‘Podcasting in Australia can’t be ignored’: Acast & Spotify ramp up pressure on radio

Both Spotify and Acast Australia held events over the past month to spruik their offerings to young media buyers and the press. Spotify revealed its local podcast strategy, including new formats, personalisation and the hunt for exclusives, while Acast relied on research to show buyers why the medium is unique and “unignorable”. Here, Vivienne Kelly breaks down what each of the podcasting giants is selling, and how they sold it. 

One thing television networks are very good at is getting in the faces of young media planners and buyers, and reminding them what television does so well, why it’s special, and why brands need their messages on the medium.

Not only did television know how to throw a great event (pre-COVID – I’m yet to see their post-COVID efforts), they also (somewhat) stopped the internal bickering and presented a (mostly) united voice to the market via industry body ThinkTV.

ThinkTV had the unenviable task of getting each of the commercial free-to-air networks and Foxtel to stop undercutting each other with negative messages about how the other one was performing, and instead take the “rising tide lifts all ships” approach to the medium. For the most part, it worked, and television advertising weathered the low tide of COVID far better than many other mediums. The narrative that “TV is dead” also became passé, so much so that it can now be frustrating for other mediums as they attempt to get buyers to consider anything other than TV.

Audio remains somewhat fractured in how it approaches media buyers and the wider advertising sector, however it appears both Acast Australia and Spotify are getting in early in 2021, and pitching their stories, innovations and plans to the market.

Spotify’s event was a subdued affair, in the morning, directly after its global Stream On event. Its announcements, however, weren’t subdued, with global deals, local MD Mikaela Lancaster revealing its local podcasting strategy, and the company doubling down on the proposition that it can take the place of radio.

Acast’s event had fewer game-changing announcements, but was, undeniably, more joyous. Perhaps it was the booze? Or perhaps it was the sheer excitement of Sydney’s media sector being allowed at larger gatherings again. Never have I been to an event where people cheered so enthusiastically about… research?

Here’s what came out of each event, and how the podcasting and streaming giants are taking on radio, and each other, in 2021.

Spotify reveals local podcasting strategy

Spotify is solidifying its intentions to take on radio and podcasting publishers in Australia, noting it’s looking for exclusive deals to drive audience acquisitions.

Spotify’s local MD Mikaela Lancaster said it’s the golden age for podcasts as consumers move away from linear behaviours. “Every great entertainment company is now on-demand,” she declared.

Internationally, Spotify has been spending big on podcast exclusives, including the multimillion-dollar deal with Joe Rogan, and more recently, bringing former US President Barack Obama, and superstar Bruce Springsteen together for Renegades: Born in the USA.

Lancaster said the job of Spotify’s local team is to complement these massive global deals and unearth “interesting Australians [and] interesting iconic voices”.

“We’re also focusing on exclusives,” she said. “In terms of looking at our strategy, our exclusives are driving acquisitions. So we need to tap into new audiences. We kind of operate in that 18 to 34 music space, but now going into this year, new kinds of content is bringing in new audiences as well.”

She said a key benefit of being part of a large, international tech company was being able to tap into its innovations, and then localise, and personalise, them.

Spotify has launched a hybrid music and talk format, which Lancaster said is “a beautiful intersection of audio”. It has also launched Your Daily Drive, which is a direct competitor to Drive radio shows. The format is a mix of news and songs which Spotify recommends for each individual listener. Lancaster said this innovation is taking the radio experience and personalising it. Songs can be skipped, it’s ad-free, and there’s up-to-date information.

Spotify is also attempting to take on radio by making its podcasts more interactive.

“So podcasts of today are kind of one-way speaking, unless you’re quite engaged with your audience on Instagram or Facebook,” Lancaster said. She said Spotify will be moving to a reality where podcasts are more of a two-way conversation between broadcaster and consumer, concluding “the podcast of today is not necessarily what it’s going to look like in the future”.

“And we’ll just continue to evolve and listen to consumers, listen to creators and look at that data that’s telling us the way forward.”

The company’s local head of sales, Peter Manten, said advertisers already want to connect with Spotify’s audience from a digital audio point of view. The key to expanding its commercial potential, he said, is in both the content and the data.

“If we can provide more content, if we can bring and add new listeners to the base, clearly there’s going to be some really fantastic advertising opportunities along the way,” he said.

“I think when you couple that with the depth and breath of insights and data that we have – there’s billions and billions of data points every second happening, so we can draw on those deep data insights, and then the in-customer consumer, knowing the true end users’ moods, moments and mindsets. When you couple those things together, I truly believe we have an unparalleled opportunity to do hyper-targeting in this space.

“And that’s really what advertisers are looking for – which is in-the-moment, contextually relevant, based on first-party on a platform that can actually deliver results.”

Acast doubles down on data, says it is ‘unignorable’

Acast’s pitch to the market was more in the vein of television: pre-drinks, canapes, research which demonstrated the effectiveness of the medium, and the promise of not talking about rival mediums, while actually talking about rival mediums.

Acast did say it was not about podcasting versus radio, however in driving home this point, it did point to new research which indicates people are listening to podcasts in cars (taking aim at radio), and noted tat “we’re reaching an addressable audience because lots of podcast listeners don’t listen to commercial radio”.

The pitch of Acast was that podcasting is (unlike radio) “unignorable”.

“There are some things in life that you can’t ignore,” Tom Roach, Acast Australia’s creative strategy lead, said. “2020 wasn’t easy. Elbow bumps are awkward. The world is not always a nice place, or a kind place, but there are still kind people… And let’s be honest, no one could ignore Tiger King, also a legend.

“But what we want to talk about today is podcasting, and we can’t ignore the scale that this is starting to get. And there’s 9 million regular listeners of podcasting at the moment. And we don’t ignore the 20,000 content creators on the Acast network… Consumers are not ignoring it. Creatives are not ignoring it. And podcasting in Australia can’t be ignored… It’s no longer a niche product, it’s becoming mainstream, or it has become mainstream. There is a broad audience that is listening to podcasting… The industry is growing rapidly.”

A key difference between podcasting and radio, he said – noting it wasn’t about podcasting versus radio – is the headspace people are in when they are engaging with it.

Radio comes with multiple distractions, while podcasting, he said, offers a rich connection that people build into their routine.

“People are dedicating their time to immerse themselves in podcasts, and I think the key thing is they’re dedicating time, because we know that people listening to podcasting on their own is quite an intimate experience. And what that means is that dedicated listening, is people reduce distractions when they listen to podcasts. They set time aside in their schedule to listen to podcasts,” he said. “It’s becoming almost like catching up with a friend, You look forward to that moment and you know what it’s going to offer.”

This all translates to advertising benefits, Acast said, noting that when you combine the scale of podcasting, as well as the environment in which people consumer it, it “genuinely connects”.

“It’s content that they actually want to dedicate their attention to,” Roach said. “They connect emotionally. It’s a really special palace, the podcasting landscape, in terms of that connection that we feel.”

The company, alongside Nature, conducted research which polled over 2,500 Australians, and spoke to 1,000 podcast listeners. This enabled it to establish the state of play in podcasting in Australia, and offer up a greater understanding of the podcast audience.

It found 37% of Australians are listening to podcasts regularly, a number it expects to grow rapidly.

In addition, Roach said the research showed advertising in podcast environments works, because “[listeners have] chosen to be in that environment”.

“It does work for brands, because it’s the people we choose to listen to, talking about the topics that we’re interested in, and they’re promoting brands that they approve of. This is not being yelled at you, forced down your throat… People that you respect are giving you advice, or promoting a brand that fits within that environment contextually.”

Noting that “normal people don’t love ads as much as we do”, he said it was pleasing the research found 49% of people agree that they pay more attention to host-read ads, with only 7% disagreeing. And 83% said that podcast ads are almost always relevant.

The statistics, and the medium, cannot be ignored, Roach said.

“It’s not background noise,” he said. “Podcasting is that immersive experience. We don’t put it on [in the background], have a beer, have a chat, read your book, and have a beer, but we’re dedicating our time to it. And that’s really important. There’s no distractions. We’re not double screening. We’re listening to our podcasts and we’re there, we’re present.”

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