Opinion

Australian podcasting bosses on why now is the perfect time to start that podcast

Courtney Carthy of podcasting company Nearly Media's talks to Australian podcasting bosses about what the future has to hold for brands and their podcasts.

If 2017 was the breakout year for podcasts in Australia (a true buzz has been in the air) the next 12 months will likely see an increase in enthusiasm from marketers, brands and companies to give them a crack.

This will mean a more trusting and calculated approach, greater integration to support their success and some innovative new productions as the competitive streak kicks in.

Along for that ride will be better podcast analytics (yes, Apple released theirs recently, but I’d argue that’s a bit of hot air), greater flexibility for audio through software (programmatic ad placement, transcription through AI) and hardware (smart speakers and cars finally getting connected) along with more competition from established producers like radio stations, the ABC and online outlets (The Reckoning is a superb new show from The Guardian Australia hosted by David Marr).

Talk to a podcast producer or at least check with your team if it’s something you might do in the next year. “Why aren’t we doing that?” conversations with a superior are generally awkward.

Good time to do it too: the Australian podcast industry is still arguably media-young, the opportunity for leadership in the branded category is also still up for grabs.

That’s not to say brands will dictate how this happens – they’re subject to the audience and that’s a good thing. Podcast audiences are fickle, dedicated, loyal and vocal. Podcast listeners, don’t ever change, just tell us how to reach you in three or fewer easy steps.

Experimenters and innovators have so far been established media organisations and specialist independent producers who’ve taken the risk and watched it play out, winning or losing as they go.

Moonshot by Kristofor Lawson and Human Ordinary by Sam Loy are a couple of standouts from indies that committed and did it very well.

Watching on have been brands whose early interest may become something that’s got enough buy-in from upstairs to say yes.

Corey Layton, content and marketing director at Whooshkaa, says it’s not so much if, but when, more brands will jump in.

“Though the number of brands that have taken the plunge are limited, there’s a swell of interest from those circling the podcasting pool.”

Sharon Taylor CEO of Omny Studio, a podcast hosting service also working with the big companies in the industry (Aus and international), attests to the growth – she knows the data.

“No medium is more engaging than audio and with Australian downloads now in the tens of millions per month, brands should be flocking to the space.”

From my experience there’s a risk that can be forgotten in the enthusiasm, tempered by the patience and leveraged with an understanding of the medium.

So, jump in and commission, but build it in, integrate with existing communication channels and compelling, honest stories will never do you wrong. Be real.

Of course there are stairs into the swimming area, with a hand rail (it’s Australia).

Andy Hayes of Placard Media gets brands on podcasts through ad placement.

“We have spoken to a number of brands about how branded content could be beneficial, however the market is in its infancy and podcast advertising is seen as a safer way.”

He’s got a few predictions for the industry too:

  • A huge number of podcast production houses will appear
  • Major media companies entering into the market in a bigger way and adding original content to their list and not just time shifted content from radio
  • Spend on podcast advertising will increase as will the number of brands interested. We are already seeing this over the last quarter of 2017
  • Major deals being put in place. Look at Hamish and Andy and PodcastOne.
  • We expect to see the number of podcasts both commercial and indie increase dramatically.

If 2018 is going to be a year where branded podcasts – full shows, series or episodes – get the traction like they’ve done in the US then there’s got to be a hand in glove appreciation for the medium. Stretch your hand and clench your fist when necessary.

Andy from Placard again: “I would expect to see a number of major brands release podcasts next year. The question, will it be for the right reasons or, are these brands just going to be swept up in the growing buzz.”

Australia often takes its podcast trends from the US where the breakout successes have been born and raised, gaining a following and building genre enthusiasm in Australia. Think true crime genre, or Gimlet Media shows, or WNYC, WBEZ or NPR… I could go on.

After a big year of branded content over there thanks to Gimlet and Pacific Content, it’s very likely producers here will wake to the interested knocks of brands looking to dip their toe in.

Steve Pratt of the US production company Pacific Content, makers of branded podcasts for Mozilla and Slack, says 2017 was a huge year.

“Every year for the last three years, we have seen an increase in brands looking to create original podcasts. 2017 is the biggest year we have seen so far, for both the prominence of the brands and the volume of brands.”

He says they “strongly believe that brands are leading a lot of the innovation in the podcasting space and that there will be continued growth in the medium as a result.” Go brands!

There’s more than one reason I believe he’s right about this. Brands have the money, with that comes available labour hours, they have the resources to do the audience research / pre-production and don’t have to start from an audience size of zero.

All while the overall podcast listener numbers grow.

The last point, “audience size of zero,” is a big one that’s often greatly under appreciated in the branded podcast space.

It’s the equivalent to launching a brand new business where the core product is a 20 minute commitment that’s also a new ask to customers. Why would you bother without a compelling pitch and some know-how behind it?

Brands don’t have the problem of zero audience, they’ve cultivated and know how to reach them – they have the means to do so.

In Mozilla’s case they could build in a link to the podcast when a new tab was opened. Using this and other methods they reached 1 million downloads in their first season.

Branded podcasts should start working harder by adapting the content for and from other channels while becoming more accepted as part of the strategy, rather than an outlier or one-off experiment.

If you’ve been thinking about making one, get your togs over the summer months, sit by the pool and contemplate jumping in.

Courtney Carthy is co-founder of Nearly Media.

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