Shifts in Podcasting Amid COVID-19, featuring Cynthia Johnson from Bell + Ivy

  • By Emily French
  • in
  • on April 21, 2020

Digital transformation is largely the reason why there are so many unique enclaves and communities today. Just a brief time ago, audiences were limited to just 20 channels on cable and now we’re living in a world where audiences have well over 900,000 podcasts to choose from. Whether you’re a fan of true crime, Tiger King, or knitting, there’s a podcast for you. And prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, podcast advertising was seeing a huge come-up, with listenership increasing by 16% (104 million listeners) in 2019. This surge in listeners came with an uptick in advertisers utilizing the channel in their marketing efforts — IAB found that 75% of media buyers last year made podcast ad buys, up from 63% in 2018. 

It’s clear why brands and agencies love the medium. Demographic research shows that 45% of podcast listeners have an HHI of $75,000+ and 85% have attended college, a highly sought-after audience segment that can oftentimes be difficult to reach. And, developing creativity is a quick and simple process requiring very little or no production — in most cases, it’s as simple as writing a script. 

Marketers can get extremely granular in their messaging when tailoring the script to fit the podcast, and Spotify has paved the way for targeting capabilities. Their newest offering, Streaming Ad Insertion (SAI), allows for advertisers to target listeners based on their age, gender, location and listening history. This comes along with improved tracking capabilities with metrics including reach, frequency, impressions, and various audience insights. 

This calls to question: can podcasting mirror the success of radio prior to digital disruption? Our Advisory Board member, Cynthia Johnson from Bell + Ivy weighs in. “I think that data is only as useful as the people who read it. If brands focus on reaching people where they are and consider their mindset, then yes. Radio had the luxury of knowing that at 8am most people are in their cars heading to work. They could speak to their audience. Brands trying this with Spotify will have to look at various data sets to understand the consumer’s behavior at any given time, as well as their location. If that can be done, then yes, it will be very disruptive.”

With advertising budgets shrinking and consumer behavior evolving, podcasting is also being disrupted amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. To start, audiences’ interests have changed. True crime, a growing genre in the podcast world, has seen a 30% drop whereas podcasts related to health, like “This Week in Virology” is seeing upwards of a 900% increase in listenership. 

In the “new normal”, what was once on the fringe has now become the mainstream. 

Podtrac recently reported that downloads have fallen 10% since the beginning of March, while unique listeners fell by 20%. This shift doesn’t come as a surprise as work commutes have come to a full stop, and with a dramatic increase in people being home-bound, media channels like cable saw an unprecedented uplift in ratings amid COVID-19 news coverage.

When we asked Cynthia for her thoughts on where podcasting will be going in the future, she answered, “Podcasts will become more diverse in its purpose and use. Companies will create internal content teams that create internal podcasts and content for employees (we are already seeing this), and marketers will have to start looking at the many places they can find voices to support these podcasts. Influencers on podcasts only do well when the host is known to the audience.”

Podcasts for internal communications is definitely something we can expect to see more of. Many companies have developed podcasts exclusively to share with their internal teams, like Matt Zelesko, the Chief Technology Officer of Comcast Cable. On the podcast Z Time, Matt talks industry predictions, interviews thought leaders and shares career insights as exclusive content for his team members. 

millennium-live-podcast

In times like this, it’s so easy for employees to feel disconnected from the workplace, and in many cases, company vision and strategy has become foggy. Creating a format where companies’ leaders can metaphorically sit down and have an informal conversation with their employees is invaluable during this time, and we can expect others to follow suit.

Fun Fact: Cynthia’s favorite podcast right now is Xander Schultz’ “What We Don’t Know”

Need a second opinion on digital marketing, personal branding, or PR strategy? Go here to check out what Bell + Ivy is doing. 

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PUBLISHED BY Emily French

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