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The business of podcasting

HBO Gets Serious About Podcasting + 4 more stories for Jan 28, 2022

Today on The Download: is the IAB on borrowed time?, podcast ads see big gains again, Google makes misinformation less profitable, podcasts grow globally, SXM enters the identity game, and Spotify stands behind Rogan even as earnings fall.

HBO Max is Hiring For Their Podcast Marketing Team

Subscription streaming video service HBO Max continues to prove its serious about podcasting. Their first venture into the space dropped last summer with Batman: The Audio Adventures, an exclusive podcast that could only be listened to in HBO Max app itself.
While HBO maintains podcast channels on Spotify and Apple for related content, just like their peers at Netflix, this is the first podcast to be exclusively hosted in a subscription video streaming app.
Now, they're looking to hire a new role, specifically for podcasting under the HBO Max brand. The role is for a Sr. Analyst, Direct-to-Consumer, Podcasting Strategy & Operations, and will “provide strategic and analytic support on various projects covering direct-to-consumer and HBO Max Podcasting initiatives.


Interactive Voices Lack Diversity

If you missed CES 2022 because... well, reasons; you probably saw a plenty of breathless reporting of new prototypes and maybe-coming-in-the-future tech. Steve Keller, Sonic Strategy Director for Studio Resonate, SXM’s audio-first creative consultancy has an in-depth piece on things he noticed at the event of interest to audio people like us. Like a lot of tech around the explosion of interactive voice systems. But he also noticed something else:

Quoting from the piece:

But something was missing. Innovation aside, the lack of sonic diversity in the voice sector was disturbing. [P]ractically all the AI voices we heard at CES 2022 were female—and white. In fact, the only voice assistant of color heard was during a series of sessions focused on voice technology, curated and moderated by CEO, Ian Utile. Multiple panelists affirmed that there’s an underlying problem with the overwhelmingly white, male demographics of the AI world who are unconsciously programming biases, sonic color lines, and digital discrimination into voice systems. As a result, the default voice of automotive assistants, connected homes, and a plethora of other devices is white. The issue is compounded by the fact that these assistants, designed to serve us, are also predominantly female. It’s a systemic problem, and developers and brands need to work harder to sonically diversify their voice systems, as well as the designers, engineers, and developers who create them.

With DEI so high on the priority list for most companies, it’s surprising this problem exists. No, wait. It’s not surprising at all, is it?


Google’s Federated Learning of Cohorts Replaced by Topics

While third-party cookies aren’t part of the information we receive from listeners in podcasting, they are a big part of the device graphs we use to augment what we do receive and improve how we run attribution. So while Safari and Firefox kicked them completely to the curb in 2020, Google has pushed out their deadline for when they’re twilight third-party cookies until 2023. And their original pitch, Federated Learning of Cohorts, or FLoC for short, has now been scrapped for what they’re calling Topics.

FLoC grouped audiences based on their browsing activity at a very granular level, where Topics focuses on applying a list of topics, starting at around 300 but expected to be in the thousands, directly to the individual. Only the top three most prevalent Topics will be available for targeting and identification, but what’s really interesting is that they expire every three weeks, keeping them increasingly fresh and relevant. Topics fit in nicely with the contextual offerings that podcasting is primed to offer advertisers if we continue to prioritize transcription and contextual targeting.


Podcasting Only Looks Hit-Resistant

If you somehow avoided the kerfuffle over the Bloomberg Article where Lucas Shaw reported on podcasting’s inability to generate a current hit... well, I’m not sure how you did. There have been a lot of hot takes on the article, but one worthy of your attention was penned by Tom Webster in his weekly newsletter, I Hear Things.It’s a fascinating read, with Tom pointing out that other mediums, like movies, television programs, and music all have the same “problem”. They just present differently.

Examining the top movies from last year, Tom notes:

Even if you go further down the list from the top 10, it's sequels, movies based on existing properties, and remakes. Is it fair to say that the movie industry hasn't produced a new hit in years? No--all the above movies are new movies, but they are familiar at the same time.

He goes on to make a similar case for popular television programs - The Bachelor season 26, anyone? - and even music, going so far as to craft metaphors around melody and harmony to predict a hit. Working that back to podcasting, Tom says:

Podcasting is, by its very definition, a medium that largely lacks harmony. When you can listen to a podcast anytime, there is little compunction to listen to them at any given time. They are always there--convenient, but rarely urgent. In other words, asynchronous. And they also currently (though not by definition) lack melody. The whole medium is new to so many people, and even for veteran listeners, there isn't exactly the equivalent of NCIS: New Orleans or Thursday Night Football or The Traveling Wilburys--that thread of familiarity that telegraphs immediately: if you like this, you will like that. Even some of the biggest hits of podcasting aren't easily explainable to a friend. That's part of why there is such a spate of celebrity podcasts right now. What is easier to describe to people: It's the Michele Obama podcast, or "it's the podcast that reveals the stories behind the world's most recognizable and interesting sounds.

Check out the entire post for insights on why Tom thinks the article that made such waves was a little unfair little wrong, but ultimately right-ish. Links in the episode details, as always.


Amazon Expands Ad Sales Efforts

Amazon Advertising was responsible for generating $23bn in revenue for the first three quarters of 2021, nearly double the $13.5bn generated in that same period for 2020. How’d they do it? By shifting their focus to pursuing major brands, agencies, and holding companies looking to focus on awareness with their large customer sales team.
Joshua Kreitzer, founder and CEO of Channel Bakers, an Amazon-focused ad agency tells Digiday

With this change, the Amazon large customer sales team is no longer focused on shopper marketing dollars — they're now responsible for breaking through to the $70 billion TV market.

While selling advertising to Amazon’s clients actively selling products on is still part of their focus, they’re now providing a bigger brand play by being able to offer inventory across Twitch, Fire TV, IMDb TV, and their podcast companies Art 19 and Wondery.

Amazon has an immense amount of first-party data, from all their apps and services that require a login, so coupled with the technology they integrated from acquiring attribution company Sizmek and their AWS infrastructure, they have the potential to provide insights competitive to Google and Meta.

The Download is presented by Sounds Profitable and is hosted by Bryan Barletta and Evo Terra. Audio editing by Ian Powell.


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