How TWiT Is Bootstrapping A “CNN For Geeks”

Do you believe you can create an online show that pulls in a bigger audience than mainstream media?

Leo Laporte is proving you can. In fact, he’s doing it right now. With 150,000-190,000 people downloading each episode of his show, this WEEK in TECH, he already has a bigger audience online then he did when he worked for Tech TV. Plus, unlike  the work he does on mainstream media, Leo owns everything he puts out on his online network, TWiT.

To help you learn how a young upstart can take on the big guys, I invited Leo on Mixergy to show you how he did it.

Leo Laporte

Leo Laporte


Leo Laporte is the founder of TWiT, which produces some of the most popular podcasts in the world including this WEEK in TECH, Security Now!, net@nite, and this WEEK in GOOGLE. He hosts a national radio technology talk show on the Premiere Radio Networks.


Edited excerpts

One day, Leo’s old boss said, “See ya!”

Control became really the number one issue for me.  People know me mostly from Tech TV, which for six years was a cable channel devoted to technology, kind of the Food Channel for geeks.

We spent six years building that thing with my blood sweat and tears.  Hundreds of us really put our love, and heart, and soul into making something that we thought was really good, and they sold it right out from under us.  It was like, “See ya.  Thanks for your hard work.  Good luck.”

He got a new job, but it wasn’t full time

I had the good sense, having been in media for 30 some years, to be prepared for this eventuality, and I had already kind of resurrected my old radio show.  So I wasn’t really out of work.

What really happened, which is great, is that I was working weekends on the radio show.  I was doing one week a month in Toronto.  I had three weeks off.

He discovered podcasting

A kid named Matt Bishoff called me up and he said, “Are you doing a podcast to your radio show?”  I said, “What is that?” He explained it to me.  It was pretty easy.  It just meant taking the recordings I was already putting on the Internet and putting an RSS feed out for them.

So by that night I had a podcast.  So my first podcast was actually the radio show.  That was in October, 2004.

The first episode happened spontaneously

All of these people I had worked with at Tech TV were just hanging out in a bar after Mac World Expo.  And I had a recorder with me.  We recorded 20 minutes.  And I just put it up on the net, because I already had the podcast.  I put it up on the net and like 10,000 people downloaded it.

Since his job left him with spare time, he started a business

I took those 15 days a month that I wasn’t working and started a business. I worked my butt off, and started doing podcasts.  I, in effect, did the same kind of stuff I had been doing all along with ‘the man,’ but without the man.  I became the man.

I started doing the podcasts and this has turned out to be a huge success.  I stopped doing the TV show in Canada about a year ago, and I started live video streaming my podcasts.  And this thing has just grown, and grown, and grown, and it has been quite successful.

The business did well because he already had an audience

I am very lucky because I started with a mainstream media audience, which I was able to fairly easily move over to the new media, because my beat is technology.  It is pure luck.

I had a following from Tech TV.  I had a following from the radio show.  They were gearheads, so they could figure out how to download a podcast.  They actually liked the idea of downloading audio from the net.

So yeah, it started off pretty big.  In fact, TWiT grew very, very fast to the biggest podcast out there, and I think it still probably is with between 150,000-190,000 downloads each show.

At first, he thought donations would pay for the show

Initially I thought we would ask for donations.  We would do it like NPR or PBS.  We would ask our viewers, our listeners, to donate.

My real goal was never to take ads — have it kind of ideologically and ethically pure.  This would be the ideal way: the people who listen to it pay for it.  It is a direct transaction.

But what I learned very quickly is that most people are conditioned to free radio, advertising supported media.  And really, I would say, only about one or two percent of the people who listened to the show were actually donating.  It wasn’t enough to grow the show.

But advertising proved to be a solid revenue stream

For the first couple of years it made nothing.  In year three, we started getting some advertisers, and then more advertisers, and more advertisers, and it’s gotten to the point where we have a very solid revenue stream from advertisers.

I wouldn’t have five employees if we didn’t have a solid advertising revenue stream.

I don’t take a salary.  From time to time I’ll take some money out, but I don’t really make a whole lot of money on this.  Mostly for me I think it’s a business that, in the long run, I think I’m going to make some money on.  But right now we’re still in the building mode, and because I make a living on the radio show, I like to put as much money as I can back into the product.

And the cost of producing online shows is very low

I think it costs us several hundred dollars to do an hour of programming. The cheapest television show I ever did, which was “Call For Help,” I think cost $2600 bucks an hour to produce.  So we are 1/5, 1/6 as much as the cheapest programming in history.

And if you look at CNN, I’m sure they cost probably $5-$10,000 an hour.

The plan is to be the CNN of tech

I believe that the future of what I’m doing is to be the CNN of tech.

I’d like to see us build out the studio, go 24/7 live with a mix of programming and news.  Perhaps because we’re a global operation — 30% of our audience is outside the U.S. — we’d do some of the programming from the U.S. but also have broadcasters in Australia, in England, around the world. I’d like to do a hand-off every, you know, 4-6 hours to another studio around the world.  And we could have that way 4-6 other satellite bureaus and make it a 24/7 operation.

I think the thing that we can do that’s different is that we can do CNN for pennies on the dollar.  So we don’t have to generate their size of revenue. We don’t have to run the number of commercials that CNN does. But I think we can deliver very reliably a really great product to an audience that really wants it.

Full program includes

– You’ll hear Leo talk about what YOU need to do to create a successful online show.

– You’ll learn more about what it costs to do quality shows online.

– You’ll see how Leo produces a quality show — using production elements that used to only be available on TV — for pennies on the dollar.

– You’ll watch me shamelessly ask to appear on one of Leo’s shows.

Who should we feature on Mixergy? Let us know who you think would make a great interviewee.