Commentary

Podcasting? Why Now?

Remember what you thought of podcasting when it first launched on iTunes? Have you considered it as a medium for either extending your content or aligning your brand? 

While Serial’s runaway success catapulted podcasting into the mainstream, the industry has been growing and maturing into a viable promotional platform well beyond the breakout hit. More than 57 million Americans listen to podcasts each month—that’s about 10% of the U.S. population, and growing at about 20% annually. Podcasts are resonating with the millennial-and-under sets and are quickly becoming the audio track to a large percentage of those generations. Podcast listeners regularly follow an average of five shows, with millions of listeners bifurcating (or even replacing) their music listening with on-demand spoken word content, and developing deep relationships with the personalities and voices in their earbuds.

So why is now the time to take a look at podcasting? There are a few waves that are colliding around content creation, consumption and technology:

Authentic Voices: Podcasts are uncensored and uncut. They don’t conform to cookie-cutter formulas and producers have control to create novel content that audiences respond to (see below, “Engaged Audiences”). 

Easy to Binge: In today’s age of Netflix and YouTube, the consumer appetite for binge consumption of media is huge. With more than 50% of podcasts being consumed on mobile devices, podcasts are designed for the binge listener. In fact, up to 40% of listening comes from archived content. This means fans are discovering back catalogues once they find a series they like.

Engaged Audiences: Podcasts are selected media—chosen explicitly by the listener, making fan loyalty and engagement extraordinary. Brand messages are read by the hosts themselves. Popular hosts tell listeners, in their own words and with great sincerity, a story of how their Casper mattress provides the best night of sleep, or how Bombas socks keep their feet warm. And for many shows there becomes a long-standing relationship with the brands that align with their series. This is almost unheard of in traditional media. That connection delivers results, and some brands can tie sales impact directly to podcast advertising.  

Technical and monetization barriers are dissolving: Finally, there are advances on both distribution and monetization fronts that insure producers are compensated for their excellent, and often groundbreaking, work. These new programmatic platforms, already used by leading podcasts, are trialing dynamic ad system sought by brands. This is a watershed moment for the category. New and established producers see a clear path: great podcast content can attract and engage audiences and monetize it well. Successful creators come back to the medium as it attracts new and innovative talent. Other content creators are considering the medium again as a way to extend their audiences in new channels.

On-demand audio formats, like on-demand television, will serve and impact our media habits. A new generation of listeners has been trained to create and curate media on their own terms.

While all indicators are positive—mobile listening is up, there are more than 300,000 podcasts in the iTunes store, aggregators and networks are organizing themselves, and brands and media buyers are starting to trial new engagement—it’s up to the industry to build the infrastructure, including tools for data and discoverability, that will support future success.

It’s safe to say the podcast rocket ship is about to take off again. How high it gets will be determined by the industry’s ability to create tools and services that support growth, and to invest in the development premium content.

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