Ray Chao explains how Vox Media is building up a podcast subscription business

Subscribe: Apple PodcastsStitcherSpotify

Two years after Vox Media entered the podcast subscription business through the Cafe Studios acquisition, the publisher has “tens of thousands of active paying podcast subscribers,” said Vox Media svp and gm of audio and digital video Ray Chao on the latest Digiday Podcast.

“We acquired Cafe a little over two years ago, and we’ve learned a ton from just operating that business over the last two-plus years,” Chao said.

Vox Media’s broader subscription business continues to grow as it adds more podcast subscription options. In June, the publisher introduced a subscription program for narrative crime podcast “Criminal Plus.” And it followed with a subscription-based tier for “Where Should We Begin? With Esther Perel.”

Vox Media is prioritizing acquiring subscribers directly but has been exploring third-party subscriber acquisition sources. For example, “Where Should We Begin?” sells subscriptions through Apple Podcasts at $4.99 per month or $41.99 per year. Chao said that third-party subscription sellers like Apple provide a means of capturing “lower propensity subscribers,” i.e. people who may be unwilling to go through the full direct sign-up funnel.

Looking ahead, Chao has an eye on how Vox Media may differentiate the subscriptions it offers directly from those offered through third parties as a way to incentivize subscribers to sign up directly, such as by offering access to email newsletters and events, but still have a compelling pitch to those lower propensity subscribers, such as by providing access to exclusive audio content that is also available to direct subscribers. Vox Media has already implemented the dual-subscription option with Cafe Studios’ podcasts.

“An early learning for us is how do we work with both [subscriber acquisition] paths and maximize our consumer revenue business and engage more of our subscribers,” Chao said.

Here are a few highlights from the conversation, which have been edited for length and clarity.

The dual-subscriber acquisition strategy

We actually rebranded our Apple Podcasts subscription for Cafe [Studios] as Cafe Audio Pass. What we’re saying is ‘This is different from [Cafe Studios’ direct subscription program] Cafe Insider.’ You get actually more stuff when you sign up for Cafe Insider on our website because we can send you exclusive email newsletters. But if you sign up through Apple, we don’t know what your email address is, so you’re not going to get access to that content. 

Splitting time between audio and video duties

Right now my time is pretty much split down the middle where I’m spending a good chunk of my day doing podcasts and audio work and a good chunk of my day on video work. And sometimes when we think about, for example, a broader go-to market sales strategy, a broader monetization strategy, we can kill two birds with one stone and do it at the same time. But for the most part, because the editorial products are separate, they are pretty separate workstreams.

My focus is really building that hub in that hub-and-spoke model and think about how we come to our advertising clients with a central narrative around this is why you should buy video from us. We reach something like 68 million monthly uniques across all of our video offerings across the company.

Vox Media’s audio operation

On the audio side, what we’ve spent the last several years doing is building the right internal line of business support structure to help make the podcast network grow and function and operate. We have separate editorial teams. We have separate podcast production teams. But we have a common business model and a common audience growth strategy and a common monetization strategy.

Vox Media’s video operation

Similar to podcasts, we have separate editorial teams. We have different shows and franchises; we have team working in parallel on their own tracks. And we want to take what we’ve learned from the audio business of building a central line of business and a central team to help growth audience and grow revenue and bring that muscle to the video side.


More in Media

The Trade Desk shuts advertisers’ access to Yahoo’s video content

The DSP cut open marketplace access to Yahoo’s video in an ongoing dispute over how inventory is represented.

Three strategies publishers are adopting to drive affiliate commerce revenue for Amazon Prime Day 2024

Publishers like Condé Nast, Gallery Media Group and She Knows are taking what they learned from last year’s Amazon Prime Day to shape their strategies this year in an effort to boost affiliate commerce revenue during the July shopping event.

Why the Tribeca Film Festival embraced AI movies with OpenAI and Runway

The 2024 festival brought new dialogue about generative AI, from AI-generated films to feature-length documentaries about AI’s risks and rewards.