Is Digital Audio Music to Advertisers’ Ears or Just Noise?

illustration of mobile phone with podcast app

Here’s an easy question: did you listen to music on your phone or another streaming device in the last few days? (Bonus points if you listen to the monthly NetCon Mixtape on Spotify!) How about a podcast? If you listened to one recently, you are a part of the 73 million Americans who listen to a podcast at least once a month. There will be 201.5 million US digital audio listeners (of music, podcasts and audiobooks) this year according to eMarketer, making up 76.6% of all internet users. By 2023, that number is likely to grow to 216.2 million or nearly 64% of the entire US population.

Naturally, marketers are excited about that kind of reach. But connecting with digital audio listeners is somewhat complicated. Here’s the breakdown by type of media:

  • While streaming music subscriptions grew by 50.5% in 4Q 2018 vs 4Q 2017, ad-supported music subscriptions experienced slower growth, up just 18.2% for the same period according to BuzzAngle Music. Digital audio advertising simply has not grown at a rate corresponding to the amount of time users spend with digital audio content. US users spend 18% of their time on mobile devices listening to music apps such as Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music, according to comScore. The corresponding increase in ad spend would equal to about $10 billion in revenues for those apps alone, speculates eMarketer, admitting that direct comparison is imperfect since some popular music streaming services are subscription-only. But still. The IAB estimates that digital audio made just $1.6 billion in 2017.
  • Podcasting on the whole seems to be better positioned for advertisers. As one of the fastest-growing advertising media, US podcasting is likely to see ad spending revenues grow to $659 million by 2020, from just half that in 2017. Its highly engaged, affluent millennials demographics is like catnip to advertisers, who also value podcasts’ strong ROI and the “more organic” advertising experience of the hosts reading the ads. Yet, despite the success of direct-to-consumer brands such as Casper, Dollars Shave Club and MailChimp with the form, podcasting has not attracted the ad dollars of big, mainstream brands.

Several challenges are slowing down advertising in the digital audio category, including a fragmented publisher landscape, not enough programmatic buying options and insufficient measurement, all of which the industry is working hard to resolve.

Until it does, consider dipping your toes in digital audio via alternatives, such as branded podcasts or sponsored content. Gimlet Media and Anchor, a producer of branded content and a podcasting services firm, respectively, can make it easy for brands to make their own podcasts. Both were recently purchased by Spotify. Branded podcasts have a good track record: for example, Trader Joe’s podcast, for example, ranks in the top 1 percent of all podcast downloads, regardless of genre. GE’s fictional show, “The Message,” is regarded by many as the most successful branded podcast ever, garnering more than 8 million downloads since its release. A the best branded podcasts, have three things in common, says AdAge: they go easy with the sales pitch, sound authentic, and talk about issues relevant to their target audiences.

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