Joe Rogan Is the king of podcasting.
In a given week, The Joe Rogan Experience publishes two to three episodes, lasting more than two hours each. Joe Rogan, the titular host, known for being an accomplished stand-up comedian, former host on ‘Fear Factor', and popular UFC commentator, has built up an incredible following in the podcasting sphere.
Joe Rogan is podcasting.
Hosted out of his converted man cave, Rogan hosts a wide range of guests. One day he'll discuss privacy and censorship with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey while he'll be arguing with far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones the next. From existential conversations with former astronaut Garrett Reisman to talking about colonizing the Solar system with Elon Musk, Rogan has a line-up of guests that is unmatched anywhere on the Internet.
With more than 200 million monthly downloads and hundreds of millions on views on YouTube, it should come as no surprise that Joe Rogan has consistently been the #1 podcast on iTunes for the past couple of years. With almost 1,500 episodes up, Joe has built up a veritable media empire. And people are starting to take notice.
More than half of the U.S. population over age 12 has now listened to a podcast. Ask them what they've listened to lately and the majority will tell you it's The Joe Rogan Experience. It's not just his reach and content that's drawing people in.
Joe Rogan is becoming culturally significant.
Rogan hosted then virtually-unknown Democratic Presidential candidate Andrew Yang in February of 2019. Over the course of two hours, they discussed the merits of Universal Basic Income, America's foreign policy, and much more. Soon afterwards, Yang's campaign took off. Donations started flooding in and people started to take Yang more seriously. “Everything is up and to the right since the Joe Rogan podcast,” said Yang's campaign manager.
In what has now become a historic episode that's been watched more than 30 million times, Joe hosted Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk in the fall of 2018. Musk was one of the most high-profile guests Rogan had ever had on the show up until then. At the time, Musk was under a lot of public scrutiny and people were clamoring to hear from him. The interview blew up and made headlines around the world. Talking about colonizing Mars and the thesis that reality might be a simulation, the conversation went in a number of different directions.
More than anything, it humanized a billionaire who'd been difficult to pin down up until that point. What ended up sealing the deal was Rogan taking out a blunt halfway through and passing it on to Elon. Taking a puff, seemingly unimpressed, Musk immediately became an internet sensation. And so, an infamous meme was born.
Not only is Joe Rogan relevant, he's also raking it in.
Based on Rogan’s self-reported 200 million downloads per month, he's sitting on some amazing monetization potential. Even if we assume his audience is half that size, the revenue he could be generating is mind-boggling. If he sells ads at a low $18 CPM (cost per thousand listeners), he should easily be making $64 million per year. And if we assume he's on the higher end, he could be getting $50 per thousand listeners, leading to as much as $240 million per year.
This also doesn’t include any additional revenue he might generate from several of his YouTube channels, which have a combined total of thirteen million subscribers between them.
In May 2020, a Rogan announced a massive deal that would make The Joe Rogan Experience a Spotify exclusive. Valued at more than $100 million, the deal illustrates how big of a deal podcasting has become. And how much growth Spotify is anticipating in the podcasting space. "It’s the Howard Stern move,” says an industry expert, who estimates that Rogan’s deal with Spotify will be as lucrative as Stern’s with Sirius XM.
Rogan is not some generic late-night talkshow host. There's no fake forced laughter or witty one-liners. Joe's show feels like a conversation you'd have one late night in your college dorm room. And as with some stoner friends, the conversation will inevitably stray into weird or fringe territory. Which only adds to the charm.
More than anything, Rogan’s conversations are laid back. It's not an interview. Nor is it a rehearsed performance. He doesn’t grill his guests. He lets his guests be themselves, ramble on, and genuinely take his time to get to the bottom of things.
He's not looking to call someone out or to score a soundbite that can be regurgitated on the late-night news. His approach makes normally media-weary figures like Musk or Dorsey feel at ease and lets the conversation flow naturally.
Podcasting the way Joe does it is for everyone.
There's no stereotypical Joe Rogan fan. He's got listeners on both the far-left and the far-right. His previous guests include far-left politicians, right-wing activists, entrepreneurs, MMA fighters, writers, researchers and actors. Rogan caters to almost every demographic. No matter where you stand on politics, Rogan's got something to offer you. His listeners are not centered around any issue. They're only centered around Joe.
This is where he really illustrates the power of podcasting. Digital distribution allows him to speak to a much more diverse audience than anyone ever could've using traditional media. He's not beholden to any network, political ideology or niche.
So why is he connecting so deeply with so many listeners? How has he captured the publics attention so thoroughly that they're willing to listen to him for hours on end, when most outlets struggle to hold anyone’s attention for 2 minutes?
Because he's real. He's raw. He's willing to admit when he doesn't know stuff, to put his ego aside. Joe shows us what happens when a public figure shows genuine, courageous curiosity. When he learns something new, he makes no effort to hide his surprise. Above all, he doesn't act like he's better or more informed than his listeners. He's not better informed, nor does he pretend to be.
It makes him human and has enabled him to dominate the podcasting industry.
Joe Rogan is his own brand. The bald head, the stocky build, the infectious enthusiasm. It's what makes him, him.
His sales strategy is simple: everything’s about him and his guests. You get to know Joe, build up a connection with him, and get invested in his success. The growth of the internet has seen consumers get more invested in the person behind the brand. Consumers have less face-to-face interactions with a business, nor do they particularly care to.
After all, what does Coca Cola know about me? For that matter, what do I care about some faceless company like Coca Cola?
The Internet incentivises transparency. It's why influencers are as powerful as they are. Because of consistent transparency, their fans feel invested in their work and a part of their lives. They come to feel like they're distant friends.
This is what David Perell calls Naked Brands. They are founded by influencers, and prioritize continuous ongoing communication with fans. Whether it's through podcast episodes, Instagram posts, vlogs or blog posts. Their brands are defined not by symbols, logos, or television advertisements, but by the authenticity of their personalities. More than anything, Naked Brands are transparent.
Consider that some of Joe Rogan's fans have watched hundreds of his episodes, at several hours each. Those fans will have spent more time with Rogan than they probably do with their closest friends and family. It breeds familiarity and, most importantly, trust. The same principle explains the insane success of YouTubers like Casey Neistat and Logan Paul, as well as Instagram darlings like Kylie Jenner and Jay Alvarrez.
What's more, it offers amazing business opportunities. Any business you start will instantly have thousands, if not millions, of customers chomping at the bit. When Casey Neistat started Beme, a social media company, it attracted tens of thousands of loyal users. All because they trusted Casey and the brand he'd developed. The same goes for merchandize sales, sponsorships, and endorsements. Used correctly, a loyal audience can be the driver of millions of revenue.
Not only is Joe a great brand, he's also got his marketing strategy dialed in. How do you get millions of people from all walks of life to take notice and listen to your show? In a time where media is becoming more and more fractured, Rogan seems to buck this trend.
It all stems from how he structures his show and what guests he has on.
As Devin Gordon puts it in the Atlantic:
How many mainstream entertainers routinely expose their audiences to Harvard biologists? Or climate-change experts? (The Uninhabitable Earth author David Wallace-Wells, episode No. 1259.) Or biosocial scientists? (The Yale professor Nicholas Christakis, episode No. 1274.) Or ethical-leadership lecturers? (The NYU Stern business-school professor Jonathan Haidt, episode No. 1221.)
With his continually rotating cast of guests, Rogan branches out into different fields and audiences. Have Alex Jones on and you get a sudden flood of primarily right-wing listeners. Some might watch the episode and never give The Joe Rogan Experience a second thought, but many will stick around. And that's how his audience really grows. Have Andrew Yang on? Cue an influx of liberal listeners. Host a show with Jack Dorsey? There's going to be a spike in young, tech-savvy listeners.
By tapping new audiences and subcultures with every passing guests, Joe manages to get an ‘in’ with people of all walks of life. It's why you can find his listeners in downtown San Francisco, on the subway in New York, and the small towns of rural Alabama.
Joe masterfully leverages his guests to gain a wider reach. And he does the same with his platform.
Besides iTunes, the majority of Joe Rogan's listeners come from YouTube. Rogan’s show is one of the longest on the platform. His three-hour episodes shamelessly break the unofficial rules that state your videos should be 15 to 20 minutes long. But like many other big podcasts, Rogan operates a secondary channel that uploads short clips and snippets from each episode. Each is 10-20 minutes long and provides a bite-sized chunk that's digestible by itself without having to slog through a three-hour episode.
And it seems to work.
The clips collectively have more views than the videos on his main account, despite the clips channel having several million fewer subscribers. What's more, every clip expands the footprint of his show, making it more likely for the show to get picked up by the YouTube algorithm. Rather than having a single episode that can get recommended to viewers, every episode suddenly features a dozen different videos, each of which can lead new listeners to the Joe Rogan Experience.
“Joe Rogan is a perfect example,” Owen Grover, CEO of Pocket Casts, said. “He does the two- to three-hour ‘wake me when it’s over’ version, and then there are short little clips that he puts up.”
More than ever, podcasts are becoming an everyday phenomenon. With the rise of true-crime audiodramas, Harry Potter fan podcasts, and Rogan's show, it's clear that podcasting is here to stay.
Generally, content and media are starting to trend towards mobile. In 2019, 53 percent of all web traffic came from mobile users in 2019. And audio is the ultimate mobile medium. Whether you're spending hours watching YouTube videos, going for a run, commuting to work, doing housework, or just running errands, podcasts are the perfect medium for content consumption. It's unobtrusive, immersive, and asynchronous. Because of the fact that we can listen to a podcast while doing something else, it becomes a lot more convenient for listeners to turn on a podcast over the course of the day.
What's more, podcasts are the easiest way of ‘getting eyeballs’, as it's known in the industry. While cable television struggles mightily to get viewers to stick around for an hour-long episode of reality TV, listeners of podcasts will happily listen to a six-hour history show on the causes of the First World War. Getting an hour of a listener's time is easier than any other medium. And once you've got them hooked, it's easy to make them loyal listeners for a long time.
We're still very much in the early phases of the podcasting business model. The majority of revenue is still generated through advertisements and sponsorships, usually two to three per episode. If you're anything like me, you skip these ads, but they're still bringing in a decent chunk of change for the creators.
The introduction of premium subscription models stands to completely change this, though. Substack, a company that makes tools that enable writers to charge subscription fees for their newsletters, now allows users to charge for premium podcasts. The subscription model could take many different forms, ranging from simple ad-free episodes to Patreon-esque bonuses like exclusive subscriber-only episodes.
And it's incredibly appealing to creators too. Andrew Wilkinson, the chief executive at the investment firm Tiny Capital, thinks that Joe Rogan and others stand to massively profit off of premium subscription models. He says the return would be even more “insane” if Rogan converted to a premium subscription model. “Even if he kept the show free and offered ad-free streams, or an extra episode per week for $5-$10 per month, the numbers would boggle the mind,” he says.
The economics are amazing. A subscription podcasting strategy replicates the benefits of SaaS software businesses in a lot of respects. You've got regular recurring revenue, predictable growth, predictable customer lifetime value, and predictable churn. On top of that, you don't have to deal with the downsides of a SaaS business like expensive R&D, expensive marketing, and ruthless competition.
The transition from advertising to a subscription model is going to completely change the industry. There will be dozens of podcasters making millions. And some, like Joe Rogan, might even become billionaires.
It's not without precedent. In China, it’s a completely different story. Podcast advertising there tends to be augmented by subscriptions, memberships and tips. Podcasting and live-streaming has blown up in China. In North American, the podcast industry was worth a measly $479 million in 2018, while China’s clocked in at over $7 billion!
The first podcasting millionaires have already been minted over there. Xue Zhaofeng, a former economist at Peking University’s National School of Development, has made more than 50 million yuan (US$7.9 million) by offering lectures on economics. Via the iGet app, which launched two years ago, users pay 199 yuan (US$32) each to subscribe to the service, which operates in the same way as a podcast with lectures being released every week between Monday and Thursday. The courses on these apps are more casual and accessible, with teachers from all walks of life covering topics that range from skincare to personal wealth management.
And while Xue Zhaofeng is currently an outlier, it won't remain that way for long. Media is changing and so must we. There's a revolution going on, yet very few actually realize it. Spotify's $100M deal with Rogan is a clear signal:
Podcasting's here to stay.