When you have a podcast, your media files need to be hosted somewhere reliable, so they’re served up with little issue to your listeners/viewers. New podcasters are sometimes surprised to learn Apple doesn’t host podcasts…you’ll need to submit your podcast’s RSS feed for iTunes and other directories.
Most podcasters use podcast media hosting services, due to the convenience of having an experienced third-party maintain the server environment (plus the added features that often come along). We’ll share more information on the options and what to consider in podcast hosting.
Website hosting v. media hosting
There are many web hosting services available, but they are not designed for hosting podcast media files. You may run into bandwidth issues if your podcast becomes popular…simply having the content there may not be a problem, but being able to serve it up quickly to 1,000+ listeners may be.
Many podcasting experts have researched this with web hosting companies and the conclusion is usually that there is nothing against hosting media for podcasting on basic shared web-hosting environments, but you will run into problems if the show becomes popular. Either the host will ask you to switch to a dedicated service, which is typically more expensive than paying for separate media hosting, or downloads will become super slow or stop working. Media hosts are specifically designed to handle the specifications and growing needs of podcasters, as well as to offer features like statistics (regular web stats won’t show you the data you need).
Pros and cons of hosting on your own server v. a hosting service
If you are experienced in IT you might consider hosting your media on your own server. However, very few podcasters do this due to the cost effectiveness and efficiency of third-party hosting. If you choose to host on your own server, you will need to manage growing bandwidth needs, deal with hardware maintenance and failures, redundancy, backing up your data, anti-hacking and DDoS attacks, etc.
The advantage is you have complete control over your media and any customization. But, most quality third-party hosts provide a lot of control and customization today, and you’ll find even the most popular podcasts are using third-party media hosting. Even many large businesses who have extensive IT departments and massive server capacity are using third-party services when they use podcasting for internal communications or marketing.
Third-party hosts will handle security, anti-hacking, backup, server redundancy, etc. Different hosts offer different pricing plans and features (many still allow you a great deal of customization and the ability to use your own domain, so you can full brand and control your podcast). The other advantage of third-party hosting is additional features that you get, which we’ll discuss later in this article.
The importance of storage and bandwidth
The one feature that is vitally important to running a popular podcast is bandwidth and storage space. As a quick example: if you do a one hour audio podcast three times/week, you will likely need around 200MB storage space in a week (800MB-1000MB in a month). If you publish a video podcast once per week at 500MB for each episode, you will need 2GB space in every month. When a host limits storage space, you may quickly find that you need to pay more for your ever-growing needs.
A quick explanation of bandwidth for those who might not be familiar: bandwidth is a way of measuring internet traffic. Every time someone downloads an episode of your podcast, it uses bandwidth. The bigger your podcast files, the more bandwidth they use. The more people who listen to your podcast, the more bandwidth it uses. If you have a one hour audio podcast in MP3 at 60MB file size and 1000 people listen to your podcast, it will use 60GB bandwidth… 10,000 people listen to your podcast will use 10 times the bandwidth.
Another option that some podcasters use is to host directly with Amazon S3 cloud servers. This is a very reliable option, but the costs will vary based on storage and bandwidth. With this or any other option that doesn’t offer unlimited bandwidth, you will run into unexpected charges when your podcast gets popular. There are very affordable options with third-party hosting services for unlimited bandwidth and storage (for example, Podbean’s unlimited audio plan is $9/month).
What should a podcaster consider when selecting podcast media hosting?
- Reliability: network reliability and redundancy (for example, at Podbean we use a Podbean and Amazon Dual CDN environment to achieve high reliability for worldwide clients/listeners)
- Bandwidth and storage space limits (costs now and in the future as you grow)
- Ability to auto-generate a RSS feed that is compatible with popular podcast players and apps, such as iTunes, Google Play, etc. Ease of use of tools/interface (what type of set up do you want to use, what features and tools will you need?).
- Support for using your own domain/branded website (there are plugins, embeddable players and the ability to map directly to your domain with different services and set-ups)
- Extra features and options, such as statistics and monetization (and costs, if applicable, associated with these extra features)
The podcast hosting provider landscape
There are a small handful of podcast hosting providers who have been in the podcasting business since the early days (Podbean, Libsyn, Blubrry). It is important to consider the history and commitment of the company you use for podcast hosting: are they primarily focused on podcasting, will they invest in new features and changes to better meet the needs of podcasters and keep up with changing technologies, do they have the capacity to handle growing needs, will they be responsive to your concerns and questions, etc.
There are often new players who come into the podcast space and you may wish to try out a new, innovative service. A few years back there were exponentially more hosting services, many of which have closed down or moved their focus to other business areas. Soundcloud is a popular option for its affordability and exposure, but lately there have been some questions about its financial solvency and future in podcasting with some stability issues. Do make sure to find out the procedure for redirecting your RSS feed if you use the host’s feed and decide (or need) to switch.
In addition to finding out about storage space and bandwidth and comparing costs, each hosting provider offers a different interface and tools. There are many podcasting guides offering advice, but you also might want to test out the platform to see how it works for you. Each host also offers different additional features and services you may find useful:
Though you should not count on a host as the primary means of marketing and promotion as this is not their focus, some hosting providers also have podcast directories (i.e. Podbean and Blubrry) and may help with listener discovery. For example, at Podbean we feature rotating podcasts each week on our home page, send emails to listeners with accounts about suggested content and have suggested topics and featured shows in our apps. As another example, Libsyn features selected shows each week on their podcast. No matter where you host, there are many places you can submit your RSS feed to (and many pull from iTunes automatically) in order to be found/available for different listener preferences.
Most hosts will offer statistics about your downloads and audience (geography, how they’re listening, etc.). Check what’s included in your plan.
Monetization is something you may want to consider, especially after you have developed an audience that loves your quality content. Some hosts, such as Podbean and Libsyn, offer premium content options where you can charge a fee for select content or memberships. Crowdfunding is another popular way of raising funds. Until recently, podcasters could use general crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter or Patreon or have a simple “donate” button, but Podbean now also offers a podcast-specific platform for monthly donations (open to any podcaster). Some services have offered options like dynamic advertising, and we expect more development in ad options as podcast advertising continues to grow in popularity.
Mobile apps: though iTunes is still the most popular spot to find podcasts, some services also have popular mobile apps for listening/viewing. The apps can serve as a means for listener discovery and offer your fans added convenience or a better listening experience. Check out which services are adding features you may want to their apps (for example, we recently added mobile podcasting/management for on-the-go needs).
New and innovative features will develop with the constant changes in technology and consumer behavior. Think about your goals and how you’d like to develop. If you’re looking for something specific or unusual, such as video podcasting or private podcasting (we have a number of businesses using podcasts for internal communications who use this feature for protected content), find out if the hosts offer these services and at what price. We’re launching HLS for video podcasting at Podbean, because though video podcasts are fewer in number, more people are looking at this option and want the smoothest playback for viewers.
Podcast hosting is an important consideration when setting up your podcast. If your listeners can’t access your media smoothly, the greatest content won’t matter. You have a wide range of hosting options available, ranging from customizable, do-it-yourself set ups to turnkey solutions with different features and benefits.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
David Xu, Podbean CEO
David received his PhD from McGill University in Computer Science. He founded Podbean 10 years ago and serves as CEO. Podbean hosts over 120,000 podcasts and offers innovative services like mobile podcasting and a patron crowdfunding program open to all podcasters.
Shannon Martin, Podbean Director of Communications
Shannon provides education, information and assistance to the podcaster community to help them with “podcasting smarter” (including managing the Facebook group of that name). Shannon received her B.A. from Wake Forest University and her M.S.W. from University of Georgia. She specializes in copywriting and online communications/marketing and her sample portfolio can be found at https://linkedin.com/in/shannonmartinwrites.
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