Why news podcasts thrived in 2020 and what the medium has to offer for advertisers moving forward

Mumbrella's Zanda Wilson speaks with content directors and commercial leads from Acast, Nova Entertainment and Southern Cross Austereo about how the global pandemic set the stage for news podcasts to thrive.

As traditional forms of media suffered amid falling ad spend and the onset of a global pandemic in 2020, on-demand audio offerings like podcasts continued to grow.

In particular, daily news podcasts increased both in number and listenership, and now regularly dominate the Australia Podcast Ranker.

Acast’s head of content Guy Scott-Wilson believes that growth in news podcasting has come as a response to a genuine consumer trend in the market.

“As a global business, news and politics is the most-listened-to category in every single market that Acast operates in, which I think speaks for the level of consumer interest that exists in this format.”

Acast head of content Guy Scott-Wilson

Speaking with Mumbrella, Scott-Wilson says the data shows that consumers of news have been disillusioned with traditional sources of media and news, with trusted, on-demand sources filling the gap.

“Now we’re in a global pandemic, I just think the public have been expecting to be able to go to traditional media to find accurate independent reporting of the issues, and they haven’t really been able to find what they needed.”

While plenty of large media outlets have launched their own news podcasts in recent years, the success of independent podcasts like Schwartz Media’s 7am has also been impressive. The podcast, hosted by Ruby Jones and edited by Osman Faruqi, ended 2020 as the fifth most-downloaded podcast in Australia for the month of December, and the #1 ranked news podcast.

Faruqi tells Mumbrella that 7am, launched in 2019, has built up a significant level of trust with listeners, which has been key to the podcast’s success (according to Schwartz Media, it averages 45,000 listens a day).

“I don’t think there’s a more important currency in the news environment now than trust,” he says. “Well-made, well-produced news podcasts that treat listeners with respect have an opportunity to build trust in a way that more traditional news outlets have lost.”

Southern Cross Austereo’s PodcastOne is another podcast publisher on the news podcast train early, launching The Briefing in 2020, led by former Triple J Hack host Tom Tilley, with Annika Smethurst, Jan Fran and Jamila Rizvi. It celebrated 100 episodes at the back end of 2020 and continues to perform well on the Australian Podcast Ranker.

SCA head of news and current affairs, Natasha Jobson, said the rise of news podcasts has been in line with changes in listener habits over the past 18 months.

“Whilst COVID-19 has accelerated on-demand listening and radio streaming, listening habits have been changing over the past 18 months in parallel with the volume of on demand news and information on offer,” she tells Mumbrella.

“Using both technology and journalistic flexibility, people are offered engaging and informative news content when it suits their needs first and foremost.”

SCA head of news and current affairs Natasha Jobson

Jobson agrees that trust plays a big part, and suggests podcasts can create a more authentic experience when engaging with topical news. “News podcasts offer an unparalleled way to help people get across the news that matters to them, whether it be from a journalistic deep dive point of view, to headlines, to opinions, or by the way of explainer news.

“Equally, trusted voices play a very important role as a reliable source of information and views in a world that is becoming more untrusting in other forms of media and information.”

Nova Entertainment recently re-launched its own daily news podcast as a twice-daily offering called The Update.

The radio network’s head of podcasts and digital content, Rachel Corbett, explains that the change was driven by the fact that news is constantly changing throughout the day.

“By having two updates at either end of the day we’re keeping our listeners as informed as possible on the current news,” she says.

“With the show being included in Spotify’s Daily Drive playlist and continuing to be consumed heavily via Google assistant, we wanted to make sure there was fresh news there to be consumed before and after people’s workday.

“We wanted it to feel less like a traditional radio news bulletin and more like an update from our Nova Podcasts news team that you could check in with across the day.”

Nova head of podcasts and digital content Rachel Corbett

So what about advertisers? Why are news podcasts a place where marketers should want to spend their money, what sort of audiences will they be reaching, and how did ad spend fare on the medium during 2020?

Acast’s Scott-Wilson says that “there’s obviously something about the on-demand nature that catered well during the pandemic. People were spending more time at home. They were creating new moments, and have shifted their entire daily schedule. And so there were new moments to engage with content.”

As a result, the audience didn’t decline in the same way as other mediums did, he says. “We know that revenue follows audience in terms of media spend. I think the dominance of news as a category full-time massively helps.”

SCA head of podcasting – PodcastOne Australia, Grant Tothill, adds that last year was pleasing from a podcast revenue point of view, despite a tough year for radio.

Figures reported by SCA showed that PodcastOne Australia is now cash flow positive, with revenue growing 96% to $4.6 million for the last financial year. Following the launch of another news podcast Your Morning Agenda in November, PodcastOne’s on-demand downloads for news tipped over the 4m mark for 2020 in December.

“2020 was a great year for increased ad spend from both a digital radio streaming and a podcast point of view,” Tothill says.

“Revenue growth wasn’t affected in the same way that traditional media had been affected and was in line with the increase of audiences across both digital radio streaming and podcast listening.”

Nova Entertainment’s digital commercial director, Kane Reiken, called 2020 a “breakout year” for podcast advertising. Over the year, Nova had 90% year-on-year revenue growth across its podcast network.

“Blue-chip brands have sought to gain access to these growing audiences, due to the increased consumption of podcasting, improved quality in Australian Podcast titles, and powerful contextual targeting capabilities,” he explains.

Acast’s Scott-Wilson believes that moving into 2021 and beyond, podcasts will continue to offer advertisers a way to “feel like that they’re part of something that the audience has chosen”.

“That’s increasingly hard to find in traditional news media, And I think podcasting is offering a return to that, which is really important.

“The news category has helped to shift the perception about the types of audiences you can reach in podcasting. Podcasts like 7am are talking to more premium audiences, which is attracting very different types of advertisers like Commonwealth Bank, Telstra, Spotify – these big-budget advertisers.”

Nova’s Corbett agrees ad spend in podcasting won’t slow down any time soon. “Podcasting was seen as the realm of bootstrappers for years and some brands wanted to hold back and see whether it would remain a thing,” she says.

“Even though it feels like podcasting has been a big thing for years, some brands have really taken their time before stepping into the space.”


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