Why Pierced Media Is Betting on Creators To Be The Next Generation of Podcast Stars

Nat Rubio-Licht
Nat Rubio-Licht is a freelance reporter with dot.LA. They previously worked at Protocol writing the Source Code newsletter and at the L.A. Business Journal covering tech and aerospace. They can be reached at nat@dot.la.
Why Pierced Media Is Betting on Creators To Be The Next Generation of Podcast Stars
Evan Xie

It’s no secret that men dominate the podcasting industry. Even as women continue to grow their foothold, men still make up many of the highest-earning podcasts, raking in massive paychecks from ad revenue and striking deals with streaming platforms worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

But a new demographic is changing that narrative: Gen-Z female influencers and content creators.

A growing wave of creators starting their own podcasts has begun to take charge of the industry. Building up a dedicated following on video-first platforms like TikTok and YouTube by talking to the camera about their daily lives, relationships and friendships, or advice on navigating the world as a young person, these creators often try their hand at podcasting to find out if their audiences extend to other platforms.

Pierced Media, a Gen Z-focused podcast studio that will only house podcasts hosted by women, is working to create a centralized place for these creators-turned-podcasters.

Launched in March, the company, which Katyal said is currently distributed but plans to set up its headquarters and recording studio in West Hollywood this summer, will debut seven shows by 10 creators this spring, with both audio and video podcasts discussing topics like fashion, beauty and relationships.

At the Pierced Media launch party in early March, hosted at a sleek mansion in the hills of Bel Air, founder and CEO Shweta Katyal told me the goal of the company is to empower Gen-Z women to express themselves and connect with their audiences. “Gen-Z girls are the funniest, smartest, most entertaining people,” Katyal said. “I love strong, smart women that want to share their point of view.”

Komal Nambiar, one of Pierced Media’s first podcast hosts, said that the company’s focus on young women was a big draw to coming on board. “Especially for women of color, I feel like there needs to be more representation in the podcast world,” she told me. “(Pierced’s) initiative is to empower women in the podcast space and give women a bigger platform.”

Katyal views social media creators as a “tuning fork” for what resonates with audiences, and TikTok as the best way to find talent and “scout people who feel confident to share their opinion” that would fit well into a podcast. Pierced is banking on this as a solid recipe for success, but Katyal’s background in venture capital has influenced her to view the studio in a similar way to that of a VC’s startup portfolio.

“We're creating a portfolio of podcasts,” said Katyal. “I think one or two of them will hopefully become homerun winners that will probably support the entire platform, others I think will cover their own costs and get enough of an audience to continue, and some just won't resonate at all. Media financing and production is very similar to venture, it's just on a different scale.”

And while the industry may seem oversaturated, there is still money to be made if a podcast becomes popular. For example, a podcast episode with roughly 10,000 downloads can earn its creator up to $5,000, according to estimates from online recording studio Riverside.fm. And advertisers are pouring more money into the sector: A study published last year by PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the Interactive Advertising Bureau estimated that U.S. podcast ad revenue would grow to $4.2 billion in 2024.

To help its podcasters capitalize on affiliate marketing, whereby a creator receives a commission from sales or website visits that are generated through them, Katyal said Pierced Media is currently developing an AI tool that can automatically generate affiliate links based on products mentioned organically during a podcast episode. The tool will launch in beta this summer.

As for how Pierced Media’s creators plan to grow their audience, most are following the creator-to-podcaster roadmap laid out by successful influencers like Emma Chamberlain (host of Anything Goes); Hannah Berner (host of Berning in Hell); and Drew Afualo (host of The Comment Section). What these creators bring to the table over a typical podcast isn’t just the content of their discussion, but their personal brand.

“We're so used to talking to the camera, I think that's why it's so natural,” Brianna Renee Price, Pierced podcast host, told me.’ “It's different, but it's not that different.”

Before joining Pierced, the 25 year old had never thought about starting a podcast. Price, who has a following of more than 600,000 on TikTok, built her audience through short form content about her daily life, outfits, trends and unfiltered advice videos. She frequently teams up with Sahar Dahi, 23, a fellow TikTok creator with more than 4 million followers, for these kinds of videos, and felt like their social media chemistry would translate well to a longer-form podcast.

Dahi said the podcast, “You’re on Your Own Girl,” will mainly be “girl talk” for other early- to mid-20’s women, talking about everything from chaotic personal stories to advice on love, relationships and friendship.

“Your early 20s is a time where you feel like you're an adult, but you're still figuring it out,” Dahi said. “We're there to kind of help you navigate it, but we're also navigating it at the same time.”

For 19-year-old TikTok creator Komal Nambiar, when Pierced approached her about starting her own podcast, taking the opportunity felt like a no-brainer. She’s been creating content on the internet since she was 14 years old, and is now studying journalism in college in the U.K. with the hopes of becoming a TV or radio host. Starting the podcast “Before You Call Me Crazy,” felt like a great career move, she told me, as it's an opportunity to fuse her existing work as a content creator with her future goals.

“I feel like (being a content creator) will kind of give me a step up when it comes to finding an audience,” Nambiar told me. “I already have a devoted audience, and I do think I have a pretty good grasp on how to keep an audience engaged.”

In large part, having a podcast gives creators the ability to dive deeper with their audience than they otherwise could on a minute-long TikTok. But while making the jump from short-form content to hour-long podcasts might seem like a challenge, 24-year-old Becca Moore, co-host of upcoming podcast ‘The B Word’ with Brooke Schofield, said she feels the opposite will be true.

“I can only talk for three minutes on Tiktok, which drives me crazy,” Moore said. “I feel like the funniest parts of stories are the details which you can't really get into in a three minute-long video.”

While starting a podcast network from scratch has its challenges, the audience built by the Pierced podcast on other platforms may give the company a leg up in gaining listeners and sponsors in the crowded industry. “We're really bootstrapping from their existing social media audiences to pre-sell the idea,” Katyal said. “But we're telling brands that they're investing in the vision of Gen-Z women. If they want to sell to that demographic, we are the partner of choice.”


Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.

Creandum’s Carl Fritjofsson on the Differences Between the Startup Ecosystem in Europe and the U.S.

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

Carl Fritjofsson
Carl Fritjofsson

On this episode of the LA Venture podcast, Creandum General Partner Carl Fritjofsson talks about his venture journey, why Generative-AI represents an opportunity to rethink products from the ground up, and why Q4 2023 and Q1 2024 could be "pretty bloody" for startups.

Read moreShow less

AI Is Undergoing Some Growing Pains at a Pivotal Moment in Its Development

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
AI Is Undergoing Some Growing Pains at a Pivotal Moment in Its Development
Evan Xie

One way to measure just how white-hot AI development has become: the world is running out of the advanced graphics chips necessary to power AI programs. While Intel central processing units were once the most sought-after industry leaders, advanced graphics chips like Nvidia’s are designed to run multiple computations simultaneously, a baseline necessity for many AI models.

An early version of ChatGPT required around 10,000 graphics chips to run. By some estimates, newer updates require 3-5 times that amount of processing power. As a result of this skyrocketing demand, shares of Nvidia have jumped 165% so far this year.

Building on this momentum, this week, Nvidia revealed a line-up of new AI-related projects including an Israeli supercomputer project and a platform utilizing AI to help video game developers. For smaller companies and startups, however, getting access to the vital underlying technology that powers AI development is already becoming less about meritocracy and more about “who you know.” According to the Wall Street Journal, Elon Musk scooped up a valuable share of server space from Oracle this year before anyone else got a crack at it for his new OpenAI rival, X.AI.

The massive demand for Nvidia-style chips has also created a lucrative secondary market, where smaller companies and startups are often outbid by larger and more established rivals. One startup founder compares the fevered crush of the current chip marketplace to toilet paper in the early days of the pandemic. For those companies that don’t get access to the most powerful chips or enough server space in the cloud, often the only remaining option is to simplify their AI models, so they can run more efficiently.

Beyond just the design of new AI products, we’re also at a key moment for users and consumers, who are still figuring out what sorts of applications are ideal for AI and which ones are less effective, or potentially even unethical or dangerous. There’s now mounting evidence that the hype around some of these AI tools is reaching a lot further than the warnings about its drawbacks.

JP Morgan Chase is training a new AI chatbot to help customers choose financial securities and stocks, known as IndexGPT. For now, they insist that it’s purely supplemental, designed to advise and not replace money managers, but it may just be a matter of time before job losses begin to hit financial planners along with everyone else.

A lawyer in New York just this week was busted by a judge for using ChatGPT as part of his background research. When questioned by the judge, lawyer Peter LoDuco revealed that he’d farmed out some research to a colleague, Steven A. Schwartz, who had consulted with ChatGPT on the case. Schwartz was apparently unaware that the AI chatbot was able to lie – transcripts even show him questioning ChatGPT’s responses and the bot assuring him that these were, in fact, real cases and citations.

New research by Marucie Jakesch, a doctoral student from Cornell University, suggests that even users who are more aware than Schwartz about how AI works and its limitations may still be impacted in subtle and subconscious ways by its output.

Not to mention, according to data from Intelligent.com, high school and college students already – on the whole – prefer utilizing ChatGPT for help with schoolwork over a human tutor. The survey also notes that advanced students tend to report getting more out of using ChatGPT-type programs than beginners, likely because they have more baseline knowledge and can construct better and more informative prompts.

But therein lies the big drawback to using ChatGPT and other AI tools for education. At least so far, they’re reliant on the end user writing good prompts and having some sense about how to organize a lesson plan for themselves. Human tutors, on the other hand, have a lot of personal experience in these kinds of areas. Someone who instructs others in foreign languages professionally probably has a good inherent sense of when you need to focus on expanding your vocabulary vs. drilling certain kinds of verb and tense conjugations. They’ve helped many other students prepare for tests, quizzes, and real-world challenges, while computer software can only guess at what kinds of scenarios its proteges will face.

A recent Forbes editorial by academic Thomas Davenport suggests that, while AI is getting all the hype right now, other forms of computing or machine learning are still going to be more effective for a lot of basic tasks. From a marketing perspective in 2023, it’s helpful for a tech company to throw the “AI” brand around, but it’s not magically going to be the answer for every problem.

Davenport points to a similar (if smaller) whirlwind of excitement around IBM’s “Watson” in the early 2010s, when it was famously able to take out human “Jeopardy!’ champions. It turns out, Watson was a general knowledge engine, really best suited for jobs like playing “Jeopardy.” But after the software gained celebrity status, people tried to use it for all sorts of advanced applications, like designing cancer drugs or providing investment advice. Today, few people turn to Watson for these kinds of solutions. It’s just the wrong tool for the job. In that same way, Davenport suggests that generative AI is in danger of being misapplied.

While the industry and end users both race to solve the AI puzzle in real time, governments are also feeling pressure to step in and potentially regulate the AI industry. This is much easier said than done, though, as politicians face the same kinds of questions and uncertainty as everyone else.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has been calling for governments to begin regulating AI, but just this week, he suggested that the company might pull out of the European Union entirely if the regulations were too onerous. Specifically, Altman worries that attempts to narrow what kinds of data can be used to train AI systems – specifically blocking copyrighted material – might well prove impossible. “If we can comply, we will, and if we can’t, we’ll cease operating,” Altman told Time. “We will try, but there are technical limits to what’s possible.” (Altman has already started walking this threat back, suggesting he has no immediate plans to exit the EU.)

In the US, The White House has been working on a “Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights,” but it’s non-binding, just a collection of largely vague suggestions. It’s one thing to agree “consumers shouldn’t face discrimination from an algorithm” and “everyone should be protected from abusive data practices and have agency over how their data is used.” But enforcement is an entirely different animal. A lot of these issues already exist in tech, and are much larger than AI, and the US government already doesn’t do much about them.

Additionally, it’s possible AI regulations won’t work well at all if they aren’t global. Even if you set some policies and get an entire nation’s government to agree, how to set similar worldwide protocols? What if US and Europe agree but India doesn’t? Everyone around the world accesses roughly the same internet, so without any kind of international standard, it’s going to be much harder for individual nations to enforce specific rules. As with so many other AI developments, there’s inherent danger in patchwork regulations; it could allow some companies, or regions, or players to move forward while others are unfairly or ineffectively stymied or held back.

The same kinds of socio-economic concerns around AI that we have nationally – some sectors of the work force left behind, the wealthiest and most established players coming in to the new market with massive advantages, the rapid spread of misinformation – are all, in actuality, global concerns. Just as the hegemony of Microsoft and Google threaten the ability of new players to enter the AI space, the West’s early dominance of AI tech threatens to push out companies and innovations from emerging markets like Southeast Asia, Subsaharan Africa, and Central America. Left unfettered, AI could potentially deepen social, economic, and digital divisions both within and between all of these societies.

Undaunted, some governments aren’t waiting around for these tools to develop any further before they start attempting to regulate them. New York City has already set up some rules about how AI can be used during the hiring process while will take effect in July. The law requires any company using AI software in hiring to notify candidates that it’s being used, and to have independent auditors check the system annually for bias.

This sort of piecemeal figure-it-out-as-we-go approach is probably what’s going to be necessary, at least short-term, as AI development shows zero signs of slowing down or stopping any time soon. Though there’s some disagreement among experts, most analysts agree with Wharton professor and economist Jeremy Siegel, who told CNBC this week that AI is not yet a bubble. He pointed to the Nvidia earnings as a sign the market remains healthy and not overly frothy. So, at least for now, the feverish excitement around AI is not going to burst like a late ‘90s startup stock. The world needs to prepare as if this technology is going to be with us for a while.

Rivian CEO Teases R2, New Features in Instagram AMA

David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

Rivian CEO Teases R2, New Features in Instagram AMA

Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe took to Instagram last weekend to answer questions from the public about his company and its future. Topics covered included new colors, sustainability, production ramp, new products and features. Speaking of which, viewers also got a first look at the company’s much-anticipated R2 platform, albeit made of clay and covered by a sheet, but hey, that’s…something. If you don’t want to watch the whole 33 minute video, which is now also on Youtube, we’ve got the highlights for you.

Read moreShow less