Audience Engagement Guest Columns
4 mins read

Cutting through the static: What publishers should consider before tuning into digital audio

Despite hitting new heights during the pandemic, digital audio’s growth isn’t slowing down. With podcasts predicted to hit a ‘golden age’ and audiobook sales soaring, digital audio has become part of many people’s daily routine, with listeners predicted to spend around 97 minutes with digital audio per day.

Listeners’ enthusiasm has been matched by advertisers’ willingness to invest. Ad spend on podcasts is set to reach $2.1B in the US alone this year – an increase of 47%. As publishers look to diversify revenue streams post-cookie, it is unsurprising that 80% are looking to put more resources into digital audio in 2022.

But publishers cannot simply plug in a microphone and set off on a digital audio odyssey. With such a crowded market, achieving one billion podcast downloads like The Economist, requires forethought and a clear strategy.

What form will content take?

Digital audio comes in all shapes and sizes, from podcasts to audiobooks, online radio to article transcriptions. For publishers, picking the right kind of digital audio format is key to success.

Publishers first need to ask what stories they are trying to tell. Daily news bulletins help to connect publishers with their audiences regularly. Longer form investigative pieces, such as the New York Times’ Serial, can hook listeners globally and generate headlines. Article transcriptions can offer a faster method to create audio. All of these formats reach a different kind of listener.

Audience data can also help pick a digital audio strategy. Analysing first-party user data to find already popular content or taking a survey of audiences can give direction and shape the form of the content. Ramping up digital audio slowly, and adjusting the offering in line with audience feedback allows publishers to holistically find a format that works.

How many resources are needed?

In theory, with only a microphone and recording software, anyone can produce digital audio content. But with the range of content out there, and the established nature of audio, audiences not only turn off bad quality content, but also distrust it.

To get audio up to the standard listeners expect takes time and technical know-how. Publishers need to invest in both if they are to make their audio content a success. Take, for example, a daily digest. These are a highly effective way to reach a loyal audience, the regularity and intimacy of daily audio content for users to digest becoming part of listeners’ daily routine. But even a half-hour daily show – with researching, recording, editing and uploading time needed – is a full-time job for a dedicated team.

At the other end of the spectrum, embedding a text-to-audio function alongside articles can be a time-effective and cost-efficient way to bring audio to audiences. Their unnatural and unrealistic cadence can however put listeners off, leading to flyby users leaving as fast as they land.

How can ads monetise the content?

Total ad spending on digital audio is set to reach a total of nearly $7 billion in 2022. The New York Times reportedly made $36 million from podcast ads in 2020, while over half of Spotify’s users subscribe to its ad-based model. Audiences are highly responsive to digital audio ads – nearly half of US podcast listeners trust audio adverts more than other mediums. Ad placement options are rapidly evolving in this space, and publishers need to be aware of which method can help their digital audio offering generate revenue.

Dynamic ad insertion (DAI) has steadily taken over as the leading method of ad placement in digital audio and in 2021 constituted 84% of all podcast ads. DAI allows for advertisers to serve ads as a podcast is downloaded, placing their promotions in predesignated slots. Because DAI is seamless and automated, advertisers are able to rapidly change messaging, while it also allows publishers to continue monetising back-catalogue.

Traditionally, podcast ad insertions were done manually – in 2019 52% of ads were inserted this way. Though not as flexible, many traditional ads utilise the voices of the hosts, leading to a 71% brand recall, when compared to 62% for non-host read content.

Digital audio is also following the lead of online advertising and delving into the world of programmatic. Though currently only accounting for 1.7% of revenue in the podcast market, the highly-targetable nature of podcast audiences and growing sophistication of the brand safety technology behind programmatic means it is perfect for these environments.

Publishers will need to work with a mix of these ad insertion types as they develop their digital audio offering, working out what works best for audiences and advertisers. Though programmatic’s growth in digital audio is revolutionising the space, there will also be a place for host-read ads.

Patience is key for all publishers looking to expand into digital audio. It is unlikely that content will be an overnight success; there may be tech issues, people issues, and listenership may only be friends and family. But publishers need to push through these teething problems and improve content in order to engage their audience.

With digital audio listenership continuing to grow and ad revenue increasing, digital audio needs to be considered more seriously than ever before. But rather than diving in head first, publishers need to take a considered approach that suits their already existing audience and is not overly ambitious for the resources that are available. More than ever, slow and steady will win the audio race.

Ben Erdos
Chief Services Officer, Total Media Solutions

Total Media Solutions is a publisher-first technology company, making the lives of publishers easier by providing core technology platforms, digital revenue strategies, and actionable data insights, alongside first-class consulting. Using the latest technologies, such as its own proprietary sTag solution, and programmatic media, the company is able to create sustainable revenues for its publishers within an ever-changing landscape.

Founded nearly 20 years ago, Total Media Solutions is headquartered in Tel Aviv, with a global presence in Berlin, London, Istanbul, and New York. For more information visit Total Media Solutions.