Publishers have been in the podcast game for years. Fairfax Media and News Corp Australia both had breakout hits in 2016, with their respective true crime podcasts Phoebe's Fall and Bowraville making headlines.
Listeners, however, are now expecting more – more content, more production and more variety.
The on-demand audio industry is growing. Podcasting in the US is a multi-million dollar industry. A joint PwC and Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) report found that podcast revenues increased 86 per cent from 2016 to 2017, reaching $314 million. This strong growth is expected to continue, with revenues estimated to climb 110 per cent to $659 million by 2020.
Australia is a fledgling market compared to the US, despite the success of podcasts such as The Australian’s The Teacher’s Pet, which achieved more than 17 million downloads worldwide. Podcasts accounted for 3.2 per cent of audio share in 2017.
An IAB Australia study titled released in June shows that almost half of all media agencies have used podcasting for clients, up 10 per cent from 2016 to 48 per cent in 2017.
No figures on total podcast revenues are available in Australia, with the aforementioned study focusing on the intention of media buyers. Thirty-four per cent of media buyers have experimented with the format. The amount of buyers planning to enter the space has improved nine per cent to 38 per cent.
On the flip side, the number of media buyers who are shunning the medium has more than halved. In 2016, 33 per cent said they had no experience and no plans to experiment with the format. This number fell to 15 per cent in 2017.
Paul Whittaker, editor-in-chief of The Australian, says media buyers in Australia are not informed enough about the medium. “In three years, I think the global market for advertising in podcasts has grown from $US100 million to $US350 million. This is a big, big market and obviously Australia is relatively small part of that market, but there is advertising potential there and I think it is a bit of a learning curve in terms of advertisers’ understanding.
Robert Loewenthal is the founder of Whooshkaa, a “full service audio on-demand company” that helps content creators monetise their output through advertising. He believes that it is only a matter of time until Australian media buyers realise to true potential of the medium.
“We will be a big podcasting market within another two years because the advertisers are waking up to it,” Mr Loewenthal said.
The number of buyers regularly considering the platform has more than doubled.
“The US market is two years ahead of us. It is more developed, they have been into podcasting a lot longer, they produce a wider array of content. But Australia is catching up and we are starting to do much better things,” according to Mr Loewenthal.
The various types of podcast advertising and the level of listener engagement it offers makes the format attractive to clients.
Pre- and post-roll credits, similar to that of traditional radio advertising, remains the most used advertising format at 19 per cent, followed by native and live reads at 13 per cent and branded and bespoke podcasts at 10 per cent. But, when it comes to intent to use in the next 12 months, native comes out on top, while 60 per cent are considering branded content.
Podcasts in Australia: the numbers
Australians love a good podcast.
According to the ABC’s 2017 podcast research, 89 per cent of Australians over 18 are aware of the medium, with 58 per cent willing to trial the format.
Those who are listening to podcasts are high frequency consumers, with 79 per cent tuning-in to at least one episode per week. On average, listeners are engaging with six podcast series and four podcasts episodes per week.
While most people (77 per cent) are listening to podcasts at home, the next most common spot is in private transport, either a car, truck or taxi. Listening on public transport and during exercise skews younger, while bedtime listening is more popular with older consumers.
Consumers are listening to more and more podcasts, with 61 per cent stating they downloaded more than they did last year. Women and those aged 14-34, in particular, are consuming more podcasts.
These listening habits have added advantages for advertisers, isolating consumer attention to storytelling and messaging.
Andrew Mula, Fairfax’s head of commercial video said the key to podcasting is “creating experiences that are native to when and where audiences are consuming”.
“All of our clients are getting a greater understanding about [the ability to] still be in hearts and minds without people looking directly at screens and being able to go about doing other things in their day and around their own lifestyle is really valuable to an advertiser,” he said.
Audiences in these environments are more engaged and receptive. A 2016 US study from podcast company Midroll Media found that “podcast listeners have spectacular brand recall”.
“Podcasts are a uniquely intimate medium. They are most often consumed alone, using headphones or earbuds, with hosts speaking very directly to listeners,” the study found.
It’s all about the trust relationship.
“This format creates a friend-like relationship between hosts and listeners, and podcast listeners come to trust their favourite hosts. Brands benefit from the influence and trusted relationship that exists between hosts and listeners when they run ad campaigns on podcasts,” the study said.
Midroll surveyed 11,123 listeners of its podcast stable to assess their recall of four of the company’s active campaigns.
Ninety per cent of respondents listened to the advertisements of the target brand. Eighty per cent were able to recall at least one brand advertised in an episode, while 67 per cent were able to name a specific product feature or promotion. The brand affinity created meant that more than half of respondents were somewhat or much more likely to buy the target brand.
This is because advertising in the format targets specific audiences who can relate to the content. Seventy per cent of listeners agree that the ads they are served are generally relevant to their interests, according to a 2016 joint Edison Research and IAB study.
"Still be in hearts and minds without people looking directly at screens."
Hover over photos to meet our podcast experts.
Dynamic vs integrated: the switch to automated ad delivery
“The moral of the story has been that there was an advertiser that saw an opportunity that some may have regarded as taking a risk. Harvey Norman has had a fantastic return on investment."
As podcasts have continued to grow and develop, so too has ad delivery.
Standard pre-roll, mid-roll and ad read are still viable and effective. But, the opportunity to insert dynamic creative provides advertisers more flexibility than is possible through other audio channels.
Dynamic insertion allows for different advertisements to be inserted into a podcast at particular intervals rather than integrated in to the audio file and for geo-targeting. The process means ads are always up to date and targeted.
“Right now it is dynamic insertion,” according to Whooshkaa’s Robert Lowenthal. “We have the technology so that if you listen in one place you get one ad, if you listen in another you get a different ad.
“We control that process, it is not a trading desk or an agency that is programmatically buying.
“It is still that you buy a campaign across Australia, but you can serve different creative for different geographic locations.
“That's where the power of the targeting that we have comes in handy. Radio just can't do it because it is all via a transmitter. I think that is a big area for opportunity and we are starting to see that happen more and more.”
The latest Standard Media Index (SMI) figures show ad spend in radio by agencies is up 3.1 per cent in July. Mr Lowenthal believes the radio industry should not be worried, with podcast spend coming from digital budgets.
The alternative to dynamic insertion is the more traditional, radio-esque route.
True crime serial, The Teacher’s Pet, has been a breakout hit for The Australian. The series has garnered more than 17 million streams since it launched in May, and has gained audiences from all over the world.
The series explores the 36-year-old missing persons case of Sydney mother, Lynette Dawson. Journalist Hedley Thomas dissects the police investigation and the allegations of murder and school girl romances directed at her husband, ex-football player Chris Dawson.
The series used a combination of traditional pre-roll and dynamic insertion to monetise the series.
All News Corp Australia mastheads have partnered with Whooshkaa to host podcasts. This was beneficial for The Australian as it allowed the hosting platform to insert dynamic advertising for international listeners.
“If you are listening in the states you are getting an ad for Audible, if you listen in Australia you are getting an ad for Harvey Norman,” Mr Lowenthal explained.
Despite the heavy subject manner, The Teacher’s Pet secured Harvey Norman as the major sponsor of the series. The furniture chain’s CEO, Katie Page, personally read the pre-roll message before each episode.
The Australian’s Paul Whittaker explained that Ms Page’s prior knowledge of the medium was her advantage.
“She is a huge fan of podcasts herself, so was very happy to be involved in supporting it initially, taking what others might have regarded as risk. It has been a huge winner for Harvey Norman,” he said.
The News Corp Australia masthead and Fairfax both agreed that editorial-led podcasts find it harder to attract advertisers, many of whom worry about brand safety.
Fairfax commercial content director Kate Cox says advertisers with a love for storytelling are more likely to get on board.
“It is harder to find that client who is really embracing of storytelling and happy to support without really knowing what is coming, in terms of the editorial-led, quite gritty news podcasts.”
This was evident with The Teacher’s Pet, with many media buyers uneasy about associating their clients with a story about a potential murder.
“I think they [media buyers] have a very poor understanding of the market that they are claiming to service,” Mr Whittaker said. “They have a sense that this could somehow be damaging to their brands”.
He said that buyers are missing an opportunity to target a whole market.
“Primarily, the people who listen to true crime podcasts are women. The people who read true crime non-fiction are women. Women actually like true crime, they have a fascination with it in many respects and yet advertisers don't seem to have got the memo in this regard.
“The moral of the story has been that there was an advertiser that saw an opportunity that some may have regarded as taking a risk. Harvey Norman have had a fantastic return on investment, far greater than their investment,” said Mr Whittaker.
Storytelling still at the forefront of branded content
“It's never going to be a straight up ad,” says Abbie Allen, marketing manager for accounting platform brand Xero. “It's really, genuinely, telling that story and delivering value through that.”
Branded content is proving to be a success for publishers and brands alike. Building brand affinity and awareness rather than leading with an offer, the format allows brands to tell a story while associating with the trusted name of quality content providers.
Fairfax’s Kate Cox says the publisher will not create a podcast just for the sake of branding.
“Consumers of podcasts will call bullshit on branding more than any other medium. So it will always be content-led first,” she said
The message is simple. “You need to be interesting straight away or people won't listen.”
In the past 12 months, Fairfax and News have each engaged with brands to create branded podcasts directed toward small business audiences.
Mentor Next Door is a six-part series created by News Corp Australia’s digital marketing team, NewsXtend, in collaboration with Xero. The podcast, which launched in April, was used to support the company’s transition from an accounting software service to a business platform for small business.
Fairfax’s series Bold Businesses launched its second season at the end of August in partnership with Vodafone Australia, following a successful season one in 2017. Vodafone was undertaking a wide scale brand campaign to appeal to small business owners and had set their agency a challenge – find an innovative format outside of TV.
“We were very keen to do TV to build a broadcast message but I was looking at a more targeted opportunity to build a longer narrative around small business,” explains Natasa Zunic, Vodafone Australia’s general manager, brand and marketing.
Each company drew upon their own networks and publisher connections to identify and showcase exceptional small business owners. Despite targeting similar demographics, each have their point of difference.
Mentor Next Door is focused on “tackling the key challenges in running a small business” through unearthing and discussing the “biggest pain points” of small- and medium-sized businesses. Fairfax and Vodafone’s series Bold Businesses, on the other hand, identifies successful entrepreneurs and draws learnings from their business journeys.
Neither brand had set out to specifically make a podcast series, each taking the advice of publishers to tell an innovative story.
Each found that partnering with publishers helped them to target their respective audiences as they offered enhanced reach and scale.
The Xero partnership with NewsXtend was a success in the eyes of Ms Allen.
“They definitely had the ability to scale the reach that would have been difficult for us to do otherwise.
“We tracked really positive for everything, all the metrics and the goals we looked to achieve when we first started working with News. It was a really positive experience for us and I would definitely say it had a positive return on investment.
“We were pretty clear on what we were trying to achieve with the campaign as a whole and we were happy with how we landed.”
Publishers also know their audiences and are able to tailor content to appeal directly to them. Both publishers utilised their networks to distribute additional editorial content through mastheads and social channels to ensure advertisers were getting the most out of their campaigns.
“In terms of branded content, the advertisers come to us because of our subject matter experts and because of our expertise in what content works,” said Ms Cox.
What is the best advice to give to an advertiser or media buyer considering the format?
“Be open to ideas and think about the story you are trying to tell, because the story is what will make it engaging and something people will want to listen to,” Ms Allen said.
Ms Zunic agreed, stating that communication is key.
“My advice would be set up the way we would work upfront. We set the parameters of how we would work together, we set the parameters about what the commercial content would look like, while maintaining the credibility of that content within the platform and being really upfront about where our challenges and opportunities were and sharing insights.”