National Public Media: Voice Activation Is The Future Of Podcasting

During her keynote address “Podcasting: Building Consumer Connections and Revenue for Publishers” for MediaPost's Publishing Insider Summit, Gina Garrubbo, president and CEO of National Public Media (NPM), delivered some interesting numbers: 65% of consumers with smart speakers never want to go back to life without one — despite privacy concerns and 42% consider the devices essential to their lives. 

Podcasts have become a ubiquitous, if not essential, way for publishers to expand their brand and revenue streams. Just this week Fast Company and The New York Times announced new podcast series. The New York Times “Daily” podcast is a perennial favorite. Indeed, NPR has long been the standard for the podcast model.



Several years ago, NPR began working with smart speaker manufacturers to create podcasts and content specifically for those platforms. The media brand also partnered with Edison Research to understand how consumers were interacting with smart speakers through surveys and ethnographic studies in 19 homes. (Their research, cited above, can be found in The Smart Audio Report.)

“For NPR, we’ve been producing audio storytelling and journalism for 50 years,” she said. “And it’s amazing, because now radio is coming back into the home, and it’s coming back into the home in a very different way.” 

These remarks came following Garrubbo’s comments and advice on how brands can integrate advertising and partnerships into their podcast content.

According to Garrubbo, few of NPR’s podcast listeners skip sponsored messaging. In fact, 85% of listeners would prefer to listen to sponsored content rather than pay for a commercial-free version. She also noted that NPR listeners will listen to a podcast for at least an hour, or even binge listen. 

The formula works because sponsors have been seamlessly inserted into the audio. By focusing on brand—NPR’s brand—and working with those sponsors to create an integrated audio experience, NPR has been able to deliver their messages to listeners in a meaningful way.

Garrubbo noted  the issues that matter when developing a podcast count even more when applied to smart speakers. The presence of sponsored content becomes more jarring if not done correct. Right now, Amazon refuses to allow any on its device—signaling a new approach to audio storytelling.

For example, 43% of  smart speaker users would prefer to hear more from sponsors in ways that allow them to engage with their skills. Garrubbo provided an example of mortgage lender developing content around the five most important things to know when buying a home.

Garrubbo also shared that many smart speaker users begin their day by asking for NPR’s “Up First.” As a result of its presence on the speaker platform, NPR is reaching new audiences.

“The voice activated future bodes very well for anyone working in the podcasting space,” Garrubbo said. “The growth will be there. The audience engagement is there, and it’s also becoming routine.”

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