Podcast News Daily Q&A: Backtracks CEO Jonathan Gill.


The podcasting tech firm Backtracks recently announced it has raised another $1.6 million in investor-initiated funding that is being used to develop new technologies. It is also leading the debut of new features, like a “floating player” that allows users of its white label technology to navigate to other sites and have an uninterrupted listening session even as they multitask. The Austin-based company operates in seven countries and works with companies like Samsung, The Memphis Grizzlies, NASA, and several NPR entities, affiliates, and shows to manage and monetize their audio content. Podcast News Daily caught up with CEO Jonathan Gill to talk about their technology, growing privacy concerns, and whether Backtracks sees itself as a buyer or seller.


First, how would describe what Backtracks does?


Jonathan Gill: We are a technology platform that focuses on advertising. We’re not a host of podcasts. You can think about us like a podcast infrastructure. If you’re a publisher, you can build things on top of us. If you’re an advertiser looking for certain sets of data and capabilities, that’s what we do. What we are trying to do is build a turnkey solution so that advertisers and publishers have better data, and a listener has a better match of advertising and content.


Companies use your white label approach to power their branded player. There are a lot of podcast apps, so is it something that is growing?


Jonathan Gill: It’s growing, and it depends on the size of the publisher. A lot of Backtracks’ complexity and power targets the medium to top end of traffic in publishers. The depth of the technology that we have means that if it’s the first episode of a podcast, you probably don’t need all the bells and whistles. But if you are a multinational organization, the control over the audio experience, the data, and things like that probably matter to your business. As people get bigger, having more control over the experience or having private content or an experience that sends people back to their own properties or apps becomes important.


The big advantage seems to be users get data that they own.


Jonathan Gill: Our data is real-time and it’s not our data, it’s the publisher’s data. As soon as you hit “play” the publisher will get that data. We also capture the mythical engagement and retention data. We don’t resell or repackage that data or reuse cookies or retargeting. Our player isn’t firing a cookie that lets us advertise against their users. We don’t do things like that. We’re not competing with publishers or advertisers. We also don’t create our own audio content.

Why no content?


Jonathan Gill: It is for lots of reasons. First, we would be no good at it. We are good at going click-clack on computers, but content is a different thing. But it also means when people use parts of our platform, Backtracks won’t look at their data and then make a show just like theirs. We are not going to try to turn their listeners into our customers by virtue of them using our technology.


Backtracks monetizes strictly through licensing fees then?


Jonathan Gill: Yes, and it’s probably pretty odd for the market that we are in.


Where’s the big opportunity for Backtracks?


Jonathan Gill: For how popular podcasting is, it’s vastly under-powered on technology. But even things like measurement is not up to par with video or display advertising. Some of it is technology is just behind for podcasting. But that lets podcasting develop in a very interesting and different way. There is not that centralization of a YouTube of podcasting – but it allows for some very different experiences. What we see happening is greater access to data, greater transparency, and predictions for the publishers to help them understand what is doing well. And for the listeners, we see a better listener experience than other forms of media that have needed to monetize.


Backtracks just announced it has raised $1.6 million. How will you be spending that money?


Jonathan Gill: In podcasts people still remember advertising can add value and is not always this thing that takes away from the experience. We’ll be releasing some products that help that vision through that will use technology to better the listener experience and our overall mission is a superior listening experience.


Is the push for better ad tech coming from advertisers or publishers?


Jonathan Gill: On the advertising-oriented data, it’s the advertisers who want better data to prove there’s a return on the investment. There’s a different set of changes from the publishers. Even though we focus a lot on advertising and analytics, we have clients that have no advertising, and the podcast is an ad for themselves. They need better data to know what’s working. So, it’s coming from both directions, but they focus on different sets of data.

Are privacy pressures becoming stronger?


Jonathan Gill: I think so. We’re starting to see people in governments take privacy much more seriously. And people are seeing downsides to the unknown trades they made for something where they don’t know information is being disclosed to many parties and once that genie of their data is out of the bottle, they can’t pull it back in. We see things like GDPR and CCPA that are extending beyond their geographic settings. From a listener and audience perspective, there are a different set of questions that people know what to look for, asking why someone needs that information, and the value of that information exchange. When you think of audio, I think the question is do you need that information to provide a good match of a sponsor and content.

There’s a lot of M&A in the marketplace. Is Backtracks a likely buyer or seller?


Jonathan Gill: We see lots of outcomes. Both of those are outcomes for us seem plausible. If there’s a good fit or partnership we could see that we could be in a state to combine or acquire another set of technology. We’re not the style of company in the current state that would acquire a publisher network that produces content to try to get into that direction. But on a technology side, yes. There’s a lot of things you could do with Backtracks with a larger player that could make sense in the future. So, I could see both for us.


So how does 2021 look?


Jonathan Gill: Podcasts and radio have been strong even throughout the pandemic, and in many cases even stronger. It’s one of the forms of media that is evergreen. While other things may shift, there is a certain attention to audio and a certain place in people’s lives that even when they get shifted around by external circumstances, people are still listening to radio and podcasts. Investors are seeing that growth. It is a great time to be a lover of audio content.

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