to produce.
I didn’t really need to travel to see that, but I was still pretty surprised that it wasn’t more extravagant or dramatic. He has built a huge audience and sponsored program with a relatively inexpensive setup.
So what makes him successful versus everyone else that is trying podcasting, why is Leo blowing it out of the water? The answer is expertise and a network of guests with interesting things to say. You have to have a two edged sword to get people to listen to you anymore. Leo has an awesome background in technology and progressing media, that’s his one edge, the other is that he can communicate it.
I’ve often noticed people will blog, tweet, or podcast and wonder why no one listens even though they can type and record just as well as he can (it’s all just bits anyway) and the reason is that you have to go develop your expertise in something before you can expect others to value your opinion. The days of the radio disc jockey are numbered, and we’re moving to people who have the knowledge and background and who are able to convey that knowledge in interesting ways.
That was the magic I picked up at Petaluma, that the future of media is moving away from the pretty faces and fancy makeup crews and shifting towards people who develop niche audiences around topics that they are well versed in. People will begin to source their news from more strategic sources and the conglomerates will wane in influence as the small networks of great shows with real people will continue to rise.
So in summary, if you want to be a big internet super star, go be great at something before you start talking, and after you do that, the rest is simple.