The potential for podcasts

Will increased popularity for the platform mean more opportunities for brands? Media buyers and one of Canada's most-listened-to podcasters weigh in.
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Podcasting is seeing a second wave of popularity, thanks largely to the recent success of US-based weekly murder mystery National Public Radio-produced Serial, which has been downloaded a reported five million times, and currently sits at the top of the iTunes chart in Canada.

About 30% of Canadian internet users engage with podcasts on a monthly basis, according to Global Web Index numbers, and Sean Dixon, director of emerging media at OMD Canada, says any platform with that kind of audience level is going to get attention.

So where are the brands? Top podcast Serial has a few sponsors, namely Mailchimp, Amazon’s Audible.com and Squarespace, but is relying on crowdfunding as it attempts to get a second season off the ground.

Dixon says the big challenge in placing ads around podcasting lies in the lack of targeting available. He suggests podcasts could be included in a future evolved model of radio buying that would include all audio, like music streaming, similar to a video buying model that includes online video and TV. That new audio model will see pick-up as consumers continue to use services like Spotify, Songza and Rdio in greater numbers, he says, noting that audio is already being bought using that model in some Canadian markets.

Will Pate, VP of digital strategy at M2 Universal agrees that podcasts are an “interesting opportunity” for brands, but says the challenge lies with the measurement and targeting available.

“There isn’t something like Nielsen OCR reporting on podcasting,” he says. “If you’re a global or digital brand, like a company that does e-commerce, then it is a natural fit. But for us the tech isn’t there yet to track and measure it.”

Jesse Brown, host of the media podcast Canadaland, who has worked with FreshBooks, SquareSpace and Audible in the past, says that he thinks Canadian brands are slow to close podcast sponsorship deals because it is still a relatively new medium, but one based on old ideas. He adds the value of the medium lies not in traditional measurement, but in the intimacy between the podcast and the listener.

“I can’t tell you the name of the advertisers on the five websites I go to everyday, but I know all the names of the advertisers on podcasts,” he says. “It’s one of the last mediums where people are listening to every word and the host is talking directly about the given product or brand.”

Brown says his podcast, which has been active for a year and regularly sits in the top 10 iTunes chart for Canada, gets 20,000 downloads a week for new episodes and about 60,000 a week for all episodes combined.

Nick Barbuto, managing director, Ignition Factory at OMD, says he sees podcast sponsorship spots as one of the most intimate sales pitch experiences he has come across, but notes with the majority of popular options coming from outside of Canada dynamic ad insertion would be necessary to make the placements work for Canadian clients.

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