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Podcasts: a sound medium

From Serial to This American Life and Ted Talks daily – podcasts have never been so popular. So, what exactly is their appeal and how might audio content evolve from here? We asked Andy Bowers, FIPP World Media Congress speaker and chief innovation officer at leading podcasting services and technology company Megaphone, to share his views… 

***Join us at the FIPP World Media Congress, taking place from 12-14 November 2019 in Las Vegas, to hear more from Andy Bowers on the power of podcasts. Register before 25 September for discounted delegate rates. View the full agenda here.***

Tell us about the Megaphone and how you’ve adapted to meet changing market needs in recent years…

We used to be a content creation business, but we no longer are. We got out of that business last year, mainly because we really had two businesses – content creation and a tech business that saw us do podcast hosting and ad insertion – and they were competing with each other. We made a choice to concentrate on the technology business. So currently, Megaphone, which we rebranded as a few months ago (from Panoply), is primarily focused on technology hosting and ad insertion for the enterprise end of the market. Some of the biggest podcast-producing businesses in the world are on our platform and we’re now fully focused on the technological developments and enhancements that these complex businesses need to run their content efficiently and to deliver all the analytics and measurement they need to run a big operation like that.

Your proposition is built around monetisation, measurement and return-on-investment. Is that driving a shift in the cost model and/or advertising trends?

The actual technology of hosting and pushing out a podcast is pretty simple, and anyone can provide that service. Where we add value is in monetisation. We have a product called MTM – Megaphone Targeted Marketplace – which was the first in podcasting to offer audience targeting. The secret to it really is that brand advertisers (as opposed to direct response advertisers) were sitting it out previously because they didn’t have enough data and targeting ability. But in the last year or so we’ve seen amazing growth in that area to the point that a vast majority of our advertising is now brand advertising. Everyone is aware of podcasting and the brands behind the advertising. Direct response advertisers have always been at the table because they have always been able to see the return – in cost per acquisition– and so they have always been willing to pay high CPMs. Now, brands advertisers have the ability to measure the impact too and to target certain listeners and certain demographics. That has made them comfortable and willing to get more involved.

Why are brands and audiences so obsessed with podcasts and audio content in general right now and are we seeing any changes in habits?

I started in radio in the 1980s and when I did a lot of my friends thought ‘what a dying media form’. That kind of remained true for a while because radio has finite real estate. You can put on programming for certain broad categories, but some people will always feel it’s not for them or that they are left out. The BBC in the UK is a good example. It tries really hard to cater for all audiences, but there are a lot of people who feel left out of that programming. Podcasting has suddenly enabled us to bring the benefits of audio, which includes not having to use your eyes and being able to move around and do other things while you consume it, to a diversity of content that speaks to a lot more people. Even though we get these big broad podcasts that have huge popularity, what’s interesting is niche podcasting. Those are the ones that, when the niche audience finds them, they can become their lifeline to something that’s really important to them. Of course, for the first ten years of my career I had to spend a lot of time explaining to people what podcasts were. Not anymore.

Will we see further developments around podcast creation and distribution – driven by tech?

Part of my role is to ensure we are doing the things that help our clients’ creative processes and that optimise their opportunities to reach audiences. Whether it’s ‘direct to car’ technology or smart speakers – technological developments are changing the shape of audio content. So, we keep an eye on those trends and developments and there will be more to come, for sure. And you don’t always know what they will be. Who would have thought that 140 – and now 280 – characters would be a viable communication platform. But it is. If you think back to the beginning of podcasting, when you had to download it on your computer and synch it to your iPod and listen that way, it felt a long way off the way we access audio content now. And technology drives all of that. I think one of the biggest and most important changes was when Apple made their podcast app native on iOS. That’s when suddenly you didn’t have to explain to people how to download it anymore. It was an overnight game-changer. So, it’s not hard to see the importance of technological innovation and where future changes will come from. And my sense is that many more creative and bright people are coming into the medium – and we’re going to see an even greater upsurge in innovation within podcasting.

What content trends are we seeing around podcasting now?

True crime is really interesting in that hasn’t seemed to dim at all. In fact, more and more people are getting into it and the definition is expanding and changing in interesting ways. I guess that’s an iteration of an old trend. In terms of new trends, I think the advent of the daily podcast is going to a place that I’ve wanted podcasting to go for a long time. We started a daily podcast five years ago and people thought we were crazy. But I’ve long felt that one of the things holding podcasts back is that by definition they’re stale the moment you push them out, because it’s pre-recorded. A daily podcast does allow you to have some of the benefits of radio and more and more companies are launching them, led by the New York Times and The Daily but now also in other areas, such as technology dailies, etc. That’s a really interesting trend for me. Not everyone can do it and it requires resources, but it’s a really exciting trend in this area.

Written by Jon Watkins.

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