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Debate Over Host-Read Vs. Programmatic Ads Gets Airing At Podcast Movement.

Growing podcast revenue is one of the shared goals among podcasters, but how far to lean into programmatic advertising to watch the till tick past the projected $2 billion in revenue this year remains open for debate. During several Podcast Movement panels Wednesday in Dallas, there was a clear tug-and-pull with the host-read ads that have delivered podcasters more than a decade of success.

AdsWizz Head of Marketing Justine Benjamin said the idea that programmatic selling or dynamic ad insertion is “going to replace all” is overblown. She is convinced there will always be a place for host-read ads. “We have to keep that. That’s what makes this format so unique and powerful,” Benjamin said.

BetterHelp was podcasting’s biggest advertiser during the second quarter, spending $20.1 million according to Magellan AI estimates. Despite that support, Senior Director of Audio Partnerships Brittany Clevenger said podcast ad buying is still “a little Wild West-y” and there are “a lot” of challenges to direct buying.

“Everything is very manual, everyone does everything differently – sometimes I feel like I’m playing Inspector Gadget to figure out what someone is trying to sell me,” Clevenger said.

Tomas Rodriguez, Director of Emerging Channels at The Trade Desk, sees programmatic buying as a way to clear some of the hurdles marketers face. He said it use metadata to address concerns like managing ad frequency so listeners aren’t bombarded with the same ad over and over. It also helps with audience targeting, by leveraging data by companies like Experian to carefully segment potential buyers. He admits, however, that programmatic still needs to earn the “respect” of many buyers and sellers.

Similar, But Different

Podcasting may have some similarities to other media, like being sold on a CPM basis. But Clevenger said the barrier to entry for new advertisers remains fairly high. “It’s really difficult for new brands coming in to navigate the space because podcasting is really special,” she said, suggesting marketers team up with agencies to help sort things out.

Kast Media Chief Business Officer Mike Jensen agreed the sales process for podcasting is no longer as straightforward as it once was. Today reps need to pull data from a longer list of places where the content shows up, with new additions like video views on Spotify and YouTube. “It’s exciting because there’s so much energy, but listening is coming from a lot of different places now,” Jensen said. The good news is he thinks advertisers are embracing the innovation, as well as a wider diversity of content.

Jensen also thinks clients like McDonald’s and Lumber Liquidators are perfect for programmatic since they need the kind of scale that is difficult to achieve with host-read ads. “I don’t see a world where we do host-read ads for Big Macs,” he added.

But Rodriguez said from where he sits, host-read ads “by default” are national campaigns. “If you are a brick and mortar retailer and you are not everywhere, it probably is helpful to do some programmatic and do some geotargeting,” he said. “Because of programmatic, we are welcoming more brands to participate in podcasting as opposed to brands that are focused on doing a national buy.”

Jensen expects BetterHelp will likely retain “a blend” of host-read and programmatic ads for now, using programmatic ads to run a different creative message to reinforce host-read spots. “We want to be able to utilize all of the tools that come with programmatic and the targeting and the data,” she added.

Sharon Taylor, SVP of Podcast Strategy Triton Digital, said the podcast industry seems to be making its life harder than it need be by not only using different terms company to company, but also debating whether programmatic is the best way to sell ads. Taylor said it remains “early days” and testing programmatic is important.

Indies Could Offer An Answer

Regardless of how the dollars flow into the medium, Simplecast Head of Marketing Caitlin Van Horn urged independent producers to grab their share. “You are the heart and soul of this industry and I want you to get paid for what you are doing,” she said, urging indies not to think of ads as “beyond them” or put off making-money until next year. If they do, Van Horn said it could help podcasters overall, predicting the next big advertising innovation could come out of indie shows where stakes are not as high.

“All of the exciting things that are happening in big deal enterprise podcasts, happened with indies first,” she said. “This is where the real creativity happens.”

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