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There Are No Shortcuts in Podcast Advertising

There Are No Shortcuts in Podcast Advertising

Written By

Bryan Barletta

Know the Author

March 1, 2021


There are a lot of really fantastic podcast hosting platforms out there, but not all of them offer the ability to dynamically insert ads into your podcast or connect to marketplaces or programmatic avenues to sell your inventory.

And that’s ok. Not every podcast hosting platform is meant to work for every publisher. Not every hosting platform prioritizes monetization features because it’s not critical to success for the audience they’ve chosen to serve.

What happens when monetization-through-ads starts looking realistic, but you’re on a fantastic hosting platform with limited dynamic insertion capabilities? “Looking realistic” may not be enough for you to justify migrating to a different hosting provider. So are you stuck with continuing to use baked-in ads?

A curious number of publishers are exploring a half-measured approach to this problem in an attempt to get the best of both worlds.

Prefix Ad Serving

Most of you have heard about prefix analytics partners like Chartable and Podtrac. They provide you with a URL that you add to your hosting platform, providing analytics and data on each episode downloaded. A great reason for using a prefix analytics partner is validating download requests in a centralized location. Sure, your podcast hosting provider gives you this data as well. But having a neutral third party also providing stats is a smart move many podcasters make.

So when a listener presses play on an episode, it first goes to that prefix partner, they get the information they need, and then they provide the actual episode URL back to the podcast player to start the download or stream.

Prefix ad serving works in a similar vein. When the listener presses play on an episode, the request first goes to the prefix ad server, allowing them to make a decision: Can an ad be served to this listener? If so, the listener is served the episode hosted by the prefix ad platform with the ads dynamically inserted. If not, the episode is served from the podcaster’s media hosting company without any dynamically inserted ads.

Great! Now you can “instantly” (the integration work is pretty minor) monetize your podcast, letting the prefix ad server do the heavy lifting, and you get to keep on keepin’ on with your current setup. You put a little (or a lot) of money in your pocket and get to test out where this whole dynamic insertion thing is right for you or not.

A Great Temporary Solution

Many publishers hem and haw over migrating between hosting platforms. For some with a long history, yeah it’s a bit of work making sure all your direct episode and show links on your pages and other media sources are pointing to the new location(s) correctly. But ultimately, it’s dangerous to straddle the post for too long.

Trying out the ad serving and ad sales features of a new hosting platform to make sure they’re the right fit isn’t a bad idea. And that’s where the prefix ad server comes into play. But the longer a publisher utilizes two hosting platforms, the more instant gratification is prioritized over long-term health and growth.

Double Hosting, Double Reporting

You’ve probably already noticed the fly in this ointment: Serving two different versions from two different providers means uploading your episodes to two different platforms, which also means two different places to track downloads. Not ideal.

One episode is uploaded to your primary host, which fleshes out your RSS feed with all necessary information and is the primary episode file. But you have to upload another version of that same file to your prefix ad partner, where you also have to mark off where in the episode ads can be served.

Why do you have to do this slightly-more-than-double work? Because your primary hosting platform will only get called if no ads are available from your prefix ad partner. Your prefix ad partner will receive the download if even one ad is available in your configuration. So you have to upload your episode in both places.

That also means your download numbers are split between both partners. Right now, that might not matter all that much to you. The appeal is a quick and easy way to sell your inventory immediately. After all, it just takes adding the prefix URL, uploading the episode, and selecting the marker. Having to combine stats from two different hosting providers is just another small inconvenience, right?

Not necessarily. As your show continues to grow, future potential advertisers are going to want to know full download statistics to grasp how much reach they can get. Even if both your standard host and the prefix ad partner are IAB certified, discrepancies between IAB certified partners can be in the 5-10% range. And any would-be advertiser will have questions as to why your stats come from two different places.

And honestly, forget about any form of inventory planning or forecasting. Even if the prefix ad partner was motivated to provide these tools, which are super outside of the scope they’re offering here, you’re still only able to see half the picture. If your standard hosting platform was able to provide you insight like this, you probably wouldn’t have split your downloads or entertained moving. This makes your ability to pitch that advertiser on your holiday availability that much harder.

Limited Advertising Solutions

Publishers pick the prefix ad serving option because their goal is to make fast money. Most prefix partners are focused on filling the inventory so they (and you) can get paid, not providing a podcaster with a rich set of tools to better manage your show and maximize your earnings.

But, were you to host with the prefix ad server directly, which you absolutely should do, you’d get the fast money and all the tools they provide to help you make even more money with ads on your show. You can serve ads you sell on your own using their technology and let their platform sell whatever inventory is left over.

But only if you make the switch. So long as you stay in the double-serving method, you’re stuck in a rough situation. Your only option for directly selling your own ad inventory is baked-in ads. Why? Because the only constant between the two platforms is the actual episode file. Even if both partners offered DAI, completely invalidating the need to use the prefix ad solution, you still couldn’t run a campaign that way, as the two platforms can’t easily communicate to make sure that there was no over-delivery.

So at the end of the day, if the ads you sell directly aren’t baked-in to the episode, and the prefix ad serving partner doesn’t fill all the ad markers you’ve placed, the rest of the inventory goes to waste. No cross-promotion with other shows. No ability to highlight interesting real-time relevant information about the host such as events or new products for sale.

The only thing that is prioritized is the prefix ad partner filling as much inventory as they can.

Make The Big Move

Podcast adtech tends to focus a lot on the entry-level or the enterprise level. Features that make it really easy to get up and running with minimal input or ones that offer you all of the bells and whistles in the world.

Many of the enterprise solutions can work for you on the entry-level end, but the costs can be a bit off-putting, if those platforms will even allow a smaller show on. And just as many entry-level solutions just aren’t built for the options a publisher will need when they’re ready to go all-in on advertising or further scale up their platform.

The mistake for those in that transitional step is in trying to make the wrong tool work for you just because you’re not willing to migrate. Yeah, it’s tough, but it’s not so tough that you should risk the appropriate future growth of your podcast for the immediate satisfaction of ad revenue.

Each of the partners I’ve encountered with a prefix ad solution offer hyper-competitive hosting and ad serving products that will allow a publisher to fully operate their growing show. It’ll provide more robust direct controls along with better enablement of that partner filling their unfilled inventory.

It is very easy to prioritize the near-term revenue options, but podcasting is a long game and it’s important to plan for it as such.

Homework – with Yappa

Podcast adtech excites me on its own almost as much as teaching others about it does. This space is absolutely accessible to anyone who wants to learn, and it’s important to me not only to share my knowledge with you but to help you ask questions to further your own understanding.

  • Do you have a long term podcast strategy that includes advertising?
  • Does your current hosting provider fit the need of your long term strategy?
  • Have you evaluated other hosting providers based on the revenue opportunities that they offer?
  • Is there something specific preventing you from migrating to another hosting provider?

Sounds Profitable will never charge our readers to learn from us, but several individuals have asked about supporting us directly. You can find out more about our individual sponsorship at our Patreon.

I’ve been scratching my brain on how to better include all of you in the newsletter and podcast going forward. Thanks to the team over at Yappa, we’ve got a neat idea. Click the image below to leave me an audio or video message, with feedback, questions, or answers. I’ll be responding back during the week and including the audio in the latest podcast episodes.

New Sponsors

Support from our amazing sponsors is truly the only way that Sounds Profitable could exist. They provide me the means to stay completely independent, allowing me to fully write about all aspects of this industry without being bound to any one company. With that said, I’d like to introduce you to our latest sponsors:

  • PODGO is a membership-based platform that connects small podcasts with advertising opportunities and the ability to include a host read ad in episodes.

And special thanks to Claritas for joining us this month as our Title Advertiser. I’m very excited that Claritas will be back several more times this year as a Title Advertiser and is closing off 2021 as our December Product Deepdive.

I appreciate the support of all our sponsors, so please take a look at the full list below. If I can make an introduction for you to any of the sponsors, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

If you’d like to learn more about sponsorship or advertising with us, just hit reply.

Market Insights – with ThoughtLeaders

I really like the differentiation between Thought Leaders (individual podcast titles) and mentions (number of episodes in that period). If you sorted just by Thought Leaders, the closest advertiser to BetterHelp appears on less than half as many shows. Of course, this is an incomplete ranker, but the directionality is interesting. Hit reply or click the Yappa image above to share your thoughts.

Product Deepdives

Last month our Product Deepdive with Adswizz went live. If you missed it, you can check it out on demand, whenever works best for you.

This month, we’re excited to share that we’re diving in deep with the team at Spreaker, which is very relevant to this weeks article. Spreaker offers a prefix ad solution, but we’re going to explore their full featured product, which should be great motivation to fully migrate over.

If you missed our other product deepdives, with Podscribe and Triton Digital, you can find them on demand on our website. Definitely let us know what you think!

Things to Think About

I highly recommend all my subscribers also subscribe to Podnews. Last week, I found a few pieces of information that caught my attention.

About the author

Bryan Barletta (He/Him) is the founder of Sounds Profitable, and a widely-cited expert in adtech, sales, and monetization of podcasting. He founded Sounds Profitable in 2020 after a successful career working with some of the leading companies in advertising technology, including AdTheorent, Claritas, and Megaphone. Barletta helped to design some of the tools in use by podcast platforms today for attribution, measurement, and serving audio ads, and uses that expertise to help clients and sponsors get the most from their sales and advertising efforts. He founded Sounds Profitable initially as a platform to help educate persons working in the podcast industry about advertising and sales technology, but has since expanded the brand to become the industry’s premiere source for education, advocacy, and insights designed to grow the entire space. He is an avid gamer and father of two boys, neither of whom have their own podcast, yet.