Castbox turns to blockchain to help podcasters get paid

Late last month, Castbox introduced Contentbox, an attempt help podcast hosts and producers make some actual money off their product. It’s been something of an on-going struggle since the dawn of the medium. Longtime listeners no doubt recognize all the trends after fast forwarding through their 10,000th Casper mattress read.

While it’s true that a handful of successful startups are among the regular rotation in pre- and mid-roll ads, the simple fact is that a very small percentage of podcasters are actually able to make a living wage through the medium. It’s no wonder, then, that the top of the charts for the supposedly democratized platform were quickly taken over by media giants like NPR and The New York Times.

I’ve spoken with a number of leading podcast providers in recent months, and the consensus seems to be that there will likely never be a one size fits all approach to making money through podcasting. Gimlet (Startup, Reply All) provides one interesting example, through IP licensing that has the dual effect of providing cashflow, while promoting one’s product.

Jenna Weiss-Berman, the co-founder of Pineapple Street (producer of Hillary Clinton’s podcast and the wildly successful Missing Richard Simmons), told me that her company takes a more for-hire approach, essentially working as a studio/production company for other people’s shows, Obviously neither of these are a viable solution for all or even most podcasters.

During a fireside interview at TechCrunch’s event in Hangzhou, China this week, Castbox CEO Renee Wang outlined her company’s plans to offer podcasters a micropayment plan built around blockchain technology.

“Contentbox is a blockchain-based infrastructure for the digital content industry,” Wang told me. “The existing model is broken. Creators are not getting what they deserve and consumers are not getting a reward for engaging with content.”

The company describes the product thusly,

Castbox addresses this issue by consolidating the cumbersome subscription process into a single platform where users can discover, unlock, and consume premium content without leaving the app. Castbox eliminates user friction and makes paid subscriptions easily accessible so publishers can generate more revenue and grow their following. 

Wondery, the 20th Century Fox-backed network behind shows like American History Tellers and Dirty John, will be the first to support the technology. I suspect that Castbox will likely begin implementing the payment system for the original content it began producing earlier this year, which includes the Serial spoof, This Sounds Serious.

Wang, a former Google Japan employee who sold her home two years ago to raise capital for the startup, believes the technology will allow listeners to become more invested in the product.

“With blockchain, this small micropayment system, you can make are all of the investors who invest at the very beginning, before the show is created, they can get their portion,” she told me. “It lets listeners become investors. They have more responsibility to share and distribute the show, because they are also the investor in the show. It incentivizes these behaviors.”   

The company has yet to detail the specifics of the program, but it will likely offer a number of avenues for promoting a show, including social media plug-ins, so users who get their shows through apps other than Castbox can participate.

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