Why 2018 is the year branded podcasts will finally go global

From Spotify to sports to search, Whooshkaa's Corey Layton considers where the world of podcasting is headed in 2018.

Over the last 12 months the podcast playground has matured into a serious business.

It was a year marked by unprecedented funding, acquisitions, analytics and TV deals. Content too continues to grow, commanding ever-growing audiences and setting new records.

With investigative journalism podcast S-Town capturing a monumental 40 million downloads in its first month, it’s no surprise that publishers and celebrities are swarming to create their own hit series.

The unboxing of voice-activated devices like Google Home and Amazon Alexa over the Christmas break underpins an explosion in podcasting and more broadly, audio-on-demand in 2018. Before we dive into my predictions for this year, let’s take a look back at my predictions for 2017.

  • Technology: As predicted, Apple is supplying creators with more detailed consumption data analytics. This provides a strong foundation on which to build content that resonates and increased monetization. I believe these analytics can and will continue to deepen in future.
  • Discovery: Again as predicted, television networks are taking on new podcast-inspired formats and talent, raising podcastings profile. Voice-activated speakers continue to spread wildly, putting a critical mass tipping point within sight.
  • Monetization: Progress is steady with a continuing growth of brand podcasts and dynamic ad insertion, both direct response and now brand. Dynamic content insertion is still getting off the ground, but expect to hear more topical content inserted into evergreen formats in 2018.
  • Content – sports podcasts: ESPN’s 30 for 30 series has demonstrated the power of applying narrative storytelling to sports, but sports bodies and broadcasters have been slow to respond to these new opportunities. They have the tales and talent at their fingertips, plus the content-hungry brands ready to fund it. I hope that the coming year will see longform narrative sports podcasts kick goals.

So what’s in store for 2018? Let’s gaze into the podcast pool…

Content: Fictional franchises

If 2017 was the year that Hollywood was awakened to leveraging podcast formats such as Startup (with Alex, inc. starring Zac Braff), Homecoming, Lore and Welcome to Night Vale, then 2018 is the year that podcasts will benefit from the intellectual property exchange. Not only will these format extensions raise awareness and uptake of listening, the franchises will double back in return.

Disney subsidiary Marvel will lead the charge in early 2018, bringing Wolverine to podcasts with The Long Night. Expect to see more blockbuster franchises diving into the podcast pool with a wave of scripted fiction.

For Hollywood, the medium provides the perfect storytelling platform to build hype in the lead-up to a film’s release. Equally, it allows documentary film and TV shows to release long form interviews from footage that hit the cutting room floor due to time restrictions. We’ll also see subplot storylines told via podcasts, syncing up with weekly TV drama releases.

Discovery: Tag and search

Podcasting awareness was high in 2017 (US 60%, AUS 72%), although there is an imperative to convert awareness to listening.

Apple will build the scaffolding that makes it even simpler for listeners to source their podcast of choice. It recently acquired Pop Up Archive, providing access to the podcast search engine AudioSear.ch, which helps listeners navigate the ocean of content.

Wikimedia’s Melody Kramer points out that better logic is coming to podcast search – thanks to Apple’s investment and facilitated by search improvements in voice-activated speakers.

With voice-to-text transcription becoming the norm, logical searches that surface not just entire series but individual episodes are within reach. Soon, users will be able to source podcast content based on their interests, mood or, more broadly, top trends in a specific niche.

Monetisation: Target and transparency

With improved search capabilities comes better targeting. Transcribing technology will decipher which episodes reference certain topics most frequently, which will enable host providers to catalogue and monetise the highest-ranking content.

For instance, not only will dog enthusiasts be able to target individual canine-friendly episodes, but dog food brands will be able to dynamically insert into them. The key is for the podcasting industry to not fall into the online programmatic traps of the past, racing to the bottom with low value, poorly targeted and executed spots. Instead the industry must deliver podcast-specific creative that resonates with listeners, makers and ultimately brands.

Apple’s new analytics, which capture time spent listening and data-skipping, should resolve the final reservations of advertisers.

The industry will be more transparent than ever and able to report with increased accuracy on listening. Understanding which podcasts drive the most audience engagement will force the tightening up of lower performing shows.

More detailed analytics will allow for a deeper understanding of the likely success of new formats, styles and genres. And the age old question ‘how long should a podcast be?’ might become a whole lot clearer.

Technology: One App To Rule Them All

Expect to see Spotify take a bite out of Apple’s dominance, introducing its dedicated listener base to podcasts. The platform is curating a premium pack of podcasts while continuing to invest in not just original series but high calibre talent, able to convert audiences en masse to a mix of on-demand and live streamed content.

As Spotify’s spotlight offers a high-profile listening platform for Android users, Google will engage to become a true cross-platform destination for podcasts. With both services gathering deep data, their recommendation algorithms will step up discovery and enhance the playlist culture.

The Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is rapidly approaching and likely to confirm 2018 as the year of voice.

Communicating with robots through voice-activated devices will become passѐ. With 70% of smart speaker owners listening to podcasts, the industry will continue to benefit in the broader audio-on-demand context. Podcasts and robot voiced utility content will seamlessly splice together, leading the way for a raft of unique interactive formats and use cases. The technology will also facilitate increased demand for short form formats and topical news content in the vein of The Daily and live streams

The coming year is shaping up to be one in which yet more listeners, brands and creators jump into the podcasting pool. Jump in, the water’s great.

Corey Layton is content and marketing director at Whooshkaa.



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