Podcast Advertising

Bigeye’s podcast features Stephen Pickens of AdvertiseCast, talking about growing US podcast listenership and how to successfully advertise in podcasts.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: Advertising in podcasts. Stephen Pickens is Director of Sales for AdvertiseCast, a network that allows podcasters to monetize their content by partnering with major brands. With US podcast listenership seeing a compound annual growth rate of 20 percent, Stephen explains how podcast advertising works. We learn about new opportunities to target listeners dynamically and hear what COVID-19 and social distancing might mean for podcast listenership in the long-term.


Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS: fresh perspectives on the business of advertising. Produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello! I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. According to the latest annual Infinite Dial Report from Edison Research and Triton Digital, the number of US consumers ages 12 and up who listen to podcasts on a monthly basis continues to rise – up to 37% this year. While podcast listening has increased across all age groups, more young people – between the ages of 12 and 34 – listen than any other age group. The survey of more than 1,500 Americans ages 12 and above was conducted in January and February of this year – so before the COVID-19 crisis mandated stay-in-place and social distancing. The study found that 24 percent of total respondents reported listening to a podcast in the week prior to the survey, up two percentage points from the same time last year. But for comparison, in 2013, only 7% of Americans listened to podcasts weekly. The amount of time spent listening to podcasts has also increased. Among those who listened to a podcast in the previous week, respondents spent 6 hours and 39 minutes, on average, engaging with podcasts. And six in 10 respondents who listened to podcasts in the previous week listened to at least 2, while close to one-fifth reported listening to 6 to 10 podcasts during that time. A separate study from Westwood One and Audience Insight shows that the largest number  of podcast listeners in the US access them through Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google Podcasts. Research from Nielsen found that heavy podcast listeners are more likely than others to listen away from home – either at work, in transit, or other places such as the gym. Amid the array of media options consumers have available to them, podcasts are portable and are a constant companion when viewing a screen isn’t an option. Smartphones are driving podcast engagement, as more than 36 million Americans now access podcast content this way. The heaviest podcast listeners are also most engaged when they’re away from home. However, smart speakers are playing a bigger role in growing podcast audiences. Across platforms, smart speakers are more likely to attract audiences of more than one, which, from an impression perspective, is a key insight for advertisers. To help us understand advertising in podcasts, our guest this week is Stephen Pickens, Director of Sales for AdvertiseCast. I met Stephen at an event called PodFest which was held in Orlando at the beginning of March just before the enforced closure of hotels and resorts here in Central Florida. Stephen has spent his career growing startup, direct-response advertising agencies focused largely on national TV media buying for brands such as PokerStars, Zulily, and NordVPN. Last year, Stephen decided to follow his passion into the podcast space, joining AdvertiseCast, a podcast ad network that allows thousands of podcasters to monetize their content by partnering with major brands such as HelloFresh, HomeAdvisor, Betterhelp, and more. Welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Stephen!

Stephen Pickens: Thanks for having me, Adrian. Happy to be here.

Adrian Tennant: Could you tell us a little about AdvertiseCast?

Stephen Pickens: Yeah, so the podcast space is pretty fragmented. There are thousands of shows out there, so from an advertiser perspective, if you wanted to add podcasts to your media mix, it can be a very daunting task. And on the other side of the coin from a podcast or perspective, if you want to monetize your content, you may not really know where to start in terms of sourcing that demand. So we stand in the middle of thousands of shows and hundreds of advertisers and we’ve got a really nice balance of supply and demand within our network to make sure that the podcast ad buying process is super smooth, efficient, and streamlined.

Adrian Tennant: So Stephen, what does your role with AdvertiseCast entail?

Stephen Pickens: I’m the Director of Sales and I work with a number of advertisers to determine what the best approach for them is in terms of podcast advertising. So they’ll come to us and I say, you know, “We really want to get into podcast advertising – how do we do that?” So we’ll determine how best to reach their target audience within whatever their budget constraints are. And within our platform that we’ve developed, we can put together uh proposals for them to consider and then go ahead and execute the campaign.

Adrian Tennant: In what kinds of ways is advertising within podcasts different from other types of media?

Stephen Pickens: Yeah, so I like to think of it as word-of-mouth marketing, but at scale. So if you have a friend that recommends you try a particular product or service, it comes with a level of authenticity because you trust them. And it’s really similar to podcast advertising in that way because at least in terms of me, the shows that I listen to, I really trust the hosts. So when they take some time out of their show to explain a product to me and ultimately endorse it, it comes with a tremendous amount of weight. And oftentimes we’ll send our hosts samples of the product or a free trial of the service so that they can actually speak to their personal experience with it. So it’s a really high quality way to share your message with a very engaged audience.

Adrian Tennant: Can you explain the main ways that ads are actually inserted into podcasts?

Stephen Pickens: Yeah, so podcast hosts will record typically around 60 seconds for the message and endorsement. And they’ll insert it into either the beginning as a pre-roll or the middle, as a mid-roll, and then they’ll distribute nationally to all the different podcast player platforms. So it’s largely been a national media play but more recently we’ve developed the ability to dynamically insert so that you can target geographically, demographically and on interest as well.

Adrian Tennant: So you’re saying that we are at a point when ads can be inserted dynamically into podcast streams to target listeners based on their data in real time. So I’m thinking of targeting based on their demographic and geographic data in addition to maybe their tastes in music or podcast genres?

Stephen Pickens: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And this is one of the more exciting areas of growth that we’ve seen in recent months. So podcasts have mostly been a national media play and so it’s left a lot of geographically targeted advertisers out of the space. But with dynamic insertion, we can target geographically, demographically, by interests and so, given that the CPMs are also a little bit lower with this dynamic approach, it opens up podcast advertising to a lot of smaller players, which is really exciting. We’ve seen a ton of interest for geo-targeting within podcasts.

Adrian Tennant: Okay, we’ll certainly get into how pricing works, but you just mentioned CPM, so for listeners that don’t know, can you just give a description of CPM?

Stephen Pickens: Yeah. So a CPM is cost per mille. I’m not sure why the industry decided to use that terminology because I believe it’s based on the Latin term for thousand. So to keep it simple, it’s cost-per-thousand listeners or cost-per-thousand viewers. It’s a standard metric to determine price between different shows and different campaigns. So with the programmatic or dynamic approach to podcasting, it’s a little bit cheaper. But with the host read approach, it’s a little bit more expensive just because it’s a higher quality kind of engagement and those CPMs can range anywhere from $25 to $35 for a host read campaign. And for a programmatic campaign with dynamic insertion, it’s typically around $15.

Adrian Tennant: Now, Stephen, you obviously listen to a lot of podcast ads. So for the creative directors and copywriters listening to this, what makes for a really great, engaging podcast advertisement?

Stephen Pickens: So just the authenticity needs to be there. Oftentimes when we set up a campaign, we won’t give a script to the podcast host, we’ll just give them bullet points – we call them talking points – and this allows them to craft their own message uh in a style that the audience is accustomed to. And, you know, oftentimes we’ll send the host, like I mentioned earlier, a sample of the product or the ability to try a service out for free so that they can actually tell a story about their experience with it, which is really way more effective than a rote speech.

Adrian Tennant: Now, for the media planners and buyers listening, how does advertising on podcasts compare with other forms of media? For example, you just mentioned, you know, selling on the basis of the number of ad impressions, but do you also support cost-per-action or cost-per-acquisition models?

Stephen Pickens: So at this time we don’t, there’s such a high demand for the listener’s attention. There’s really not a lot of demand for cost-per-acquisition pricing models, so we base it all on CPM and in the case of podcasts, an impression is synonymous with a download.

Adrian Tennant: Now AdvertiseCast represents around 1,800 podcasts which reach more than 70 million listeners each month. What are some of the differences you hear between podcasts produced by large entertainment or media companies and those from smaller, independent producers?

Stephen Pickens: That’s what’s so great about the podcast space. There’s such a wide breadth of content. You’ve got some really large podcasts out there that have really high production value hosted by celebrities and media personalities. And then you’ve got a very long tail of independent podcasters that you know, are producing out of their basement or out of their garage. And that is not to say that their content is not as good. Sometimes it’s much higher quality just because it’s so authentic. You have access to experts from many different fields, burgeoning comedians, it’s really just a tremendous space because there is such a crazy variety of content for you to access that we didn’t have access to previously.

Adrian Tennant: What are the most popular genres or podcast categories in AdvertiseCast’s network?

Stephen Pickens: So news is really popular, sports – prior to the coronavirus situation – are really popular. Obviously when sports get canceled, people talking about sports don’t have much to discuss. True crime is really popular. You may be familiar with the “Serial” podcast that kind of put true crime, that genre, on the map. So there’s a ton out there. There’s really a podcast for every conceivable topic.

Adrian Tennant: What are some of the things that AdvertiseCast considers when it’s considering representing a specific podcast? I mean, how important are listener numbers, or downloads, or social media engagement?

Stephen Pickens: Yeah. So we just have a minimum of 2,500 downloads per episode. We are open to working with pretty much any genre, any kind of podcasts. We are true believers in the space so we want to bring content to everybody – we want a very wide net for the podcast space. So really the only thing that we look at is a minimum number of downloads such that it would be attractive to advertisers because we’re really serving both podcasters and making sure that they can monetize their content, but also advertisers and making sure that they have an attractive audience to reach.

Adrian Tennant: So, Stephen, what are your favorite shows? Give us two or three examples of what you like to listen to.

Stephen Pickens: So I love history and I love economics. Dan Carlin’s “Hardcore History” is a really amazing show. He hasn’t put out many episodes recently, but I encourage everybody that has an interest in history to check that out. The episodes are about four hours long, so you have to be one of the long podcast listeners to enjoy it. And I also enjoy “Macro Voices,” which has a lot of heterodox economic thinkers talking about things that are going on in the world of macroeconomics.

Adrian Tennant: Wow. That’s super-specific. 

Stephen Pickens: Yeah, I mean, I also am a huge fan of Joe Rogan’s podcast. That was the first podcast that kind of introduced me to the space and his show is super popular. He has a ton of irreverent characters on and discusses topics that you can’t really hear anywhere else. So he deserves a ton of credit for putting podcasts on the map.

Adrian Tennant: He regularly appears as the top show in terms of total listens, correct?

Stephen Pickens: Yeah, I mean he’s a Media Titan now!

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back, after this message.

Dana Cassell: I’m Dana Cassell, Bigeye’s Senior Strategist. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as marketing professionals, often inspired by data points reported in consumer research studies. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, through our own research, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers – analyzing their attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. We distill this data into actionable insights to inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – with strategic, cost-efficient media placements.  If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email info@bigeyeagency.com.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. We’re talking to Stephen Pickens of AdvertiseCast about advertising within podcasts. Now, podcast listening outside the home is obviously on hold for many people now given the shelter in place orders that we’re experiencing due to the coronavirus pandemic. What impact do you think being homebound will have on podcast listening time in the future?

Stephen Pickens: So I think people are, obviously, their schedules are changing given that they aren’t commuting. So we have seen a little bit of a dip in listens but you could attribute that largely to some of the drop-off in listening to sports podcasts, as opposed to behavioral changes in terms of commuting. But I think people will get back to consuming the content that they love. I know I was talking to my brother earlier this week and he said, “I just had to turn off the TV. I’m tired of looking at this coronavirus coverage,” and he went back to revisit some of the podcasts that he had neglected given that he hadn’t been commuting for a couple of weeks. So I think people will gravitate back to the content that they’ve come to enjoy.

Adrian Tennant: In what kinds of ways are you seeing COVID-19 impact your clients?

Stephen Pickens: So it really depends on the category. I’ve had a few clients postpone their campaigns whether it be because they were promoting a conference which got canceled or if they’re seeing some sort of slump in sales demand. But for the most part, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the demand that still is coming in. You know, when life throws you a curveball, people adjust. So whether it’s a direct-to-consumer brand that delivers products directly to people’s homes – they’re actually gonna see an increase in activity. We have, you know, some clients that promote home wifi networking – they’re definitely seeing an increase in demand. So I think it really depends on the category and luckily enough for the podcast space, there’s still a very strong audience there that you can reach and make sure that you’re still staying top of mind for those consumers.

Adrian Tennant: COVID-19 and stay in place orders are impacting people around the world. According to research from GlobalWebIndex, almost one fifth – 18% – of consumers in the US say they may now subscribe to Netflix for the first time. Disney+ follows in popularity with 14% of consumers saying they don’t currently subscribe, but they are now considering it. And then music and audio platforms follow closely behind with Spotify at 11% and Amazon Prime Music at 10%. It’s interesting to see Spotify there as they’ve really focused on podcasts this year. As you know Stephen, behind the scenes, Spotify has acquired some major podcast networks including Gimlet Media, Parcast, and the podcast creation app, Anchor. What’s your perspective on podcasts potentially being exclusively available within Spotify’s walled garden, rather than across multiple platforms as is currently the case for most podcasts out there?

Stephen Pickens: Yeah, so there’s a couple of points I’d like to raise here. First of all, you know, I’m not a big fan of walled gardens. I think podcasts have somewhat of a democratizing force behind them. Not only in terms of, you know, the content that you may not be able to consume on mainstream media platforms, but also just the barriers to entry are very low. So the wider we make that net, the better. It’s going to be good for everybody, the listener or the advertiser and the podcaster. And you also mentioned that consumers are moving more towards streaming services, which I find to be really interesting because I spent most of my career in the national TV space and we were always watching the subscriber numbers and the Nielsen ratings with bated breath as it would kind of slowly decline over time as people move more towards consuming media on demand through smart TVs and things like that. So what I find really interesting about the coronavirus situation is that it may force a paradigm shift that otherwise would have taken many, many years to occur. When people are staying at home and maybe they’re getting tired of watching news coverage of the virus and they certainly don’t have live sports to watch, both of those things – live news and live sports – are kind of the anchor that TV has relied upon. And now that those two things behavior and consumption might be shifting around them due to this virus. People may find that they don’t need to subscribe to their cable anymore and maybe they’ll just stop to go with Netflix, Disney+ and other subscriptions through their Apple TV or Rokus. So I think it’ll be really interesting to watch whether or not a subscriber numbers plateau, decline, increase as a result of this situation. Definitely something to watch closely.

Adrian Tennant: Do you see any positives emerging from our current situation, say on the podcast production side of things?

Stephen Pickens: Well, I mean, it’s difficult to try to find a silver lining in a global depression, pandemic situation, but being an optimistic person that I am, you’re always trying to look for the upside. And given that people are changing their behavior and adjusting to this massive disruption and people’s normal everyday habits, there’s always opportunity in that. And I think given that podcasting is so flexible, we can adjust. We can optimize. In fact, over the past few weeks, we’ve introduced several Coronavirus-themed shows on our platform and the listenership is growing dramatically. So I think it would be pretty difficult for other legacy media to adapt to an ever-changing world the way that podcasts can.

Adrian Tennant: I certainly think it spurs creativity and innovation that there’s no question.

Stephen Pickens: Absolutely.

Adrian Tennant: If listeners want to know more about AdvertiseCast, where can they find resources?

Stephen Pickens: So you can go to AdvertiseCast.com. We have a ton of great resources there. You can reach out to me directly – stephen@advertisecast.com. Stephen is spelled with a “ph” and we’d be happy to speak more about how we might be able to help you.

Adrian Tennant: Stephen, thank you very much for being our guest today. Really appreciate it.

Stephen Pickens: Yeah, thank you, Adrian. Take care.

Adrian Tennant: My thanks to our guest this week, Stephen Pickens, Director of Sales with AdvertiseCast. You can find our show notes with links to resources on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at bigeyeagency.com under “Insights” – just click on the button marked “Podcast.” Please consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or your favorite podcast player. And, if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, stay safe. Goodbye.

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