It’s time to stop lumping podcasts in with other audio formats

Podcasting deserves respect - and its own budget line

PodPod has officially been up and running for six months, and in that time, I’ve spoken to many different organisations within the world of podcasting and its associated fields. It’s been a wonderfully enlightening experience. However, it hasn’t been without its frustrations, and one of my biggest bugbears has been the lack of available data on many aspects of the podcast industry.

Like any sector, podcasting needs to base its business decisions on hard data, but for a digital medium, there’s a surprising amount of gaps where information just isn’t available. I’ve railed against this problem in previous columns, and I’m not alone in my frustration; it’s one of the reasons why Tom Webster’s excellent analysis work over at Sounds Profitable has been so well-received by the wider community. 

One of the biggest factors that contributes to this ongoing lack of data is that, in many cases, podcasting is lumped in with other audio channels for the purposes of data collection, such as radio or music streaming. Indeed, the BBC - which has its own highly successful podcast operation - did just that in a feature last week, referencing revenue projections for “the music, radio and podcast market”. 

The feature in question was on the growing professionalisation of podcasting, but it seems the industry isn’t quite mature or established enough to justify breaking out a separate revenue line for. How much of that quoted $108bn revenue projection is attributable to podcasts? There’s no way to be sure - and as such, no reason to put greater investment into podcasting as a category.

This is an ongoing problem; the IAB itself only added podcasting as a discrete part of its annual Digital Ad Spend report in 2021, and most media agencies and advertisers don’t track how much they’re spending on podcasts specifically, preferring to group it together with other digital audio channels. On a personal level, this is quite frustrating for me, because it makes it very hard to gauge which agencies or brands are putting the most investment into podcast advertising - but I’m beginning to suspect the true answer is that, outside of the likes of BetterHelp, podcasts are still seen as the least important element of a potential media mix, and the one that’s easiest to overlook.

It’s easy to see why podcasting is often combined with digital audio - they seem natural bedfellows, in the same way that linear TV and Netflix might be complementary. As with TV and streaming, however, they’re based on completely different interaction and monetisation models, and involve different types of relationships between media and consumer. 

However, media and advertising agencies can often treat podcasting and music streaming as functionally identical - particularly if they’re just using Spotify’s ad platform to run the same creative across both. While this is undoubtedly easier for media planners, it speaks to a lack of attention being paid to podcasting’s potential benefits for advertisers. Most agencies don’t have a dedicated team managing audio activity, and in fact, many don’t even have a designated podcast specialist within the organisation. 

Podcasting still isn’t seen by most agencies as a unique channel that’s worth engaging with on its own terms. For example, I was talking to the co-founders of a creative agency this week, with a number of household name clients, and to my surprise, podcasting wasn’t something that had ever come up as part of their briefs. However, they said they’d produced a number of traditional radio ads - many of which were doubtless recycled for programmatic podcast campaigns.

Podcasting needs more champions in adland. There are a few organisations, such as Lego and the WWF, who have spoken about why they feel podcasting is the right medium for delivering their message, but examples of marketers who want to publicly talk about their podcast activity are few and far between. We know just from listening to podcasts that these companies are advertising on them, but the fact that nobody’s willing to talk about why makes it seem like advertisers are ashamed of it; as if podcast ads are some kind of sleazy, underhanded option. Better data to prove ROI might help to get advertisers to open up, but it’s clear that it’s providing enough ROI to justify a certain level of spending already.

Podcasts are here to stay, and so is podcast advertising - and it’s well past time for media planners to give it the respect it deserves. That means giving it its own budget line, putting more money behind that line, and not trying to sweep the fine work they’ve been doing under the proverbial rug.