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The business of podcasting

The Download: Week of 12/31/21

This is The Download, the most important business news from the world of podcasting, I'm Bryan Barletta.

And I'm Evo Terra. Today, why premium content won't kill advertising-supported podcasts, Facebook podcast activity is over-inflated, Section 230 under fire, and why the "average" podcast consumer is a myth you need to move away from. Let's get started.

With Coca-Cola picking WPP to handle their nearly $4 billion in yearly ad spend, Business Insider ran down a list of 10 big brand accounts evaluating new agencies, from Nike to CVS Health. Their list, including Coca-Cola, covers over $7.5 billion in ad spend for next year.

New agencies means new strategies. And new strategies include testing new channels, which is how many of these brands view podcasting. Podcast publishers and agencies will be the resources that enable these larger agencies and brands to buy direct podcasting ads at scale, while the adtech companies will further enable programmatic offerings directly in their tools of choice.

In Mobile Insider from Media Post, Joe Mandese gives a counter opinion to what's been called The Great App Exodus, where advertisers—specifically in-app advertisers—are shifting away from ad revenue with a newfound focus on subscription revenue, particularly in a post-ATT world, or Apple Tracking Transparency.

Quoting from the article:

"[C]onsumers have already taken on vastly higher costs of premium media subscriptions -- especially subscription video-on-demand and music services -- over the past several years, and there is only so much they can bear.

In fact, over the past couple of decades, consumers have surpassed advertisers as the primary source of media revenues, and according to estimates from industry economic tracker PQ Media, the average American now pays close to $1,500 annually accessing media and media content. How much more can they take?"

So what does this have to do with podcasting, you're probably asking. Well, with both Apple and Spotify leaning heavily into paid subscription models, and other premium services from Glow, Supercast, Acast+ and more continuing to explore premium, ad-free offerings, costs to subscribe to premium or ad-free podcast feeds eats into that annual subscription budget. Which means free, ad-supported podcasts will likely remain the staple of podcast listening behavior for the foreseeable future.

Bloomberg Businessweek got their hands on an internal Amazon document, the accuracy of which Amazon disputes, detailing slowed growth for their Alexa voice controlled smart speakers. Considering Amazon employs 10,000 people to work on Alexa and is attempting to move from a $5 loss per device sold in 2018 to a $2 per-unit profit by 2028, things might seem grim. But as an indicator of innovation from the overall audio space, it’s incredibly encouraging.

Amazon previously reported that 25% of US households currently have at least one Alexa device. The primary uses of those devices is home automation, timers, and playing music and podcasts. Amazon, Apple, and Google all offer their own voice assistants through dedicated devices, phones, and more. And all three companies are increasingly active in both the podcast and music space. These devices won’t disappear anytime soon, but the rush in 2020 to build unique content specifically for smart speakers might have been a bit pre-emptive.

In Podnews, James Cridland uncovers what he calls a coding bug in Facebook's on-page podcast player implementation that grossly inflates the number of counted downloads—but only if the podcast hosting company isn't providing IAB-certified stats.

Quoting James:

"We think that when you see a podcast in your timeline, the Facebook app is pre-downloading a little bit of the audio file to work out how long the audio is, and to ensure that it’s got 30 seconds of audio ready so you can hit the play button and instantly listen to it. This is against IAB guidelines.

This is a bad engineering decision by Facebook - it will cause unnecessary bandwidth use by its app, and will cost podcast hosting companies significant revenue in wasted traffic. It would be ideal if they’d confirm to the IAB standard, and only request audio files when a user has asked for them."

Facebook is being a bad actor in this case for a couple of different reasons. Not doing proper fetch requests to IAB guidelines, as James points out, is one. But also is the fact that Facebook seems disinterested in engaging with podcast hosting companies or even podcasters on this initiative. Given the outsized influence Facebook has on... well, everything, a few well-placed strategic calls to some podcast media companies might have saved them this aggravation.

2021 was an incredibly rough year to look back on for many reasons. But in the adtech space, the fear of what comes next as we move away from third-party cookies and mobile device ID’s was particularly vexing . A good handful of adtech partners have put forth their best solutions for alternative identifiers, building quickly and getting significant buy-in, but according to DigiDay+’s research panel, nothing was resolved.Two of the five charts in their end of year wrap up point out that with over 50% of their panel still as concerned about the impact these changes will have to attribution and targeting. Even more surprising is that, with all of that concern “[d]espite nearly a year of testing, development and dealmaking, publishers remain about as worried about the end of the third-party cookie as they were at the beginning of 2021”, “[p]ublishers are twice as likely to be using alternate identifiers in none of their ads deals than they are to be using them for a majority of their deals.”

While those changes don’t directly impact podcasting, a third chart highlights that contextual targeting, a mainstay of podcast advertising, is front and center for both agencies and advertisers in 2022. Focusing on contextual skips quite a few of the cookie and ID based problems whose solutions weren’t enticing enough to jump on, and lets CTV and podcasting shine, both of which have been seeing incredible growth.

Writing in MediaPost's Social Insider, Wendy Davis covers a bill by New York State Senator Brad Hoylman that allows for legal action to be taken against media sites that knowingly promote hateful, harmful, or medically fraudulent content posted on their platforms. And he's not alone.

Quoting from the piece:

"Hoylman isn't the only one attempting to control how social media companies handle users' speech. Earlier this year, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) introduced the “Health Misinformation Act,” which aims to discourage social media companies from promoting posts with false information about COVID-19. That measure would carve out an exception to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act for users' posts with false health information, when those posts are algorithmically promoted during a national emergency."

These laws face an uphill battle even if they do manage to pass, and some will likely be thrown out as unconstitutional. But these attempts seem to be chipping away at Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Section 230 certainly seems to be coming under fire, and it's revocation or rewriting could have significant impacts on how all media companies—including podcast media companies—manage the content housed on their services.

And finally for this week, Neisen released some very interesting demographic-specific insights on podcast listener behavior in their Seen on Screen 2021 study. Podcast companies often look at blended average of all podcast consumers. But this survey shows clear differences and affinities for different groups, a reality that businesses marketing to or trying to reach these distinct podcast audiences should pay attention to.

Quoting from the press release published on Podnews:

"[T]hese audiences want to hear from trusted voices with similar backgrounds or that have similar interests. Most importantly, the topics need to be inclusive and of interest—from credible sources with original voices. And as podcasts more authentically appeal to a wide range of audiences, brands and agencies can track engagement with them and leverage targeted opportunities within marketing strategies and campaigns."

So your company has been taking a one-size-fits-all approach to reaching the average podcast consumer, 2022 is the time to course-correct.

The Download is brought to you by Bryan Barletta and Evo Terra.

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