They love hosting podcasts—they love their advertisers even more.
Such was their collective messaging during the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Sixth Annual Podcast Upfront, a three-day Zoom affair held last week to educate 1,720 media buyers and sellers about the latest trends in podcasting. More than 20 podcast companies and research organizations provided presentations during some 10 hours of Zoom sessions. The IAB recapped the event via a two-part series on its IAB.Real podcast.
The IAB, which has 750 member companies and annual revenues of $30 million, also announced a change in leadership during Upfront. President David Cohen, who joined just before the national quarantine, is assuming the position of CEO. He replaces Randall Rothenberg, who has been CEO since 2007. Rothenberg will remain at the IAB as Executive Chair through 2022.
“Podcasting has been particularly resilient throughout the pandemic, due to consumers’ increased media consumption and the ability to optimize messaging quickly,” Cohen said via email. “During the 2020 Podcast Upfront, we saw the clear power of podcasts and how they continue to provide brand-safe and flexible ways to connect with consumers.
“Whether it is through live reads, dynamic ad insertion, branded content, or other innovative creative formats, podcasts are a real opportunity for marketers. Throughout the three days we also saw the tremendous diversity of content and talent, which means that there is something for every brand and every brand’s audience to truly engage consumers.”
“As the world is adapting to the new normal, so is the podcast industry,” she said. “People stuck at home have been seeking out huge amounts of audio. And it makes sense; I don’t want to be at home with my thoughts all day. I want someone else’s thoughts.”
Ramsey is far from alone in that sentiment.
More than 104 million Americans 12 years and older have listened to a podcast in the last month, according to Tom Webster, SVP of Edison Research, one of the presenters.
Interest in podcasts has steadily grown over the years, Webster said, citing the 2014 and 2020 editions of the annual Share of Ear study.
Six years ago, Americans listened to audio content for four hours and five minutes a day, according to a nationally representative sample of 2,096 Americans ages 13 and older who completed a 24-hour audio listening diary. Of that time, 52% was spent with AM/FM radio and 2% was spent with podcasts. As low as that number may seem, it represents tens of millions of hours spent listening to podcasts, Webster said.
In 2020, the ratio sees a significant shift. Of time spent with audio content, 42% is with AM/FM radio and 5% is with podcasts.
“People who spend the most time with [podcasts] are extraordinarily receptive…they are willing to try the products that are advertised,” Webster said. “You have reach, you have engagement, you have receptivity. All of these things combine to make podcasting an advertising vehicle that may be the most attractive advertising vehicle we have today.”
The flexibility of audio, and the bonds that listeners forge with their favorite show hosts, are helping to sustain the momentum despite the downturn.
U.S. podcast advertising revenues are expected to reach nearly $1 billion this year, a 40% jump from the $708 million that brands spent on the medium last year, according to the fourth annual IAB Podcast Advertising Revenue Report, which was released in July.
“In the early days of Covid-19, the media formats that remained resilient were those that provided agility to marketers to change messaging. Sixty-six percent of podcast advertising is host-read, providing a very valuable, fast way for brands to stay in-market with the right message at the right time,” Sue Hogan, IAB’s senior vice president of research and analytics, said in a press release.
Indeed, podcasters are following in the footsteps of National Public Radio, an Upfront presenter well-known for its host-read ads during Morning Edition and other shows.
When Rob Lowe is reading your ad, it’s literally extra.
“[Podcasting] has exceeded everything I thought,” he told the IAB audience, except that it was like having a one-on-one conversation with him, such was the intimate Zoom experience.
Lowe hosts the Literally! podcast, produced by Stitcher, a content creation and distribution company. Fans of Parks and Recreation will recall how his character, Chris Traeger, emphasizes every syllable in the word. In fact, there’s a meme about that.
“One of the big surprises for me was how much fun I had doing the ads and kind of making them my own and being fun with them,” he said. “That’s what I like with the podcasts—when the hosts are really talking, instead of reading something they’ve been handed. I’ve had a really good time with that.”
Stitcher Chief Revenue Officer Sarah van Mosel confirmed that ads read by hosts and announcers generate purchase intent. According to the company’s ad sales arm, Midroll, 61% of podcast listeners have bought a product after hearing an ad.
“Hosts are influencers,” van Mosel said. “Host-read ads maximize influence at scale.”
Samantha Bee echoed Lowe’s fascination with the audio medium.
The comedian rose to fame as a correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. In 2015, she started her own show, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. She launched the Full Release podcast in July.
“Full Release is not a breaking news podcast. If you’re trying to figure out what crazy thing just happened in the White House, you should descend into the hell mouth of Twitter like everyone else,” she said.
Instead, her show is a “a place where we dissect what’s going on in the world through a broader lens. It’s a podcast for people who are consumed by the news but need an escape from it. It’s for people who believe knowledge is power.”
She enjoys interviewing journalists such as Soledad O’Brien and Kara Swisher about “what keeps them up at night during this dumpster fire of a year and what makes them confident we’ll survive it.”
Likewise, she approves and reads all the ads on her show. “My whole family has a vested interest in the types of ads we bring in, because it affects what we have for dinner,” she said. “Meal kit companies, you know who you are.”
One of the most influential people on the planet, Oprah Winfrey, also spoke during Stitcher’s presentation. Stitcher represents Winfrey’s OWN podcast network.
“Hello to everybody who’s joining this virtual IAB podcast Upfront,” Winfrey said. “I don’t need to tell you all, because you know first-hand, that the podcast business has been exploding for a while. Everyone seems to have one these days.
“But I also know that millions of people all over the world love to listen and love to talk about their favorites, because podcasts have that ability to meet people right where they are in their daily lives.”
Winfrey launched Supersoul Sundays more than a decade ago to spark conversations about living more consciously. As of last week, the show had been downloaded 307,437,419 times, she said.
“At the OWN podcast network we are leaning in to these listeners,” she said. “Soon we’re going to be launching a new podcast—Eckart Tolle’s timeless teachings, one of my favorite spiritual teachers…I hope you stay tuned because the OWN podcast network is looking ahead to create more new content for our listeners.”
The megastar wasn’t the only one to break news.
“This is the Upfront—let’s get to some fricking announcements,” exclaimed the founders of Forever Dog Productions, whose podcasts have been downloaded 70 million times.
Brett Boham, Joe Cilio and Alex Ramsey launched their company in 2016, after running a theatre group in New York City. Their company organizes podcasts across four broad categories—female voices, Black voices, millennial men, and LGBTQ+.
They announced several new shows including: The Rearview in partnership with gay dating app Grindr, which has 14 million active users; Too Late, a late-night show featuring Black creators and artists; and The Boost, a women-led morning show.
iHeartRadio and Charlamagne Tha God (aka Lenard Larry McKelvey) are launching The Black Effect Podcast Network, which will feature guests taking on critical issues facing the Black community and Black culture.
“It’s important to me to create the Black Effect Podcast Network because blackness controls the cool, blackness controls the culture…we control everything,” said McKelvey, the co-host of the nationally syndicated radio show The Breakfast Club and author of Black Privilege: Opportunity Comes to Those Who Create It.
“You should add blackness to everything you’re doing but if you don’t, empower us by running your ads on our network. Because we’re going to have all the ears on the planet.”