NAB podcast ad panel

Podcast industry leaders say they’ve made strong progress addressing concerns about how the medium is measured and that advertiser demand continues to grow. But there are mixed feelings about the use of programmatic buying as podcasters look to make their shows and networks easier to buy without sacrificing the purity of the product.

“The good news for podcasters and buyers is measurement challenges are 97% solved,” Lex Friedman, chief revenue officer of podcast network Midroll said this week at the NAB Show in Las Vegas. While the yardstick remains downloads, the industry has begun to rally around a standardized download metric, using The Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Podcast Measurement Guidelines. “What we can report now is more specific than we could before,” Friedman said during the “Ahead in 2018: This Year in Podcasting” session.

As advertiser interest in podcasts continues to grow, brands aren’t just buying podcasts based on the show or subject matter but are beginning to buy audiences, such as women aged 18-34 who like coffee. “We’re finding a lot of interest among brands to get that level of granularity,” said Brendan Monaghan, CEO of podcast network Panoply. “It’s early and there is a lot of education needed with the brands.” While cost per thousand (CPM) rates are only $3-$10 on the low end for pre-recorded spots, advertisers are paying $35 and higher CPMs for premium shows on the Panoply network, Monaghan said.

One of the top attractions for marketers remains ads voiced by the show hosts that are natively integrated into the content. “What makes the ads so effective is it’s the host’s voice that you’re used to hearing so the ads are naturally part of the show,” Friedman said. “It doesn’t seem so jarring.”

Added Rob Walch VP Podcaster Relations at Libsyn: “We’ve had 10 years of experience of host read ads and stitched-in ads and the advertisers come back with host read.”

The podcast execs voiced mixed feelings about the use of programmatic buying of the medium. On one hand, they see it as a way to attract new advertisers and keep revenue growing. But there are concerns that automated insertion of aggressive sounding ads that don’t fit the podcast aesthetic could be a tune-out. “There are reasons that podcasting is seeing such strong revenue and audience growth,” Friedman said. “The more we do to make podcasting less like podcasting, the slower that growth will be.”

But Triton Digital president of Market Development John Rosso, whose company operates programmatic audio ad marketplace a2x, pointed out that young digital ad buyers want to buy podcasting programmatically. And Triton’s team is actively evangelizing podcasting to Demand Side Platforms or DSPs as they’re known in digital ad circles. Rosso suggested the industry adopt “some level of buying automation to ease the workflow” that would be a happy medium between a DSP model and the traditional spot buying used by radio. “We need something in between to get the inventory on the buyer’s desktop that makes it easy to transact,” Rosso said.

With podcasting ad revenues estimated at only $250 million last year compared to billions for radio, Monaghan agreed the industry can’t sit still. “What got us here will not get us to where we want to go,” he said.