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iHeart Launches Branded Podcast Studio Ruby.

As interest in branded content continues to grow, iHeartMedia is launching a new in-house studio to expand its work with marketers. The unit, which has been branded Ruby, will handle production, sales and marketing of branded podcasts. It builds on the branded content that iHeart has been doing in the podcast space for the past four years.

“I genuinely think podcast branded content is maybe the most powerful tool in marketing today,” said iHeartMedia Digital Audio Group CEO Conal Byrne as he announced the launch at the IAB Podcast Upfront Thursday.

The Ruby studio kicked off this year by collaborating with Intuit Quickbooks on Mind The Business: Small Business Success Stories, hosted by Jannese Torres of the Yo Quiero Dinero podcast and Austin Hankwitz of the Rate of Return Substack; the IBM podcast Smart Talks with IBM hosted by Malcolm Gladwell; and The Official Game of Thrones Podcast: House of the Dragon, an original podcast that reached No. 1 on the Apple podcast charts in 2022. So far, iHeart’s Ruby has created 30 branded podcasts, including 20 in the past year, for brands including T-Mobile, Salesforce, IBM, and Mattress Firm.

“iHeartMedia’s Ruby team is creative, collaborative and delivers a turnkey audio product that enables new avenues for us to connect consumers with our brand,” said Mickey Mericle, Mattress Firm’s Chief Marketing and Experience Officer in a statement.

The Ruby team reportedly has more than a dozen staff members. In addition to full-fledged shows, the division is also creating extended content-heavy ads that some marketers now see as more effective since they can be tucked inside a show with a big audience rather than trying to amass a large listenership for their own show.

“With over 80% of our branded podcast clients renewing for multiple seasons, it’s evident the advertisers and audience’s appetite continues to grow,” said Gayle Troberman, CMO of iHeartMedia. “Ruby will ensure that current and future clients will be able to harness iHeartMedia’s powerful platform, scale and proven expertise to tell meaningful stories,” she said in the announcement.

The audio studio has partnered with a catalog of hosts, including “Saturday Night Live’”cast member and co-host of the hit Las Culturistas podcast Bowen Yang, as well as “Good Morning America” co-host Robin Roberts, Pushkin Industries and Revisionist History podcast host Malcolm Gladwell, and Betty Who and Adam Devine of “Pitch Perfect” and “Workaholics'' fame.

Because branded podcasts typically require a bigger investment, Ruby opens up the opportunity for iHeart to grab a larger share of a marketer’s ad dollars than it would with a traditional ad buy. Working with iHeart also allows a brand to have its content promoted not just on other podcasts, but also on iHeart’s radio stations.

The attraction for marketers, says iHeart, is that Ruby’s branded podcasts allow advertisers and their brand partners to spend as much as 45 minutes with their target audience in a unique environment, with opportunities for storytelling that are not possible anywhere else in their media mix, including social video.

“Audio creates a relationship with consumers that no other marketing medium can compete with,” Troberman said. “When speaking directly to listeners, brands command a level of intimacy and authenticity that shifts perceptions and changes what’s possible.”

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