The conference might be called The Radio Show, but podcasting was the star of this year's audio industry annual gathering. About 2,000 radio and audio pros gathered in Dallas last week and podcasting was all anyone wanted to discuss. Conversation and session topics ranged from the next big genres to improvements in data and attribution. Advocates championed the rapid rise in listening, burgeoning catalog of shows, and brand advertiser interest. For all the fanfare, however, there was caution that, in a cluttered media environment, podcasting faces stiff competition for ears and ad budgets.
What's standing in podcasting's way? According to the industry executives gathered in Dallas, education and access are the biggest hurdles. Here are a few obstacles and suggestions for breaking them down.
Understand the Buyer
For buyers and agencies, digital audio and podcasting are still relatively new. As a result, who should be in charge of buying podcast ads is a bit of a hot potato. In some agencies, where buying is traditionally siloed by media, podcasts and digital audio could fall under digital, broadcast, or radio. That's an outdated approach that shorts digital audio, said iHeartRadio's executive vice president of smart audience insights, Hetal Patel. She said modern media users might watch a TV show, listen to the radio, and then move onto a podcast — perhaps all at the same time. "The consumer thinks about this as one experience," she said, suggesting that agencies should restructure and bring more cohesiveness to buying across platforms.
Also, podcast publishers need to devote time to educating these buyers. "[Brands] are interested, they want to do this, but they need some solid information before they can hit the accelerator," Brad Kelly, Nielsen's managing director of audio, said during a discussion of advancements in podcast measurement.
Nurture Savvy Sellers
As agencies and brands adjust to the unique proposition of podcasts, media companies must prioritize podcasting. Too often, sales executives say they want all of their salespeople to be knowledgeable with all their offerings and supplement that with subject matter experts, but it may also be smart to have dedicated podcast sellers to close the deal. iHeartMedia, for instance, has 2,000 sellers nationwide for its streaming, social, on-air, and digital assets, and also about a dozen podcast specialists, Patel said.
Along with well-informed sellers, it is also imperative to have operations teams to support sales and creative services as they assist clients with creating and adapting campaigns for podcasts, said Ken Lagana, Entercom's executive vice president of ad sales. Podcast ads, he said, need to be more engaging and less disruptive than, say, radio spots. "Ads have to be organic to the environment you're listening in," he said.
Bring in the Data
Direct response advertisers, from Dollar Shave Club to Blue Apron, are credited with identifying the potential in podcasting early on and providing a foundation for the industry. But major brand advertisers are the big fish. To grow the medium further, "we need the Cokes and Pepsis of the world to get on board," said Tony Hereau , Nielsen's vice president of audience insights.
A seasoned digital audio seller, Entercom's Lagana, who was previously head of sales for podcast adtech firm Megaphone, identified four key demands that podcasters need to meet: reach and scale, measurement and attribution, efficiency of buys, and brand safety. With improvements in data and operations, "the industry has grown up quickly and begun to meet those demands," he said.
To date, podcasters have been hampered by limited metrics. The most widely used measure is downloads, but that doesn't show who is listening or if they even finished a show. Now, as users access podcasts on more platforms, the notion of downloading is getting pushed aside. As a result, measurement is getting more sophisticated and nuanced. One solution is Nielsen's new Podcast Listener Buying Power Service , which marries Scarborough consumer data with podcast listening behavior to build a profile of a listener and their consumer habits, including interactions with categories and even specific brands. For more granular data, publishers can also track how their own titles perform.
Use All Your Assets
To boost a podcast, it needs to be available everywhere and tirelessly promoted. Podcast executives said content should be on a multitude of platforms, including smart speakers , podcast apps, websites, streaming services, social channels, and even YouTube. Apple accounts for about two-thirds of listening, making it the biggest player, noted Rob Walch, vice president of podcast relations at podcast hosting firm Libsyn. But, he added, Spotify and Pandora are increasing their position, particularly among younger listeners. "We're at a point in time where we can say, 'Listen to my podcast anywhere you listen to audio,'" Walch said.
There's no such thing as too much promotion. Here, radio stations have a leg up over pure podcast producers because they can promote their podcasts across company assets and use podcast content to populate other platforms. iHeart, NPR , and Entercom, for instance, have broadcast podcast episodes on terrestrial radio, exposing podcasts to radio's wide audience. By deploying podcast content on-air, online, and on social, radio companies can draw more listeners to podcasting and complement their AM/FM experience.
The Next Frontier
A year from now, there will likely be more plaudits for podcasting. "This is an engaging medium and the quality of storytelling is high," said Neal Carruth, NPR's general manager of podcasts.
But the proof will be in the numbers. Relative to other digital media, and even terrestrial radio, podcasting is still very much in its infancy.
For savvy podcasters, the roadmap is to create great content and deliver that to fans and brands. As Entercom chief executive officer David Field said: "We can't attempt to outsmart the consumer. We need to deliver [the] best content we can in [the] most fun, most compelling, simplest way, and see where the chips fall."
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