Podcasts could be the golden ticket for marketers seeking to stand out in today's cluttered media environment. On-demand audio attracts engaged consumers, features popular hosts and can build brand awareness and move products -- all highly coveted attributes. However, what podcasts don't offer is detailed intelligence on who is listening to shows and to the ads therein. In this age of data-driven ad buying, most marketers demand metrics to prove return on investment. Until the industry can produce more granular data, podcast advertising could cool, even as listening heats up.
Currently, podcasts are largely measured by downloads, a generic metric akin to counting the number of people in a room. It doesn't tell the story of podcasting's intimacy and sense of community, or even if that downloaded podcast was ever listened to. Other media can deploy hard data. TV and radio use Nielsen ratings as currency and companies investing in alternative technologies to augment that data. Digital media can serve up a virtual smorgasbord on usage, behavior and traffic.
Within audio, radio's $16 billion advertising business is built on "very robust, granular, currency-grade measurement in radio used widely by buyer and seller," noted Tony Hereau, Nielsen's Vice President of Audience Insights. Nielsen data shows about nine out of 10 Americans use radio on a weekly basis, making it the most-used medium.
In contrast, podcasts attract about one-fifth of the audience of radio, not bad for an upstart, but ad revenue trails proportionally, even at the $500 million the IAB projects podcasts will bill this year.
If lack of measurement has anything to do with that, the good news is that some research firms and audio publishers are stepping up to help change that dynamic and underscore value. For example, Nielsen's recent surveys indicate podcasts produce increased awareness, ad recall, affinity, recommendation and purchase intent. In a survey, 64% of podcast listeners think the ads they hear are a good fit for their content and have responded favorably to host-read ads. Nielsen is also digging deeper for brand clients, creating 50 custom studies to measure the effectiveness of podcast campaigns. This summer, it plans to launch the Podcast Listener Buying Power product, which overlays consumer data from Nielsen Scarborough with podcast listening habits to demonstrate where the two intersect.
On the publisher side, NPR recently launched a custom-built solution, Remote Audience Data (RAD), which supplements download stats with detailed listening data, including how much content was consumed, including ads and any content skipping. "Given the digital age we live in, we as an industry can do better," Bryan Moffett, COO of National Public Media said in a MediaVillage article. NPR uses the tool to measure its own podcasts and will also work with third-party publishers.
Edison Research is also launching a new subscription plan for podcast measurement. Described as a "checkup" for podcasters to track their audience, Edison will issue quarterly listening data for clients on demographics, content preferences and listening behaviors. However, unlike Edison and Triton Digital's widely read "Share of Ear" and "Infinite Dial" reports, the data on podcast listening won't be available to the public.
Newer entrants, such as Spotify and Pandora, as well as established distributors, such as Stitcher, are commanding sizable ad budgets in exchange for generic, disparate data specific to their respective platform. But, as the podcast space matures, advertisers will continue to challenge and demand more by way of visibility into listeners and their impact on sales.
To date, many podcast advertisements have been direct response ads, which often feature special offers or promo codes. To grow revenue, Hereau suggests podcasters court more brand advertising and make their case by identifying a client's campaign goals, offering to measure the effects and then touting their targeting capabilities. "Matching your audience to the demographic valued most by an advertiser is a great place to start," Hereau said. "Proving that your audience is likely to respond to the ads will keep the brand advertisers coming back."
Nielsen is trying to help correlate those claims. For instance, in another new effort, with the upcoming Scarborough Podcast Listener Buyer reports, "For the first time, a podcast seller can show a specific advertiser how their listener indexes for their product," explained Bruce Supovitz, Nielsen's Senior Vice President/Sales Director, National Audio Services. That could mean, for example, showing where an 18-34-year-old woman who listens to "True Crime" shops for home improvements, or what the preferred airline is for a 25-54-year-old man who listens to sports podcasts.
Ideally, these kinds of customized reports would augment listening data, including detailed demographics, time spent listening and location – just to name a few benefits. That could elevate podcasting from a start-up ad vehicle to a must-buy.
"Many brand advertisers are asking podcast networks to justify the investment they are making," Hereau said. "The number of downloads can only take you so far."
Still, plenty of advertisers are enthusiastic about podcasting's potential. "Podcasting is not just for direct response advertisers anymore," noted Supovitz. "Well-known brands are getting into podcast advertising, finding an intimate way to connect with customers who may not respond to other forms of advertising."
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