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Podcast Leaders Say Competition Has Never Been Tougher, Putting More Focus On Marketing.

As the number of podcasts has surpassed two million, podcasting executives say it has never been harder to launch a show and get heard. During a Podcast Movement panel Thursday, they said that means adjusting expectations in 2021 to the new realities of consumer choice.

“It’s super challenging,” said Stitcher Chief Revenue Officer Sarah van Mosel. “When we launch a show today we have very different expectations that we had a few years ago because there is so much out there and listeners have so many more things to choose from.” Among the factors Stitcher considers is whether someone has a large social media following. “I don’t want to say the podcast world is entirely tied to existing celebrity, but it certainly does help when there is already a base of folks who know who you are and you’re just coming at them in a new way,” she said.

Conal Byrne, CEO of iHeartMedia Digital Audio Group, agreed the challenge to get discovered has become larger. But he thinks there may be solutions close at hand as the big tech platforms like Google, Facebook and YouTube move deeper into the industry. “Those three platforms were relatively MIA in podcasting until recently,” he said. “That’s why you see investment in this industry, because this whole discovery problem may be get helped – maybe not fixed – but enough to open up a bunch of listeners.”

Not everyone thinks improved search engines and other technology are the fixes needed. LWC Chief Executive Juleyka Lantigua said one of their shows just hit a million downloads while other new series hit the quarter of a million mark.

“The key is you have to know who you are launching it for,” said Lantigua. “I have argued that there is not a podcast discoverability problem, there’s an audience discovery problem. You don’t build it and they will come. That’s an old baseball movie. You have to figure out who you are building it for.” She said LWC also does thinks like send save-the-date emails and listening remainders.

Marketing Helps

One lesson that is well established is that marketing a podcast can make a world of difference. For the iHeartPodcast Network, that has meant blanketing its 850 radio stations with ads promoting new podcasts.

“I’ve been surprised at the power of broadcast radio to market to podcast listeners, and a lot of them are new podcast listeners,” said Byrne. “When you can level 150 GRP at a new podcast for multiple weeks in a row, that’s a multimillion dollar marketing campaign that would have otherwise had to try to get there through word of mouth. In the past three years I have seen that make a big difference for us.”

United Talent Agency Head of Emerging Platforms Oren Rosenbaum said when UTA is deciding which podcasters to work with, their ability and willingness to market themselves is a critical factor. He also said that when pairing a project to a specific network, it has become more akin to “matchmaking” than running an auction.

Programmatic Is Changing Sales

The Interactive Advertising Bureau estimates only two percent of podcast ads were sold programmatically last year, but executives said during a Podcast Movement panel that they see that level growing quickly.

“We’re seeing that the demand is there,” said van Mosel. “Brands want to get into the space, and we have the technology to provide brand safe measurable inventory at scale.”

During the past five years the introduction of dynamic ad insertion changed how podcasts were monetized, now it is programmatic ad sales that is shifting a lot of buyers from putting a collection of podcast titles on their order to placing buys based on audience demos – or a mix of the two.

Byrne said that “huge shift” in podcast monetization initially “felt bad” for brands and has required some getting used to. But he thinks it will be good for podcasters and advertisers in the long run.

“That’s how most other media works, so you need to talk that language if you want to mature,” Byne said. And he sees a positive side too, as smaller-reach shows have benefited from getting lumped into a buy that would have in the past only gone to the shows with the most downloads.

But Lantigua worries that programmatic sales are often based on “really bad” information. “We are overlooking what should be the most important metric in podcasting – which is unique listeners,” she said.

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