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The Podcast Industry Deploys New Subscription And Brand Growth Strategies

July 10, 2020 Sarah Cavill

Shutterstock_1433456504 two radio hosts in headphones laughing while recording podcast in studio together

Prior to the quarantines, “are you listening to any good podcasts?” was typical watercooler chatter. But, like so many industries, changes in consumer behaviors less commuting, AKA podcast-listening time caused a downturn in the popularity of the once ubiquitous entertainment. According to AdWeek, “audience growth for [podcast] titles across the board dropped by about 15% through most of March.” Prior to the drop off, podcast listenership was at an all time high, growing 16% from 2019 to 2020 to 104 million podcast-listening consumers. 

More recently, consumers have adapted their listening times, and brands have paid attention, with many podcasters now creating content relevant to the ongoing societal changes. Additionally, major acquisitions in the podcasting industry are creating buzz. All the new activity in podcasting is generating new advertising opportunities and potential for subscription growth.

Spotify Adapts To New Consumer Behaviors As Podcast Listening Times Change

Spotify made news last year when, despite not being profitable, the popular music streaming service acquired Parcast, Gimlet Media, Anchor and The Ringer in order to get into the podcasting game. The risk paid off, with Spotify reporting that podcast consumption was up 200% in Q4 compared to the year prior. 

Spotify leaders noticed that, during the pandemic, habits around podcast consumption changed. “It’s clear from our data that morning routines have changed significantly,” Spotify said in its first quarter earnings release. “Every day now looks like the weekend.” Listeners are taking in their podcast content during daily activities like cooking, tidying up and while spending time with family. “What we’ve seen through the pandemic is that people are really sitting down and listening to podcasts in a group,” said Dawn Ostroff, Spotify’s Chief Content Office. “It’s been clear to us that there’s real opportunity in family consumption.” Ostroff also believes that many of the new podcast-listening habits will stick around, even when people start commuting again, with listeners enjoying the additional time to take in more content. Spotify has made subscribing as groups even easier with the recent introduction of Premium Duo, a $12.99 a month subscription for two that is essentially a shared Premium account. Spotify already offers family plans and free account options.

In a move clearly motivated by the new normal of work from home life, Spotify recently leveraged their creation platform Anchor, launching a feature that allows people to turn video chats into podcast-ready audio. “Anchor's video conversion tool is mostly aimed at podcasters who are using video calling services like Zoom to interview guests or have conversations with co-hosts, but it may have applications for mobile marketers that produce branded podcasts as well. New Amsterdam Vodka debuted the first branded podcast series on Spotify two years ago, and several marketers have since followed,” reported MobileMarketer.

SiriusXM Makes Major Acquisitions Of Podcast Streaming Services And Startups 

Recently, it was announced that SiriusXM is finalizing a deal to purchase Stitcher Media, a podcast listening app with tiered services that, according to The Wall Street Journal, “distributes and sells advertising for more than 250 podcasts.” The Wall Street Journal reported on the Stitcher acquisition, indicating that “The satellite-radio giant [SiriusXM] is working to expand into the rapidly growing podcasting industry, following similar moves by media and tech companies including Spotify Technology SA and iHeartMedia Inc.” 

SiriusXM tipped their hand to future investments in podcasts with a Disney deal last year that gave the broadcasting company exclusive podcasts from Marvel Entertainment for use across SiriusXM assets. In 2018, SiriusXM snapped up Pandora, which has thousands of podcasts and 60 million monthly active users (MAU). The addition of a robust podcast stable allows SiriusXM to continue scaling its already hefty 29 million subscriptions. 

SiriusXM has also acquired SimpleCast, a “platform that enables podcasters to publish, manage, and measure their content.” SimpleCast will integrate with AdsWizz, SiriusXM’s monetization platform, creating opportunities for podcasters and publishers to effectively monetize podcasts and get effective reporting on listenership and outcomes. In a statement about the acquisition, SiriusXM said, “Simplecast and AdsWizz will form SiriusXM's publisher solution business, a full-service platform designed to meet the needs of podcast creators of all sizes. The acquisition expands and strengthens SiriusXM's and Pandora's tools and monetization services for podcasters and publishers.” 

Podcasts For The Pandemic Gaining In Popularity

Shutterstock_761840059 Podcast app in a mobile phone at the office.

With an array of podcast streaming services to choose from and many listeners adopting new times and places to enjoy their podcasts, it stands to reason that podcasters have also and will continue to adapt to the changing times. (Particularly since podcasts can easily be recorded with social distancing in place, unlike other forms of entertainment.) And, at a time when some consumers may be scaling back on subscription expenses because of economic worries or streaming saturation, creating content that aligns with consumer preferences can help secure new or renewed accounts. 

The New York Times reports on several new podcasts created to reach listeners where they are in their lives, with subjects that are top of mind around the world. For example, “The Distance: Coronavirus Dispatches” from Vice News presents bite-sized audio “postcards” from people impacted by coronavirus, from bus drivers to a doctor in Arizona. Some healthcare providers and medical professionals are also creating podcasts to help people cope with anxieties during this unknown time or to provide guidance on navigating telehealth. And, the racial justice protests of the last month led to increased attention for the best and most insightful podcasts by Black creators, thinkers and voices

In the midst of what has been an interesting year, consumers have adjusted and adapted their behaviors to make their lives work, including becoming more comfortable with online shopping and finding podcasts that make them feel better. For subscription-based streaming services that offer podcasts, connecting with consumers authentically and efficiently with meaningful, varied content and tiered packages may be the key to building lasting consumer loyalty.

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About the Author

Sarah Cavill

With more than 20 years of writing, editing and reporting experience, Sarah Cavill brings to Digital Media Solutions (DMS) a fine-tuned and diverse set of skills. Her work has been featured in notable publications including The Daily Muse, CBS Local, Techlicious and Glamour magazine. Sarah has a passion for current events and the deep-dive research that goes into the content development and brand identity of DMS Insights. In her role as Associate Content Manager, Sarah contributes to the pitching, researching and writing of multiple stories published each week surrounding digital and performance marketing innovations in pop culture, news, social media, branding and advertising.

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