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Podcast Upfronts Reinforce Channel’s Mass Reach Potential

5 MINUTE READ | May 14, 2024

Podcast Upfronts Reinforce Channel’s Mass Reach Potential

Podcast Upfronts Reinforce Channel’s Mass Reach Potential

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Mallory Bransom, Brand Media Senior Manager

Mallory Bransom has written this article. More details coming soon.

The 2024 Podcast Upfronts took place last Thursday, May 9, in New York City, with everyone from podcast networks to technology companies and celebrity hosts gracing the stage. While growth for the channel decelerated in 2023, presentations showed that there continues to be an upside for this channel as a unique medium to access truly opted-in audiences.On the heels of the event, the IAB also released their eighth annual IAB U.S. Podcast Advertising Revenue study, which predicts double-digit ad revenue growth in 2024, with the channel on pace to exceed $2 billion by the end of the year and $2.6 billion by 2026. In his session, Conal Byrne, iHeartPodcast’s CEO, noted that time spent listening to podcast content was up 2x in the past 5 years, with 135 million Americans listening to a podcast each month and dubbed podcasts ‌“the newest mass reach medium.” 

  • Similar to trends we saw in the Newfronts earlier this month, sports programming continued its dominance into the audio space with partners touting investment in new sports shows and dedicated verticals that'll allow brands to leverage athlete talent, as well as integrate within relevant league news and BTS content that fans love. 

  • There was a key focus on the investments being made in the advancement of measurement and audience mapping to enable more robust and straightforward ways to target specific audiences.

  • As consumption trends and the ways that listeners engage with podcasts and hosts continue to evolve, partners promoted various new formats and capabilities outside of audio, such as social, video, and event activations, which will give brands new ways to access these valuable fan bases. 

While comedy saw the most substantial growth, according to the IAB Podcast Revenue Report, many networks are doubling down on their investment in sports, unveiling their new slate of support within this vertical. iHeart, Wondery, and Paramount all noted a key focus on women's sports and corresponding content, with the category’s popularity continuing to grow. iHeart announced the launch of the Women’s Sports Audio Network with plans to launch new programming featuring female athletes as well as broadcasters. Wondery’s new show, The Offensive Line with Annie Agar, will launch in August and be focused on happenings in the NFL on the field as well as social media with a comic twist only Agar can bring. CBS promoted their new women’s soccer podcast, Attacking Third, covering the NWSL, WSL, U.S. Women's National Team, and more. These new offerings note a welcome shift in focus toward women’s sports and female athletes as well as unlock a new way for brands to engage with women’s sports enthusiasts in a more personal way.  

Measurement was a key pillar of the conversation, with a growing focus on quantifying and proving ‌the impact of audio advertising. Within NPR’s presentation, they shared results from tapping into Adelaide’s new product that helps brands understand the quality of ad placements via their attention metrics and value of media with the goal of driving more demand. Wondery, which is under the Amazon umbrella, revealed that their inventory is now integrated within the Amazon DSP with measurement of purchase data resulting from ads coming out later this year as a result of the partnership. Seekr, an AI company, shared how its technology can enhance brand safety for buyers with its ability to synthesize show transcripts, understand intent and civility in conversations, and ultimately tabulate a Civility Score. This offering allows advertisers to further scale funding in podcasts without assuming additional risk with the content. 

Also discussed was the emphasis on building out verticalized models that align with the most popular genres and consumer interests to create more straightforward targeting approaches. iHeart is continuing to build out the robust networks under their umbrella, including The Black Effect (Black-owned), My Cultura (LatinX), Outspoken (LGBTQIA+), A Healthier Mind (mental health), and their new Women’s Sports Audio Network. These verticals allow brands to reach specific consumer groups and programming types of focus. iHeart is also investing in their own data to unlock deeper audience capabilities for advertisers, including crafting audience personas and building lookalikes of existing audiences for amplified reach.

Similarly, SXM is creating new content groupings called “Curated Collections” that'll enable advertisers to more easily hone in on inventory “within a specific content area, audience or creator type.” Cumulus has also created verticals for its most popular genres with their Everything Sports, Let us Entertain You, and Show Me the Money collections. These content groupings are built on audience interests and themes, and provide more relevant audience and contextual alignment opportunities to both streamline and enhance the relevancy of podcast buys for brands. 

Knowing that one of the most powerful advantages of podcasting as a medium is the loyal audiences and influence that hosts have, various companies discussed how they are building out more 360-degree capabilities to take full advantage of this scope outside individual episodes themselves. With Amazon’s acquisition of Wondery, they unveiled their newest touchpoints for podcast campaigns, including social videos, custom branded merchandise, and custom event activations. Libsyn Ads pushed the importance of enhancing your podcast strategies with video and social extensions as the growth in podcast consumption on YouTube continues to accelerate. 

Related: Takeaways from the 2024 IAB NewFrontsRecently, many popular podcasts have also been adapted into TV series and movies, showcasing how the shows transcend the confines of the audio realm. Wondery, which has already had six limited series produced based on their podcasts, announced the production of two new TV shows, including “Dying for Sex” which will star Michelle Williams. ESPN’s The Sterling Affairs is also being adapted into a scripted TV series with FX, which will include a companion podcast with each episode for BTS interviews and stories. The launches of these shows may create halo effects on listenership for the podcasts themselves.

By continuing to expand distribution points, podcast companies are allowing brands to diversify their strategies to create more robust, 360-degree approaches with unique vehicles to engage users across the consumer journey.

Consistent with previous years, partners also seized the opportunity to create buzz around the latest slate of content they'll be releasing, calling on celebrity hosts like Nick Viall, Charlamagne Tha God, and Lala Kent to create excitement. Paramount teased The Weekly Show with Jon Stewart, a new comedy podcast coming out in June, as well as boasting that Stephen Colbert will now be doing host reads within his show. LatinX podcast network Sonoro announced its new financial literacy show in collaboration with Suma and a new scripted sci-fi thriller called Zone of Silence that'll feature Mario Lopez, Eric Winter, and Camila Victoriano. SXM also announced Where Everybody Knows Your Name, their new Cheers rewatch podcast hosted by Woody Harrelson and Ted Danson. And lastly, ESPN shared that they'll be releasing a podcast on the story of hockey player Hobey Baker, which will be narrated by The X Files star David Duchovny.

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With the industry optimistic about the growth of Podcasting as a channel in the upcoming years, the Upfronts presentations gave advertisers a preview of the key areas that'll likely help fuel the medium’s trajectory.   

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