Intern’s Digest: Podcast Special

In this week’s industry update, Elliot briefed the agency on the world of podcasts!


When I was 12 years old, I once wrote, directed, and performed in a one-man show entitled “The Weirdest Vegetables: a Monologue.” The script was fairly self-explanatory; my mother took me to the supermarket, and I picked up all of the strangest and weirdest looking vegetables I could find, I took them home and drafted a monologue based on their quirks and oddities. The resulting performance involved a Hamlet-meets-Japanese hokaido pumpkin speech; a Punch and Judy performance between an avocado and a tomatillo; and a depressed butternut squash confiding his problems to me. The point I’m tangentially getting to, however, is that this show I created was a celebration of an idiosyncrasy of mine. Every time I delve into a new podcast I have a wave of nostalgia from this performance, where I picked something I (and maybe only I) found genuinely curious and beguiling and entertained it for half an hour (yes, I stood there for half an hour talking about a butternut squash). The podcast is no longer the preserve of the BBC or news round-up shows. There are offerings for hip-hop, economics, history, serial killers, sex, and ghost stories so no matter what your niche is, you can find a quiet corner to entertain it. The growth of the podcast medium in the past three years has been nothing less than stratospheric as demonstrated by the breadth and variety of available content. Even more interesting is how the medium is changing audio advertising and influencer marketing.

In 2014 Acast, the podcast app had 450k downloads of all podcasts; in 2016 that number jumped to 11m. In the USA the podcast audience is estimated at around 57m with 21% of Americans having listened to a podcast in the past month (February 2016). For context 21% of Americans use Twitter and 13% use Spotify. One of the most popular podcasts of all time is Serial; an untold story told week by week. In season 1 the host, Sarah Koenig, followed the murder of Hae Min Lee in 1999 and the accused and convicted boyfriend, Adnan Syed. As the series progresses, it becomes apparent that something isn’t quite right and that Adnan may have been incarcerated incorrectly. Serial was the fastest podcast to pass 5m downloads, and to date has over 80m downloads.


The growth is attributed to mobility and how people are consuming their podcasts. Pre-2014 the most popular way to listen was to download it on your computer; in 2016 64% of podcasts are listened to on a smartphone or tablet. This offers far more opportunities to listen as you can squeeze an episode in during your workout, on the commute, and in the car and unlike an audiobook this isn’t a long-term commitment. The medium also requires the listener’s total attention – it takes a very talented person to read while listening to spoken word. Feedback from The Economist when looking into falling readership figures found that the time-poor generation simply didn’t have time to read the entire issue – but they do have a chance to catch up via the Economist’s podcast. Other newspaper titles have quickly followed suit with News UK purchasing The Wireless Group demonstrating a positive long-term outlook for podcasts in their repertoire. This investment isn’t purely to follow the crowd; News UK is aware of the high advertising effectiveness that can come from podcasts.

In 2016 NPR found that “75 percent of podcast listeners take action on a sponsored message”. This number is quite incredible to understand and only makes sense once you break down the podcast medium. At the top level, listeners of shows are a captive audience within a defined category; it makes sense that sports fans would engage with sports advertising at a higher rate than the average person would. However, the most notable effect comes from the nature of the advertising. Podcast hosts will often break from their regular program to provide a sponsored message and chat candidly about their sponsor’s product. Casper provide mattresses to hosts for free to test (“I’ve had my Casper mattress for 24 days so far, and I have to say I’ve been sleeping incredibly well!”); Squarespace provide free website design (“We’ve loved creating our website on Squarespace, and didn’t need to know any code”). There will only be 2 or three idents within each episode, but these touchpoints build up a relationship with the listener, and after 25-30 touchpoints the audience has been found to almost certainly engage in some way with the brand. The past few years incubation of podcast advertising has created a compelling case for larger brands, and household names are beginning to catch on (BMW, Vodafone, Direct Line are all creating podcast ads next year).


This is not to say that podcasts are an instant success; in fact, the medium has major problems that it must overcome if this growth is to be sustained. In the Tow Report, one of the biggest issues podcasters face is monetization and promotion. The two most significant drivers of audience growth for shows are word of mouth and social media. Monetization comes easily to the largest podcasts. Compared to YouTube the model has a long way to go. YouTube manages to provide easy monetization tools that in turn aid the growth of young creative shows – the most subscribed YouTube channel is PewDiePie, an independent Vlogger, despite competing with media multi-nationals. If the resurgence in podcasting is to continue, this type of advertising support needs to be more widely available and easy to access. Luckily, we are beginning to see this happen. PodcastBean provides crowdfunding built into its platform to help the podcasts it hosts; BlogTalkRadio is rolling out automated advertising insertion based on the content genre and audience statistics.

The growth and relevance of podcasts are breaking boundaries and taking big steps into popular culture; when Marc Maron manages to get POTUS into his garage for an interview, you know there is something big happening here, and this is not just a fad. The long-term relationship that listeners are building with their favourite programs is invaluable to marketers; carefully placed sponsored messages are gaining real, tangible results with hosts acting as influencers for brief moments un their shows. We the audience begin to trust our host and accept their sponsored messages as honest and truthful. Predicted futures for podcasting are for the most part very positive – some are even going full circle and have TV follow-ups commissioned. Trials in programmatic podcast advertising are offering even deeper targeting – and AI is almost certain to play a role here. The medium is also technologically in its infant stages – it won’t be long until we see full social integration and interactivity e.g. being able to tweet a soundbite of a show to your followers, or seeing which podcasts your friends all listen to, or to which shows celebrities subscribe. Particularly in the US we are already starting to see this happen: SpokenLayer has created a platform that is cost-effective and highly scalable to bring print news to audio almost in real-time. What is evident is that this dramatic regrowth is spawning exciting and new offshoots that will only push the growth further.


5 Podcasts to Listen to this Weekend Serial – Season 1 Follows the murder case of a high school girl and her accused boyfriend. The host delves back into the evidence and brings in professionals to review the case.

Stuff You Should Know Does exactly what it says on the tin. Two guys week by week teach themselves about topics they have no clue about, and as such teach us in a very entertaining way.

Start Up Following the birth of a tech startup right from the inception of the idea, through cringeworthy pitch fails and onwards. A fascinating and honest story of trying to make the next big app in Silicon Valley.

West Wing Weekly Arguably the niche-est suggestion here, but bear with me… Joshua Malina and his friend talk week by week through each episode of The West Wing. For fans of the show it’s full of easter eggs, interviews with the cast and discussion of Aaron Sorkin’s scripts.

WTF with Marc Maron Comedian Marc Maron interviews celebrities in his garage setup podcast studio week by week asking important questions like ‘WTF’?

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