Data? Audience? The Name? What's Holding Podcasting Back?
I moderated an information rich panel on podcasting at The RAIN Summit in Nashville with a truly excellent group of panelists including Sarah Van Mosel of Acast, Brendan Monaghan of Panoply, Brian Landau of DGital Media, John Rosso from Triton Digital, and Brendan Regan of audioBoom.
Coverage of the Rain Summit panel on podcasting yesterday from Inside Radio 9/21/16 by Paul Heine:
Conversation that once questioned whether podcasting would ever expand beyond a niche medium has turned to growing pain questions of how to make it more user-friendly for both listeners and advertisers as the “gold rush of podcasting” attracts new players. That includes a debate over whether the word “podcasting” has become part of the solution—or the problem.
Eric Nuzum, senior VP of Audible, thinks the term continues to carry a heavy branding burden. “It’s not that we are embarrassed of podcasting but there are only 50%-55% of people who know what the word is, and only 20% listens to them,” he said. “There’s a pejorative effect of that word.” He told the RAIN Summit on Tuesday that his Amazon-owned company doesn’t use “podcasting” to describe what Audible serves up. He agrees in part because he thinks rejecting the “audio maker” label for podcasting may prove limiting in the long-term. “Everyone who is tying themselves to one platform will be very sorry when that platform follows the growth trajectory of every other platform,” Nuzum said.
DGital Media executive VP of Sales, Brian Landau, agrees, but only because he views the term podcasting as too limiting. “We’re content creators, and we’re makers of audio—we are driven to creating multichannel experiences,” he said.
But it seems podcasting, as a term, may be hard to squeeze back into the branding bottle. “We’re too far into it with the word ‘podcast,’” audioBoomVP Brendan Regan countered. “It’s going to be really tough to change people’s opinion of what the name should be at this point.”
Edison Research reported earlier this year that about 13% of Americans, or roughly 35 million people, listen to podcasts on a weekly basis. And while podcasts capture just 2% of audio time according to the firm’s Share of Ear report, it’s a niche that is growing. “Among people who listen to audio on smartphones it leaps to 7% of their audio time,” RAIN founder Kurt Hanson told the Nashville conference, noting AM/FM radio’s 54% share is still leaps and bounds above all other digital formats.
Still, the question of how to monetize podcasts remains the biggest challenge. To date, the medium has been dominated by a handful of direct response advertisers who only pay when a podcast mention gets their phone ringing. Triton Digital president of market development John Rosso says the scale of individual podcasts remains one of the biggest challenges to monetizing them. The other advertisers are applying strict online metrics to a platform that hasn’t quite caught up.
“In digital media there is such a priority on targeting and accountability of the advertising that I wonder if we are making a mistake of thinking about podcasting as a digital medium,” Rosso said. Instead, he thinks it would be better to stack podcasts up to traditional radio advertising, which doesn’t deliver marketers the granular impression specifics that digital publishers can. “It’s a beautiful audio medium; maybe we just need to be thinking about the efficacy of the ads,” Rosso said. “It’s probably going to work well for the larger brands that come to the space.”
Regan said that may already be happening, pointing to complaints by some that they hear the same advertisers over and over regardless of the podcast they’re listening to. “They wouldn’t be coming back if it didn’t work,” he said.
Acast commercial director Sarah van Mosel said she’s made a decision at her company not to use the same spots on podcasts that also air on commercial radio stations. “That’s simply because the creative for radio doesn’t sit well in a podcast user experience,” she said. “So I’ve challenged the brands’ creative folks to come to the table with some podcast-specific creative. And we’ve taken it upon ourselves to make it on their behalf if they don’t have the means or wherewithal to do it.”
Executives also cast doubt on the idea of using download data as currency to sell advertisers. Van Mosel suggested that a better metric, at least for the time being, is uniformity. “It doesn’t have to be perfect but it has to be the same—and it has to be the same for all of us,” she said. “If it moves the conversation closer to the adoption of the same thing, whatever it is, then fantastic. If it continues to splinter the conversation and split us apart, I’m not a big fan of that.”
Landau thinks the monetization question will be a factor for AM/FM radio operators as they weigh how far to wade into the podcasting world. “This is a rare opportunity for a local station to expand its reach of influence and drive people to their app. The bad news is now you’re not local and you are trying to sell advertising to Bob’s in Schenectady and you’re the Schenectady radio station, you’re going to have some inherent waste,” he said.
Commercial radio content currently makes up 1% of podcast consumption according to Amplifi Media founder Steve Goldstein. Yet he believes it can be part of the solution to AM/FM radio’s challenge of connecting with Millennials. “This is a retention strategy at its minimum to be able to put content on another platform,” the former Saga Communications programming executive said. “I left my cushy radio gig because I thought audio didn’t need to come through a transmitter. It could come from different things and I’m agnostic how that happens.” Goldstein compared over-the-air radio’s reluctance to podcast to another era when stations refused to run commercials for TV fearing it would cut into radio use. “They’re going to listen to other audio, I’d rather have them listen to my audio than someone else’s,” Goldstein said.
Many other issues still weigh on the podcasting industry. How long should a program be? The shorter the better, executives say. “Start short and earn that audience,” Panoply CEO Brendan Monaghan said. What about a paywall? Go slow is the consensus. “That assumes you have enough listening happening and you have enough episodes that you could cordon some of them off,” van Mosel added.
Most see a role for social media to help listeners discover new content too whether it’s embedded players on the websites of other web publishers or stealing a page from late-night TV talk show hosts. “When you create content that has shareable moments, it builds and sustains audience,” van Mosel said. She pointed to a “Game of Thrones” podcast that saw its show begin at the three-minute mark after a piece of the show was shared on Twitter. “That’s how you can build a show and pull people into a space that they wouldn’t necessarily want to go.” And with Edison data showing podcast users are voracious consumers of the medium, van Mosel thinks the best exposure may be in another program. “We found the best way to grow a show is to piggyback on another podcast,” she said.
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Steven Goldstein is CEO of Amplifi Media, LLC, an advisor in strategy and content development for corporations and podcasters. Steve can be reached directly at (203) 221-1400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.