Audience Engagement Guest Columns
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The evolution of audio and video: How publishers are growing their brand through new content formats

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How audio and video are changing the face of publishing, from AOP CRUNCH

The AOP’s latest CRUNCH event stepped away from the written word to explore how audio and video are changing the face of publishing and opening new opportunities for audience growth, accessibility, and diversified revenue streams. Through a series of presentations and panels moderated by Joanna Burton, Chief Strategy Officer at ID5, experts from within publishers, agencies, and platforms shared their insights on multimedia success in a rapidly evolving digital landscape.

The brand-building potential of the booming smart speaker market

Tom McKay, Head of Product & Strategy at Octave Audio, demonstrated the power of actionable audio through a whitepaper — conducted in partnership with Say it Now, Xaxis, and Neuro Insights — which measured the impact of adverts delivered through Alexa Skills (interactive experiences controlled via voice commands) versus traditional audio ads.

“What we wanted to work out,” said McKay, “was do you have greater brand recollection, engagement, and awareness when you’re engaging with an ad; actually talking to content that is trying to get you to do something. Whether it’s sending you a link to pursue an action or running through an experience. People have even managed to create Skills that play games, which is a fantastic experience and a great medium.”

Octave’s study measured the brain activity of participants, which revealed fascinating stats: “We had a 25% increase in the overall brain activity compared to a standard advert served through a smart speaker. That’s nuts. People are actually remembering; their brains are lighting up with fireworks with these ad experiences. We had a 23% stronger brain response during the interactive ads compared to just 4% for standard ads, and we found you have 2.3 times the branding potential compared to a standard radio ad.”

But no amount of brain activity would matter if there was no audience, but McKay pointed out the smart speaker market is growing rapidly, forecasted to be worth $164 billion by 2025, up from today’s $22 billion, which he expects will cause actionable audio adverts to “go stratospheric” in the next three years.

Driving subscriptions and engagement through audio and video content

Grace Forell, Principal Producer and Presenter at Which?, explained how publishers can use podcasts and video as an opportunity to promote subscriptions — the primary source of the company’s revenue — by using materials, talent, and behind the scenes insights from paywalled editorial content – to create free and accessible audio and video. These provide value on their own but may also leave the audience wanting more.

The secret to successful and KPI-oriented multimedia strategy is 360 commissioning, according to Forell: “we try and maximise the value of our content by getting it seen in as many places as possible. We did an investigation in the summer on whether mineral sunscreens really work. It was originally commissioned as a video-first article — that’s an article on the website where the video is sitting right at the top — so it’s been commissioned with video in mind, and we’ve made it as visual as possible. We shared the article on the website and on the newsletters, and then we did a snappier reel for Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.”

Forell shared her advice on how publishers can develop a 360-commissioning approach of their own: “It’s essential to have buy-in from your writers and editors so they’re thinking about video and audio from the very beginning when they’re pitching and commissioning ideas. Be involved at that first stage, don’t wait until it’s done and then try to create video content around it, because we’ve seen it doesn’t work as well as when you’re there at the very beginning, shaping how something is going to look.”

Finding new audiences and improving accessibility through audio

“There are a few reasons why audio needs to be part of your strategy,” said Mike Wooller, Head of DAX Content Partnerships at Global. “One of the key things is new audiences. Audio is a space to find new audiences within new environments, helping you to increase your brand footprint. Revenue is also important to commercial businesses, so incremental revenues can be had through pre-roll ads, and — if you’re using something like audio articles or podcasts — increasing page dwell time, leading to longer sessions and more revenue.”

DAX recently acquired Remixd, an AI-driven text-to-audio conversion platform that can turn any article into a “spoken” version. These files can be used as podcasts for a quick and easy way of reaching audio-first audiences while also improving the accessibility of content. Whether using a conversion tool or a more bespoke approach, Wooller believes making content accessible should always be a priority.

“And then there’s the ever-present problem of digital multitasking,” Wooller added. “Audio is a less intrusive format that can be consumed at the same time as other mediums and formats.”

Wooller continues, “Anyone can be an audio publisher, podcasts, audio articles, flash briefings, they’re all low barrier-to entry formats … [Audio is] low cost and effective at its most basic level but it can be taken to the next level if you invest the right kind of resources in it … Combine it with a strategy that contributes to your overall business goals, whether that’s reaching new audiences, better return on investment for existing content, or seeking new revenues.”

How to launch a podcast, grow an audience, and make money

Kate Lockie, Commercial Partnerships Director at Acast, shared her top tips for launching and eventually making money from podcasting.

“It’s a basic one, but good sound is paramount,” Lockie said. “Mics and soundproofing are reasonably cheap at the moment; the cost of entry is really low. You can really tell the difference between someone recording on their phone or in a meeting room versus someone who has a nice, soundproofed room. Most podcast audiences listen through headphones, but if it’s in my ears and I can’t hear it because I’m on the tube and the sound quality is bad, you’ve lost me.”

While podcasts translated from written articles are an efficient way to repurpose content for audio audiences — as seen with The Guardian’s ‘Audio Long Reads’ podcast — Lockie recommends that anchor shows are always audio-first: “We work with some of the biggest premium publishers in the UK — BBC, New York Times, Guardian, Economist — and most of their anchor shows are their dailies, and that gives them the opportunity to go out and do their narrative and investigative work. You need that anchor show, and I don’t think the anchor shows can be translations. They must be podcasts first.”

Lockie drew a distinction between the ways to monetise a podcast. This can either be done immediately by incorporating ads, or you can break even, which is a long-term strategy of capitalising on audience growth with multiple revenue streams. This can be achieved by giving listeners opportunities to purchase more content and experiences: “Do they want to have a bonus episode? Do they want a subscription? Do they want to come and see your live show? Do they want to buy your merch? Build the audience, build the engagement, and then monetisation will come later.”

Reaching Gen Z through authentic, creator-driven content

“Authenticity is like chocolate, you can’t describe it, but you know what it tastes like,” said Rahmon Agbaje, CEO at Loud Parade, an agency that produces songs featuring up-and-coming artists for Gen Z-focused advertising campaigns. “You can tell if somebody’s fake… there’s just an energy… as human beings we’re very intuitive.”

To develop an authentic voice in audio content, Agbaje urged publishers not to worry about polish and instead take an experimental approach: “Times are changing. The criteria of what you would have done before to be successful has completely flipped now, so it’s worth going to a younger audience or someone from a different background and seeing what they think, or even just asking your audience, not being afraid to risk it and get it wrong together.

“There’s a lot of value in humility as a brand. These days, people want to see that you want to improve and engage with them, improve their lives, and offer value. With authenticity, I think it’s about taking risks, experimenting, putting things out there and seeing what happens. Leave the ego aside.”

When reaching out to Gen Z audiences, Agbaje recommends publishers tap into existing talent on platforms such as TikTok, which is creating content on the topics they covet: “Collaborate with influencers or creators who are in your lane and have a great community and audience, and leverage that by partnering with them, giving them a guest appearance, letting them be a presenter. That gives them a bit of credibility to have a brand like yours behind them. It’s win-win.”

Utilise platform-specific features to find success on TikTok

Majd Abi Ali, Strategic Partner Lead at TikTok, has the unique perspective of someone who has worked on both the publisher and platform side of the content ecosystem. Part of his role is to onboard publishers and help them make the most of TikTok. Abi Ali advised that utilising features unique to TikTok is key to success on the platform, rather than simply dropping in content used on other platforms.

“I was always on the lookout when I was on the publisher side, whenever a platform introduces a new tweak in their app, to make sure we were the first movers on that and the first people to utilise that product.

My advice on that front – in terms of working with us – is to be on the watch or subscribe to our newsletters to make sure that whenever there’s a new product, use it, and you’ll see your numbers spike. New product comes out, use it, spike again. Keep chasing that and eventually you’ll see the audience growth.”

As for authenticity on the platform, Abi Ali had a warning to the room: “If millennials have a BS radar to identify cringy or inauthentic content, the new generations have a flamethrower. They will call you out on it. There is no room for inauthentic content in the future. You’re going to keep trying and you’re going to keep failing until you decide to be real with the people you’re talking to. I think automatically, just by Darwinism, inauthenticity is going to die out.”

Richard Reeves
Managing Director, AOP

The UK Association for Online Publishing (AOP) is an industry body representing digital publishing companies that create original, branded, quality content. AOP champions the interests of media owners from diverse backgrounds including newspaper and magazine publishing, TV and radio broadcasting, and pure online media.