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IAB Podcast Upfront: Listeners And Content Are Still Growing.

The podcast industry put its creative on display Thursday at the IAB Podcast Upfront as more than a dozen companies showcased their lineups and announced new projects they have cued up. But while the upfront is at its core a speed dating-like experience for ad buyers, the overarching message from the industry to marketers is that they need to deepen their relationship with podcasts.

“We have the newest mass reach medium in the United States. This does not happen every day. This happens every 20 to 30 years,” said iHeartMedia Digital Audio Group CEO Conal Byrne as his company’s opening presentation set the tone for the day-long event. “Creators drive the medium, but the numbers do really truly speak for themselves. You have almost 130 million people a month listening. What's amazing about podcasting is that as it has grown, engagement has gotten better. Weekly listeners in podcasting listen almost an hour a day,” Byrne said. “You have a medium that is no longer emerging. It is established.”

“Podcasts can no longer be an experimental bucket of your annual spend,” said Angie More, Head of Ad Revenue at Wondery. “They are now a must-buy for advertisers looking for premium content at scale” she told buyers.

The Podcast Upfront came just a week after the same chairs were filled with video buyers during the IAB NewFronts. But faced with more buying options than ever, SXM Media Senior VP Lizzie Widhelm said marketers should not think of it as an either-or-decision. SXM measured 1,000 campaigns during the last quarter and found the average incremental reach is 39% when podcasts are added to streaming orders. “Podcasting is an untapped goldmine for advertisers,” Widhelm said.

The IAB said Thursday that podcasting revenue reached a record $1.8 billion last year, up 26% year-to-year, and it forecasts 46% growth this year. IAB VP Eric John said a silver lining of the pandemic was that it reminded Americans that the spoken word format has the power to entertain and inform, and to create a sense of community. “There's an old saying that time creates habits, and ultimately they become lifestyles. That's certainly the case with podcasting,” he said.

Industry In Evolution

Podcasting’s growth is why SiriusXM CEO Jennifer Witz says it is now “a key part” of the satellite radio company’s business. “One of the most important shifts we've witnessed in the audio space is the emergence and evolution of podcasts,” she told advertisers.

But the podcast market is going through its own evolution in 2023. The upfront had half as many presenting companies as a year ago, with the event set against the backdrop of some companies pulling back on their spending and much chatter that the era of “overpaying and over-investing” in content has come to an end. Yet for most of those presenting, podcasting isn’t folly but a core part of what they do.

“We now have a wider variety of podcasts than ever before, each with their own different dedicated audience of highly-engaged fans, and we continue to broaden the scope of the kinds of shows that we’re creating,” said Nick Southall Kelly, VP of Advertising at Sony Music Entertainment.

SME says its podcast downloads grew 70% during the first quarter compared to a year ago. And Kelly said the company that has worked with musicians for decades continues to see spoken-word content as a way to leverage SME’s creator-first mentality.

That focus on “premium” talent led SME to announce that it has signed actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson, best known for his role on “Modern Family,” to host a new interview podcast called Dinner’s On Me.

“Some of the best conversations we have are over meals,” Ferguson said during an appearance. “I love this podcast because I'm able to highlight the restaurants and the chefs that are in charge of these beautiful restaurants that we're going to, but also I get to know these people on a deeper level. It’s less of an interview show, and it’s more of just like a wonderful conversation between two people.” He also insisted the show will be audio-only.

Conversations – the kind you can’t have on television – is what TV talk show host Kelly Ripa told buyers led her to launch her new Let’s Talk Off Camera podcast for Stitcher.

“It's amazing what people will reveal to you when there are no cameras rolling,” Ripa said. “I always dreamed of having a platform where I could have these honest conversations. And a podcast is the perfect medium for that.”

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