Trying To Build On A Solid Podcast Base.

Edison Research revealed earlier this month that 60% of Americans are aware of the term podcasting, but only 30% actively listen. That didn’t sit particularly well with the participants of the NAB Show panel, “Looking (And Listening) Ahead: The Podcast Landscape in 5 Years.”

“In the last year or so, the industry has really focused on efforts to bring broad awareness. But it still really moves with word of mouth,” said Nate Landau, chief digital officer for New York Public Radio. “It’s about friends sharing on social media that they like a podcast or reading about it on a website. Now, one of the big challenges is how we get from 30% to 70%.”

Social media is helpful, he added, but there are fundamentals that must be addressed: “A lot of people who are aware of podcasts don’t know how to download a podcast. It’s still a whole new medium to a lot of people.” It’s not helping that while podcasts are readily available on the likes of Amazon’s Echo, “you still have to say it,” said Rockie Thomas, VP of Business Development for AdsWizz. “There’s so much content—but how do you find a recommendation engine?”

For most so far, iTunes remains the primary “engine” for discovery. “Most of our content discovery remains in the chart that has always guided the podcasting platform,” said Landau. “But it’s still kind of the wild west.”

Right beside discovery as a priority is—not surprisingly—monetizing the platform as a primary goal. As a specialist in podcast ad insertion, Thomas said, “As we are able to start adding data around the podcast audience with age and gender, we’ve established a baseline of how people want to buy digital audio. They certainly understand digital currency.” And further innovating the platform: Many podcasts are now transcribed into print, which makes them accessible via search engines.

Added panelist Jason Hoch, chief content officer for popular podcast series “HowStuffWorks,” “Big brands and advertisers care about some semblance of scale. As we’re starting to see bigger numbers and an audience that converts really well to direct response, we’re working together with agencies. This is not a three-second Facebook video; our view is that this is what agencies think about when they’re looking for a buy.”

He adds that as podcasting continues to grow, “For the last couple of years, there was a mix of everybody telling a bit of a different story. Now we are working together—and that’s why we love more and more publishers getting on board. It validates the space as a great place for content.”

Despite gains, there remains much work to be done. Landau says that the industry as a whole needs to come together to figure out a way for podcasts to have more endurance. “It’s a dumb medium of technology, just a file downloaded.” Added Thomas, “Some podcasts rely on live reads and endorsements; they don’t want dynamic ad insertions because they believe it interrupts the flow. With certain kinds of podcasts and publishers, this just seems like a lost opportunity to me.”

And opportunity—and recognizing the ways to find and work within them—is key. “Audio has no competitors, everything else is a visual interface,” Thomas said. “The fact that we don’t need that to connect with people is pretty astonishing. For a long time, the industry looked at passive living as a negative. Now we know the fact that people can access audio while doing other things is one of our biggest strengths.”

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