Beyond Millennials or Gen Zs, it is Generation Audio that transcends age groups and was on display last week during Advertising Week in New York. Rather than get bogged down in demographics, SiriusXM and Pandora Chief Marketing Officer Denise Karkos told agencies and brand marketers Generation Audio is about something bigger at play.
“It's more about where we are, as a culture. It's pervasive, audio is everywhere, it's across all sorts of listening devices and moods have changed during COVID. We saw the proliferation of listening happening in and out of the car, companion listening while people are doing different activities. And as those habits change, we've benefited from all those trends,” said Karkos. “This is the ultimate companion media. And for Generation Audio, not only is it pervasive and is the ultimate multitasking medium, but it is absolutely filled with content creators and artists. So I think the democratization of audio, and how people can really create, is transforming the medium.”
No audio segment is hotter right now than podcasting and Karkos thinks there remains a lot of growth ahead for podcasters, including SiriusXM and its sisters Stitcher and Pandora. But unlike in radio where big names like Ryan Seacrest, Sean Hannity and Howard Stern are dominant, Karkos thinks podcasting will be different. “It’s going to be about diversity of content and it's not going to be about one big name. I think it's going to be about a lot of different voices that connect with audiences in new ways,” she predicted.
Unlike her previous job at TD Ameritrade, Karkos says her team at SiriusXM includes 50% of employees that come from diverse backgrounds and that is already proving to be a game-changer. “I can't even tell you the different conversations we're having. It's all about culture and relevance,” she said. “And if we're going to bring more listeners into the platform, because of the choices that we're making, we're going to be a better fit for advertisers and creatives and artists alike.” Yet in a more polarized America, offering a wide spectrum of viewpoints is not always easy. For Karkos, the key is “to be defensible in times of crisis.”
Growing Audio Appeal Among Advertisers
SiriusXM’s main satellite radio business saw in-car listening drop off during the pandemic as people spent less time commuting to and from work. But Karkos says its app listening has “taken off” and that has opened up new opportunities to create content for mobile listeners that is not constrained by satellite bandwidth. And with the podcast company Stitcher and streaming app Pandora offering podcasts under the same corporate umbrella, Pandora is taking more of a music-focused purpose. When it takes on podcast projects, said Karkos, they are more likely to be tied to music.
The new Seth Rogen-hosted podcast for Stitcher’s Earwolf called Story Time is an example of a new voice the company has brought to the medium. But adding new creators does not always come without some hurdles. Lizzie Widhelm, Senior VP of Ad Innovation & B2B Marketing for SXM Media, told the crowd that Rogen’s show has been “a challenge” for their ad team. When asked what sort of advertisers the actor-director thought would best fit his show, Widhelm said he offered ideas like a cannabis company and an organic meat company. “We’re going to have to work a little harder to find some brands that can be part of this show, and we’re getting there,” she said. “But it’s different than just monetizing in between a Rihanna song and a Beyonce song.”
In the bigger picture, Widhelm said audio, more than ever, is part of the conversation when brand marketers decide where they are placing their money. It’s the sort of seat at the table that video has long had. “For audio, it used to just be about ratings points and GRPs and CPMs. You were just buying your impressions and hoping you were getting the scale,” she said. “But we’re now having conversations around ‘what does your brand sound like?’ and ‘how does this creative come to life?’”
Added Karkos, “I think our jobs have never been sexier.”