Consumers spend a third of their media time today with audio, and podcasting has fueled that growth as listening has doubled in the last five years. It is a media wave that Conal Byrne, CEO of iHeartMedia Digital Audio Group, told the IAB Podcast Upfront Tuesday that his company is riding into new ventures and creative outlets.
After launching the African American-focused Black Effect Podcast Network and the Hispanic-focused My Cultura, iHeartMedia said Tuesday that its next slate of shows targeting underrepresented audiences will look to serve the LBGTQ audience. Byrne announced it will launch later this summer. “It’s a slate of incredible creators and we’re going to support and launch into podcasts in a much bigger way,” he said.
Will Pearson, Chief Operating Officer of the iHeartPodcast Network, said the company also plans to increase the number of new series it will launch from some of its longest-running alliances such as Tenderfoot TV, Aaron Mahnke’s Grim & Mild, and Paramount.
Comedian, “Daily Show” correspondent and podcaster Roy Wood Jr. said in addition to the more than a dozen co-productions Paramount has launched to date with iHeart, it will add a new podcast based on the VH1 series “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and a new podcast from “The Daily Show” called Hold Up.
The number of Hollywood stars that move into podcasting keeps climbing, including not only actors but also big-named producers and directors like Brian Grazer and Ron Howard. Grazer and Howard are behind Imagine Entertainment, which launched a new podcast division fueled by an exclusive slate deal with iHeartMedia.
“I think there’s just something about the creative freedom of the medium that brings people back to their roots of how they connect so directly and creatively freely with audiences,” said Byrne. “They’re really just making some of the most exciting conversations that are happening in any media today.” He said the “keep it simple” model of distributing shows as many places as possible has also proven attractive to creators who are increasingly unsure about the exclusive deals cut by some talent.
Not everyone getting a show on the iHeartPodcast Network will be well-known. Pearson announced that the Next Up creative incubator will deliver eight new shows to the network during the next six months.
Bryne conceded that iHeart’s “we’re just getting started” message to ad buyers may sound familiar, but it is because the podcast industry itself is evolving quickly. “We are reinventing storytelling every single time we go out to market -- it makes the medium new and fresh every single week,” Byrne said, pointing to their recent announcement that they will bring NFT characters to life on podcasts.
Pearson said he is also interested to see how a project from Will Ferrell’s Big Money Players Network comes together. It is developing a new outlet called The Feed that will give emerging comedians a limited-run high-profile feed to do whatever they want with.
Byrne’s message to ad buyers Tuesday during the IAB Podcast Upfront was that buying the medium does not need to be as “complicated” as it is. His pitch was that iHeart offers a sort of one-stop-shopping “keep it simple” message noting that it has more than 50 podcasts with a million or more downloads each month spread across 19 different genres. “When you think about that as a marketer, it gives you this depth and range of content where you can find audiences to connect with,” he said.
Bryne said iHeart also has the lowest ad-skipping rate of all podcast publishers, saying nine in ten listeners to their shows do not skip ads.