“It’s an opportunity rather than a challenge” – RAIN Summit Chicago podcasting panel

chicago live podcast panel 01 640w cropThe RAIN Digital Audio Advertising Summit in Chicago closed with a lively discussion on the state of podcasting. Several luminaries from the field shared their thoughts on the health of the industry, the need for measurement, and whether Apple would continue its dominance.

  • Sarah van Mosel, chief podcast sales and strategy officer for Market Enginuity
  • Korri Kolesa, head of sales for Midroll Media
  • Sarah Shockey, co-host of Marty & Sarah Love Wrestling
  • Anna Sullivan, VP, head of sales for Gimlet Media
  • Mark McCrery, founder & CEO of Authentic/Podtrac

Moderator John MacLeod, founder & CEO of Rivet Radio, kicked off the talk by asking whether podcasting was in a golden age or whether the best is yet to come. The panel’s optimistic outlook was perhaps best summed up by Kolesa: “there’s incredible growth opportunity with what we already have, but the best is yet to come.”

Although there has been a great amount of work done to build consensus, there are still strides to be made in building strong measurement and data tools. Van Mosel shared the insight from her time working with the IAB podcast working group to create standards, which have gone a long way toward ensuring that advertisers are getting “apples to apples” comparisons about their investments. But she noted that “it’s not an all-in-one, closed loop audio,” so the show and its advertisements are often not being played from the same host systems, which poses a challenge for measurement.

Joking that nobody had mentioned “the A-word,” MacLeod asked the panelists for their feelings about Apple and its role hosting the majority of today’s podcast listening. The general consensus shared was that while Apple has been instrumental in supporting the podcast world to get it where it is, there is a definite need for more platforms.

Kolesa opined that “different distribution platforms that will help people discover content,” giving a shout-out to Midroll’s ally Stitcher. Others agreed with the point. “More platforms is important to the industry,” noted McCrery, adding that while there are options available for most listening technology, “the big void is Android.”

Shockey added a personal anecdote to how her show has worked to reach new listeners. “We’ve had a lot of success with mixed media around the podcast,” she said. Thanks to her skills as an artist, the show has striking T-shirts and YouTube videos that create a broader network of supporting content. Since the program is about wrestling, having a strong presence on other platforms where wrestling fans might be hanging out and looking for people to share that passion has helped them reach first-time podcast listeners.

After discoverability, the discussion veered into other tech topics, such as the sudden arrival of smart home speakers and connected cars as listening devices. “Your car’s going to learn what you like,” predicted Sullivan, anticipating that those distribution platforms will get better and better at personalizing to a listener’s taste. Van Mosel also noted that back-end innovators will have interesting challenges in designing the access point for listeners on these new technologies, to get them simply and seamlessly into the exact show they would want to hear.

The talk closed with a question from the audience about her jarring experience hearing an ad for a national mass-market pharmacy chain in a favorite show. Sullivan explained that Gimlet’s policy is to draw clear lines between advertisement and show to avoid just such a break in tone. Shockey, on the other hand, doubles down on making host reads blend with the goofy tone of her show. “We have as much fun doing the ads as the rest of it,” she said. McCrery took a similar view: “it’s an opportunity rather than a challenge.” Citing herself as a pragmatist, van Mosel closed the discussion by noting that the intimacy listeners and hosts might expect in a show’s early days won’t necessarily work at scale. Again, she presented that as a challenge rather than an insurmountable issue, calling on the industry to keep finding creative solutions to those problems.

Anna Washenko