Podcast Advertising Is Only Ramping Up

Although it’s felt like excitement around the space has been building to a boil all throughout 2018, the trade news about podcasting has actually looked a bit grim lately.

First Slate spinoff podcast network Panoply announced it was ditching its entire editorial team to focus on its ad serving business. Then Buzzfeed announced it was shutting down its internal podcast department and canceling many current programs. The company is actually shifting resources back into video. (Pivoting to video is so 2016!)

These sure look like omens that the podcasting wave is starting to wane, perhaps before nascent advertising business. But from my vantage, these developments more resemble growing pains.

Room to Grow

We’ve had podcasting sessions at our last two Publisher Forums as well as a large conference call on the subject. Though the PubForum sessions could be described as intimate, they were chock full of engagement—to the point I was mercilessly forced to break them up to ensure attendees got lunch.

From listening in on those sessions, I know there’s a lot of room for innovation, which is true for the digital audio space at large (something we will definitely get into at November’s Publisher Forum in Austin). Publishers are still testing the waters when it comes to creative formats—sponsorships, dynamically inserted ads, etc. A great deal of creative is built in-house—imagine how a larger demand pool of creative could drive competition over supply in a programmatic marketplace.

Also, the ad-serving technology is still maturing—there’s enough of an opportunity there that Panoply decided to shelve its creative division and become a straight technology play. Reporting is limited, and we’ve only scratched the surface of targeting capabilities…

Namely because podcasting is a huge mobile opportunity—I can listen to a podcast while walking, taking out the dog, riding the train… And, most exciting, driving. Yes, many publishers are expanding their reach into cars thanks to podcasts.

Video ads will always be more valuable to advertisers because in theory they take up all of a consumer’s attention, but the lack of a visual element is also an advantage—audio ads are only aurally intrusive, not visually. Not grabbing all of a consumer’s attention may make room for scale.

Why So Glum?

So if the podcast market is looking so rosy, why all the gloom and doom in the news? Well, maybe the news is a less stormy than it looks. While Panoply is shutting down its editorial department, Slate Editor in Chief Jacob Weisberg is actually joining up with author Malcolm Gladwell to start a new audio company that will be the new home of Panoply’s popular “Revisionist History” podcast.

Buzzfeed isn’t actually leaving the podcast space behind; it’s outsourcing production to third parties. Considering that Buzzfeed is highly dedicated to TV-esque programming like “AM to DM” on streaming services, in-house podcast production might not have been worth the effort or revenue coming in.

Like short-form and streaming video, we also may be looking at a glut of podcast content. The format is relatively easy to assemble and distribute, which means many publishers have likely been favoring scale over quality. This is likely a maturing point—because podcast listeners are definitely opting for the wheat over the chaff.

Content over-saturation in this case does not mean there’s no room for new entries; the bar is simply higher in terms of quality. There are still plenty of underserved niches, and the simplicity of the format and easy-to-use distribution platforms should make testing programs straightforward.

On the monetization front, there’s plenty of room for innovation as well as revenue opportunities. As we wind down 2018, digital audio could be the most exciting channel in ad tech.