What Are Podcast Networks & Should You Join One?

by Austin Plourde | Aug 16, 2023 | Podcasting

Read Time: 10 min read

Summary: TL;DR: Considering joining a podcast network? Learn how podcast networks operate, who can benefit, and the pros and cons. Networks offer resources, visibility, and revenue opportunities but may require giving up creative control and sharing profits. If you prefer independence, focus on SEO, audience engagement, and monetization strategies. Before choosing a network, research their size, target audience, services, and terms. To join, research, meet requirements, pitch your podcast, clarify terms, and sign a contract. Hurrdat Media offers podcasting services and network opportunities to enhance your show's quality, audience reach, and revenue potential.

One way to help increase your podcast revenue and grow your audience is to join a podcast network. Each podcast network is unique in its offerings and its requirements to join, but there are some commonalities, as well. Read our guide to learn more about podcast networks and find out if joining a network is right for you!

What Is a Podcast Network?

A podcast network is a group of podcasts produced, distributed, or marketed through a single entity. Podcast networks exist primarily to increase visibility and help shows connect with podcast advertisers—which then brings in revenue for both the podcaster and the network. Some networks share a theme across their shows, like Tenderfoot TV’s focus on true crime, while others have a variety of genres and categories. For example, the Hurrdat Media Network has shows in a wide range of categories, including entertainment and lifestyle podcasts like Melissa Rivers’ Group Text, industry professionals podcasts like The Making of an Ordinary Spaceman, and food shows like Restaurant Hoppen.

How Do Podcast Networks Work?

A podcast network may serve you differently, depending on the type of network you choose. An ad-based podcast network will help you monetize your podcast—whereas an ad-free podcast network, though much rarer, will focus on marketing your podcast.

A majority of networks are able to pool podcast download numbers from all the shows in the network to help attract more advertisers. No matter the size of the network, you’ll still need to meet baseline requirements—which are negotiated between the podcast and network. This contract determines how profits are split, advertising details, exclusivity agreements, and more. Podcasters then get more advertising opportunities, and the network gets a cut of the ad revenue from each show. Podcast advertising rates vary, but they’re typically based on CPM (cost per mille), which means you get paid for every 1,000 downloads your show gets.

Who Can Join Podcast Networks?

Large and small podcasts can join any network, so long as they meet their requirements—which range from downloads to audience size. Usually, prospective shows will need to hit a certain amount of podcast downloads, such as 1,000 downloads per episode or 5,000 total downloads per month. Many networks also require a consistent posting frequency of releasing new episodes at least once per week. Additionally, network shows will be expected to engage in cross-promotion with other shows in the network. Other aspects of your show—like podcast quality, tone, and subject matter—also weigh into a network’s decision to sign you.

Advantages of Podcast Networks

There are several advantages to joining a podcast network. Whether you try to join an ad-free or ad-based podcast network, your podcast could benefit from advertising opportunities, resources, and support—so that you can avoid burnout, strategize upcoming seasons, and polish your hosting skills! Check out how your podcast can benefit from joining a network!

Additional Support & Resources

A major benefit of joining a podcast network is that you’ll likely be provided with a host of professional podcast tools to help produce your podcast, including microphones and other podcasting equipment, as well as podcast editing software. Depending on the network, you’ll also have people to help you with editing and marketing, allowing you to focus more on the actual hosting and creation part of the process. Ideally, a network provides you with as much or as little production assistance as you want, and gives you the creative freedom to continue producing the show your audience has come to enjoy.

Increased Visibility

With the large number of podcasts published, it can be hard to get your show discovered organically on top podcast directories like Spotify and Apple Podcasts. One of the main benefits of joining a network is their ability to promote your show, which can lead to podcast growth. Networks can help boost your show’s visibility by using their podcast cross-promotion system to get your show promoted on their other shows. Networks can also promote your podcast through their websites, social media channels, and press releases.

More Revenue Opportunities

If your goal is to monetize your podcast, then signing with an ad-based network can give you more opportunities for increased podcast revenue. Networks will search for podcast ad agencies that best represent the target demographic they’re trying to reach with their shows, and then pitch to the agency to partner for ads. Many ad agencies find it easier to sign a single deal with an entire network rather than negotiating with several individual shows, which means podcasts in a network often have a better chance of connecting with major podcast advertisers than independent podcasts do.

Detailed Podcast Insights

Though you can make use of podcast analytics as an independent podcaster, networks can synthesize swaths of data to give you—including download numbers, play-through rates, and more, in addition to competitive analyses of other shows in their network and within your genre. When you evaluate this data, you’ll get a real sense of who your listeners are, what subjects they’re most interested in, topics with low engagement, and more. This can allow you to strategize your podcast’s content around things your listeners find interesting, which can lead to higher audience engagement.

Built-In Networking

In addition to a production team to back your podcast, you’ll also have a literal network of people—including successful podcasters with larger followings—who you can connect with. These built-in contacts can give you advice, collaborate, and even be podcast guests for your next episode. You can also try a podcast episode swap with another show in the network to share a show you love with your audience and promote your own show to a new audience.

Disadvantages of Podcast Networks

Although there are several benefits to joining a network, there are potential drawbacks, as well. Here are some reasons why a show might remain an independent podcast rather than joining a podcast network.

Less Creative Control

If your goal is to join one of the top podcasting networks, you may have to give up some creative control, which can extend to advertising, branding, distribution, topics, and more. Some networks might want you to follow certain rules when creating your content—regarding what can be said, how often you release content, and anything else that impacts the network’s brand and their ability to attract more podcast advertisers.

Each network in the industry will have different degrees of control, and this is one area where many smaller networks may have an advantage over many larger networks. For example, Hurrdat Media Network allows podcasts to retain as much creative control as they want. “Part of the reason we go after shows is the shows themselves, so we would never change the show at all,” said Pat Safford, Podcast Network Director. “Our motto is ‘Let talent be talent and we’ll take care of the rest.'”

Profit Cuts

Even though you have a better chance of making more podcast income from a network’s advertisers you partner with, you’ll still have to agree to a revenue split—which varies across networks.

Safford said Hurrdat Media Network most often agrees to a 50/50 split with shows after expenses, though some shows will have different allocations built into their contract. Consider if it would be possible to get the same amount of revenue if you were to remain independent, or if joining a network would make you more money in the long run.

Exclusivity Agreements

Another disadvantage of podcast networks is you’ll likely have to sign an exclusivity agreement with them. These contracts typically give podcast networks control of your sponsorships. Exclusivity agreements may also prevent you from working with other networks or go as far as stopping you from creating content outside the podcast network. However, some networks—including Hurrdat Media—will work with individual shows to see if it’s possible to continue working with any existing sponsors moving forward.

Hosting Migrations

Most major podcast networks will have all of their shows use the same podcast hosting platform, which allows all the audio files to be stored in one place. These files can then easily be published to all the major podcast directories—like Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and many more.

Transitioning to a new hosting platform could potentially present issues if your files are not properly transferred. The process of switching hosting platforms consists of migrating over technical aspects of your show like feed metadata, existing episode information, and redirecting your RSS feed. If you don’t set up a 301 redirect for your RSS feed, you’ll likely lose subscribers when switching to the new hosting platform. Before signing a contract, learn what podcast hosting platform the network you want to join uses and how they migrate files.

How to Grow Your Podcast Without a Network

If you’re not ready to join a network yet, it’s still possible to grow your show’s reach and revenue as an indie podcast. Take a look at these ways you can grow your podcast on your own.

Optimize Your Podcast for Search Engines

One way to increase your podcast audience without a network is to optimize your podcast for SEO. Conduct keyword research to figure out what terms your target audience is putting into search engines, and then incorporate relevant keywords into your online content. These keywords can be used in podcast transcripts, metadata, show notes, and your podcast website to help more listeners find your show.

Engage with Your Audience

A great method to help improve your relationship with your podcast audience is to interact with them on your podcast’s social media accounts. Listeners will appreciate when you actively engage with them, answer questions, and incorporate feedback. This type of interaction not only helps your current listener base stay engaged, but also often results in more likes and shares—which can help you reach new listeners. Make sure to include links in your social media profiles to your podcast website and the main platforms where your show can be found!

Branch Out to Different Formats

Expanding beyond an audio-only format is another way to boost podcast listener engagement. Consider trying out video podcasting to help make yourself more personable to the audience, grow a YouTube following, and generate more social media content. Additionally, try producing live podcast recordings or hosting live podcast events to give more ways for your audience to engage with your show.

Monetize Your Podcast

Although you can increase your revenue by joining a podcast network, there are also other ways to monetize your podcast. This might mean seeking advertisers on your own, negotiating deals under sponsorship models for affiliate links, CPM sponsorships, or value-based sponsorships. You can also grow an audience of paid subscribers for whom you provide a variety of premium podcast content—like behind-the-scenes videos, merchandise, access to your podcast archive, and more.

How to Choose a Podcast Network

Thinking a podcast network might be the best move for your podcast? Large networks like Gimlet Media and Wondery and smaller networks like Hurrdat Media each have their own advantages—what’s best for one show might not work for another. Here are some things to consider before signing up with a podcast network.

Consider Network Size

You’ll need to determine your podcast goals before you select a podcast network. Being part of a larger network could lead to increased revenue, but your show could get lost among the crowd. If you sign up with a small podcast network, you’ll have the chance to stand out at the risk of a lower income. If your show is new or has a smaller following, you might not be eligible to join larger networks.

Research the Network’s Target Audience

Podcast hosts should conduct additional research into a network to see if their show would be a good fit—and if the network can benefit your goals of exposure and engagement. Take time to listen to a few of your prospective network’s podcasts, and see if you can envision your show alongside the others. Does the network have your genre, or one similar to your podcast’s? Is your podcast’s theme or tone similar to the other shows? If so, your podcast might resonate with its target demographics and other fans of that network.

Evaluate Offered Services

There’s more that comes with a podcast network than an increased revenue stream. Most networks, regardless of size, will provide you with a team of podcast experts to help improve the overall quality of your show. Make sure to ask what specific services are provided and what your options as a podcaster are, since the answer will vary from one network to another. For instance, Hurrdat Media fully handles production for most shows in the network. “We’ll record with them, download the files on our end, edit it, they will send us a title and a description, and then we’ll post,” said Safford. However, other shows in the Hurrdat Media network choose to take care of podcast production on their own and send the final audio clip for distribution.

Clarify Your Share of Creative Control

Independent podcasters might be used to having complete control over their shows, from brainstorming ideas to editing every episode. When you sign up with a network, they may insist on taking over different degrees of control from you, so you can focus on creating quality podcast content. You should ask a network how much creative control they expect to have over your show before signing a podcast network agreement.

Understand the Revenue Split

One of the major draws to joining a podcast network is the possibility of increased revenue from advertising and sponsorships. A standard part of any podcast network is an agreed-upon revenue split. Podcast hosts should ask a network what their revenue split is before signing a partnership contract.

How to Join a Podcast Network

If you’re creating compelling, high-quality content for your podcast and want to take your show to the next level, you might be ready to join a podcast network. Once you decide to do so, there are a few actions you’ll need to take to begin that process. Here are the steps for joining a podcast network:

  1. Research networks to find the best, most relevant options for your show.
  2. Make sure you meet your chosen network’s requirements.
  3. Pitch your podcast to the network.
  4. Ask for clarity on contract terms.
  5. Sign a contract.

Looking for a reliable podcast network to help improve the quality of your show, gain a bigger audience, earn money, and connect with advertisers? Hurrdat Media offers podcasting services to help you produce, distribute, and promote your podcast. Contact us to learn more or join our media network today!