With audio enjoying a more prominent position at New York’s Advertising Week, a familiar convention topic ruled the panel “How Major Digital Players Are Driving Podcasting to Scale.” National Public Media COO Bryan Moffett led the discussion, alongside Pandora senior VP of Ad Innovation Lizzie Widhelm and Stitcher CEO Erik Diehn.
Discussing last month’s news that the E.W. Scripps Co. made Stitcher the parent company of Midroll and co-owned podcast comedy network Earwolf, Diehn explained, “I like to call it essentially a brand rotation. Midroll was a name that we led with for a long time because it resonated with advertisers, with talent. As we expand what we do, as we produce more content and as we build an app, we decided we wanted to lead with a brand that was consumer facing.”
Wildhelm said it is too soon to tell what the impending takeover of Pandora by SiriusXM will mean for the streaming platform, but as far as what they are doing in the podcasting space, the company will continue moving forward with podcasting, focusing on trying to solve some of the issues within the medium. That includes the monetization of podcasts. “I think monetization is working and will be easy once we start scaling up more to take what we learned around music and how to interrupt that appropriately,” she said.
A more pressing issue, Wildhelm believes, is finding an audience. “You would think it would be easy to just listen to a podcast on your phone and subscribe to something, but it isn’t,” she said. “That’s going to be most of where our focus is.”
Diehn added that Stitcher’s aspiration is also expanding its audience. “I think we have a big chunk of incredibly engaged audience that has been growing year over year,” he said. He hopes that his company, along with Pandora and Spotify, are seen as leaders in helping “transform podcast listening from this slightly challenging experience, that has gotten better in the last five years, to something that is as easy as Netflix or as easy as any other on-demand media platform.”
Wildhelm said the company’s early ventures into the podcast world, carrying such successful franchises as “Serial,” showed them just “how hard it is to aggregate audience. Fixing search/discovery… that’s a big undertaking.”
To help solve the problem, Pandora is falling back on its original expertise, and will soon launch The Podcast Genome Project. “Building the Music Genome Project took years,” she explained. “We listen to everything by ear. There are 40 attributes for music. For podcasting content, it is going to be a little different. To be able to make those connections is harder than you think, and it has taken us some time, but we are very close, and we will be launching soon.”
As far as monetization, Wildhelm said the company has learned that it can adapt to content, “meaning certain shows might be best with more of a value exchange type model where you listen to or see a longer ad in return for less interruptions or zero interruptions throughout the show.” As far as interrupting podcasts, that is another issue still being tweaked. “We have played around a lot with that. Where sponsors fit in and ad effectiveness and listener experience, understanding where the sensitivity in terms is of too much, not enough… There is a lot of that type stuff that we are testing.”
Moffet spoke about NPR’s tracking and analytics technology, NPR One. “We can see people’s listening habits,” he said. “Did they jump out half-way through, did they listen all the way?”
And at Stitcher, Diehn said, “We have 10 years of data. We have watched podcasting evolve. One thing that has been consistent over the years is the degree of people listening until the show is compete. It is astonishing, like 80% or 90% of listeners will stick through an entire episode.”
Wildhelm believes that will change as podcast listening shifts from downloading to streaming: “That appointment-based listening where you can allocate three hours because you are getting on a flight is great, but as we scale that out to try and reach 100 million listeners, you’re not going to have three hours of someone’s time in a day.”