IAB Podcast Upfront: Presenters Pitch The 'Personal Relationship' Of Audio

Podcasting may not surpass TV or digital video in advertising anytime soon, but the business is on the verge of breaking out in a big way. That was a key message at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s fourth podcast upfront on Thursday.

It is even more remarkable when you consider that podcasting has only been a viable business for the past couple of years, with the iPod and iPhone initially spurring on the long-form audio format a decade ago.

“Very few entertainment and information and news media have ever established themselves this quickly in the consciousness of the culture, this is what podcasting has done,” IAB CEO Randall Rothenberg said in his opening remarks at the upfront. “It is absolutely clear that more and more marketers understand the value of podcasting.”

The IAB estimates that annual podcast ad revenues topped $314 million in 2017 — and will more than double to $650 million by 2020.

Part of that growth will come from improved metrics and data, presenters at the upfront argued. In addition, programmatically-inserted ads will become more prevalent, allowing for more marketers to enter the marketplace.

Still, one theme that kept arising was the power of audio and the spoken word, and how it makes for more engaging content.

“One of the things about spoken word is that it is an incredibly powerful medium. Storytelling orally has been the critical way that culture has been transmitted, going back to Greek mythology,” said NPR CEO Jarl Mohn at the upfront. “The reason is, the listener had to add something, the listener had to engage.”

“From an advertising standpoint, it goes to Jarl’s point about the spoken word, it does something that a picture can’t do,” iHeartMedia CEO Bob Pittman added. “It is the theater of the mind, it allows us to hear and translates to us this deep relationship, this companionship, a friend relationship. It's not an ‘I’m selling something’ sort of relationship.”

While data around listenership is not yet as granular as TV, radio and streaming video (owing partly to the fact that most podcast listeners download podcasts and listen to them on their own time), the data does show that listeners stay through entire episodes, including ads.

The excitement around podcasts isn’t just coming from marketers and podcast networks. Podcast creators and hosts expressed their enthusiasm for the medium as well. MSNBC host Chris Hayes, who also hosts a podcast called “Why Is This Happening?,” called it his “favorite medium.”

“What is so exciting about podcasting for me is that it has broken through some of the attention limitations of the current media economy,” Hayes said. “[TV’s] battle for eyeballs is ever fiercer, ever more competitive, and extremely difficult to get your share. The battle for ears is a completely different attention plain. People will listen to things in a length, in a depth, in a way listening that they will not with their eyes.”

“[Podcasting] reminds me of the internet in its heyday,” Hayes added. “It is a thousand flowers blooming, it has not yet been essentially monopolized or commodified in a way that squeezes out the creativity.”

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