2019 American Music Awards

Podcasts Hit the Road: Shows Like Pod Save America and My Favorite Murder Are Filling Seats, Breaking Records

BB26 2019 - ONE TIME USE ONLY
Christina Craig
Pod Save America onstage at the Greek Theater in August.

Podcasts are taking their conversations out of the studio and onto the stage.

In late 2016, former Obama White House staffers Jon Favreau, Daniel Pfeiffer, Jon Lovett and Tommy Vietor decided to retool their podcast Keepin’ It 1600 to do some good, since Donald Trump was going to be president. The revamped show, called Pod Save America, now draws an average of 1.5 million listeners per episode and in August hit a somewhat improbable milestone: a live taping at an amphitheater better known for concerts by Ringo Starr and Kacey Musgraves. At the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, the four hosts invited musical guests such as Maggie Rogers, Best Coast and My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James to perform onstage.

"You have to have a show," says WME agent Kevin Shivers, who works on the Pod Save America tour. "People don’t want to show up and see talking heads."

With tickets ranging from $40-$100, Pod entertained more than 4,000 attendees at the Aug. 17 LA show bringing in more than $208,000. The Greek Theatre appearance marks the highest gross reported to Billboard Boxscore for Pod Save America and served as a benefit for non-profit organizations Vote.org, Election Protection, Think Social Impact and the National Redistricting Foundation.

As podcasts continue to grow in popularity, the format’s advertising revenue — which is expected to reach $863.4 million by 2020, up 510% since 2016, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers — has attracted the most attention. But increasingly, podcasts are touring, opening up another potentially lucrative revenue stream.

Comedians Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, who started My Favorite Murder in 2016, hold the record for the biggest audience at a live podcast show with a 2018 performance at Los Angeles’ Microsoft Theater. The show grossed $335,000, according to Billboard Boxscore — about the same as a midtier touring act. Since 2017, Boxscore reports show the podcast has earned over $3 million from 21 performances.

"It’s a matter of making sure that there’s a value to the fan in spending their money and their time on coming to a venue to see a show," says Microsoft Theater senior talent buyer Andrew Saunders, who booked the My Favorite Murder performance. In November, the podcast will have its first destination event, My Favorite Weekend, with Murderinos (as fans are called) flocking to the Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara, Calif. Ticket passes include hotel accommodations and range in price from $760 to $1,860.

"The fans for podcasts and especially My Favorite Murder, are passionate in a way that I have not seen. It's equivalent to a K-pop fan or a teenager being a fan of a boy band," adds Saunders. "I believe that it is a growing market. My Favorite Murder has certainly paved the way for live ticket sales in the podcast space."

Touring is becoming a standard part of the strategy for podcasts looking to expand their fan bases, similar to comedians or musicians. But even for successful podcasts like My Favorite Murder, determining what fans will pay to see in a live setting from a show they get for free is a challenge — one that can be remedied by including musical acts in the show.

Like Pod Save America, Tinkercast’s prominent children’s podcast about science, Wow in the World, also turned to artists — in this case, kids act The Pop Ups — to bolster its live production when it launched in September. "The live podcast is much more like a variety show," says Tinkercast chief executive Meredith Halpern-Ranzer. "We bring the science in by doing game shows and experiments with the audience."

"There is a lot of excitement around it especially because our track record shows that our first couple of shows we sold out immediately. We had to list second shows within the same day. So there’s a hunger for it," adds Halpern-Razner. "It is brand building."

"I think you are going to see even more shows permeate the mainstream and the medium really explode," says UTA’s Joe Schwartz, who worked on the My Favorite Murder tour. Over the course of a few years Schwartz has gone from pitching major festivals to include his podcast clients to those same festivals calling UTA to ask, "What podcasts do you have?"


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