A couple of weeks ago, I moderated a panel at The Podcast Show in London, and had an interesting chat beforehand with the other participants centered around an important question: is podcasting less collegial than it used to be? Certainly the increased prominence of closed ecosystems, and the general unhelpfulness of YouTube, are playing a role in this perception. And any maturing market eventually turns from collegial to competitive when growth slows and the competitors fight for the same resources and customers. The salient question: are we there yet with podcasting? Spoiler alert: I don’t think so, because there is still something really basic podcasting needs to do before we can actually say we are at that point. I’ll get to that in a minute.
In a few weeks, Sounds Profitable will release its second major study for 2023, The Podcast Opportunity: Buyer Perceptions of Podcast Advertising. We’ll be debuting the results in a free webinar on June 28th (you should check out the webinar recording), but I’ll be giving a special sneak preview of some of the findings later this week at Radiodays North America in Toronto.
For this project, we combined qualitative and quantitative insights from approximately 300 brand and agency buyers across the US, in partnership with Digiday and Signal Hill Insights, to learn why they do or do not buy podcasts, and what some of their perceptions are about podcasting as an advertising vehicle.
While we are still tallying some of the results, one particular finding that is clearly emerging revolves around one of the main reasons agencies and media buyers choose not to buy podcasts: lack of client demand. As I’ve said many times before in the past, agency employees have the same existential career goal that many of us share: don’t get fired. If last year’s media plan didn’t have podcasting as a component, and the brand itself doesn’t ask for it, it isn’t likely to get added to this year’s, especially if last year’s plan was successful. If it ain’t broke…
One of the things that I have talked about in various keynotes and articles in the past is the fact that podcasting as a medium has never really been introduced to the general public in any kind of coordinated effort. Individual podcasts may benefit from advertising and marketing campaigns, but there has never been any kind of effort at scale to show the mainstream public why they would even want to listen to a podcast. Indeed, one of the most widely-cited reasons non-listeners give for not trying podcasts is that they don’t provide anything different to what they are already consuming – they don’t need podcasts.
But what we haven’t talked about is the fact that brand managers are also consumers of media, and potentially consumers of podcasts. Podcasting is crying out for some kind of “Got Milk?” campaign to generate demand, and that applies to brand managers just as much as it does your mom. If we can get the brands themselves to be curious about supporting podcasting, then that demand will prompt the agencies and media buyers supporting that brand to do the same and experiment or increase their spend with the medium.
We’ve been very encouraged by the widespread adoption of our last research project, The Medium Moves The Message, which made a solid, fact-based case for using podcasting as a force-multiplier for traditional media buys, and we are continuing to work on generating more studies to further explore podcasting’s role in a multi-channel campaign. But we also know that we need to get that information in front of brands and buyers that aren’t (yet) intrigued by the power of podcasting.
That’s one of the reasons that Bryan and I have been reinvesting the support we get from partners into joining as many relevant trade organizations as we can, from multiple IABs around the globe to the ANA here in the US, and presenting this data at EGTA, AdMonsters, and anywhere else that will have us. We need – we all need – to sing the song of podcasting as loudly and clearly as we can outside of the bubbles that we all traffic in.
Telling that story requires good, solid data (Sounds Profitable is working on that, thanks to the support of our partners) and a consistent story, which is certainly something that has plagued the medium over the years. Too often, podcasting is seen as a digital medium whose metrics suffer in comparison to display and search, rather than an analog medium with superior metrics. We do need to continue to improve our measurement and accountability tools, yes – but we also need to invest in telling that story to people that may have once poked around into podcasts, but dismissed them at the time as not practical or measurable. We have a better story to tell, now. But we need to work together to tell it.
And this, truly, is my greatest fear for this industry – that the collegiality that spurred us in the early days of growth will evaporate as we begin – perhaps too soon – to squabble over market share. We are not done collaborating yet. We can’t be. We aren’t done growing the pie yet. If new entrants, standards, or technologies aren’t additive to this spirit of collaboration, then they are detracting from us all.
To me, this is more urgent than ever in the face of a new data point that Edison Research put out last week about the reach of the leading podcasts in the US.
According to the latest Edison Podcast Metrics, the top 10 shows (not networks) reach 35% of all weekly podcast listeners in America, with 45% reached by the top 25 and fully 60% reached just by the top 100. This, my friends, is a cry for help. There isn’t enough inventory in those top 100 shows to support an industry. We need to monetize the long tail. We need more mainstream, broad concept content. We need more widespread adoption of programmatic buying. We need better ad creative. We need widespread adoption of brand safety and suitability tools. And we need our measurement standards to be even more stringent, because right now, fairly or not, we are held to a higher standard.
It does seem like we may be entering into yet another phase of consolidation for the industry, and with that, we are all going to be making some choices. For our merry band of pirates here at Sounds Profitable, our choices are simple – we are choosing all of you. We are choosing anything that fosters the spirit of collegiality that got us here in the first place. We are choosing podcasting.
If you want to be a part of that effort, we’d certainly love to talk to you about partnership, of course. But even more importantly, I hope you partner with each other in any way you can to put the power of podcasting in front of more buyers and more listeners. Market your shows, yes, and market your networks. But don’t forget that the biggest blue ocean out there for all of us is to market podcasting.
Sounds Profitable exists thanks to the continued support of our amazing partners. Monthly consulting, free tickets to our quarterly events, partner-only webinars, and access to our 500+ person slack channel are all benefits of partnering Sounds Profitable.
- Sonoro Media is the leading podcast network focused on Latinx audiences and their stories with global reach and a sizable audience in the US.
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