The last episode of hit podcast "Serial" is available for streaming on Thursday. With the release of this episode, the podcast series from reporter Sarah Koenig and the producers of "This American Life" wraps up its first season covering the murder of a high school student in Baltimore that took place 15 years ago.
Related: 6 Best Personal Finance Podcasts
"Serial" Podcast Is First Megahit of the Podcasting World
"Serial" is the first podcast to hit it big, gaining an audience of 2.2 million per episode and reaching 5 million downloads or streams in less than nine weeks, reports CNN Money, a record in the podcasting world. To date, "Serial" has clocked 31 million downloads, reports Ad Age. Serial is the first podcast to see this level of success. In comparison, the next 10 most-successful podcasts bring in an average of 620,000 downloads per episode.
Until now, podcasts have been a tough medium. The market is awash with a plethora of podcasts, as this content is relatively easy to make and release. But podcasts are almost always free and podcast audiences have remained small up until now, making it tricky to monetize these shows through advertising or other conventional channels.
With the mega-success of "Serial," the podcast world has finally proven that its medium can appeal to a wider audience and keep them coming back each week. The broader audience brought to podcasting by "Serial" could pick up other podcasts to listen to, and the proven success of "Serial" could bring more marketing money to podcasts. But for its first season, did "Serial" manage to find financial success?
How "Serial" Podcast Managed to Pay for Itself
The "Serial" podcast made its money in a similar way to many podcasts out there; it partnered with a podcast network that helped fund production costs. In the case of "Serial," it paired up with NPR's "This American Life."
Another important source of income is, of course, marketing. "Serial" began its run with one sponsor, MailChimp, which paid based on audience projections that were far below the millions the podcast ended up attracting, reports Ad Age. Through its success "Serial" has become attractive to marketers and has managed to secure deals that will cover the costs of producing the second season.
"…[O]nce the show was popular and was getting written about, more sponsors added on," said Seth Lind, director of operations for "This American Life," to Ad Age. "So, in that way, the visibility of it and the success of it brought in more sponsors at the tail end of the season and brought in a lot of inquiries about sponsoring in the future."
"Serial" also appealed to its audience for funding, asking listeners to donate money to the show to fund a second season. These funds would directly affect the quality of the second season, the extent of reporting the "Serial" team would be able to do, as well as whether the podcast would remain free and uninterrupted by ads, reports The Wall Street Journal.
"Do you want a season two of 'Serial'? If so, I'm going to ask you for money," said Koenig.
While "Serial" has not disclosed how much its listeners donated, it did release a statement that its fundraising was successful and would make the second season possible.
"Today, we have good news: between the money you donated and sponsorship, we'll be able to make a second season," reads a statement "Serial" released on Nov. 26. "We don't know yet what the story will be or exactly when we'll be airing Season Two, but we'll be working on it as soon as this season ends."