We’ve talked up podcasts before as a incoming ad-carrying format, one that media agencies and brands should start taking notice of.

Time for an update: still not quite here. They haven’t taken over the world yet (I’m rolling that particular prediction on a few years) and on the surface, at least in the UK, not too much has changed. We still lag some way behind the US, where podcasts have steadily grown (particularly among those with well above national average levels of education and wealth) in popularity, where the best research is done and the most effective advertising is placed.
In the UK, we know podcasts are increasingly in popularity, slowly, and that podcast users are incredibly loyal (the average user will listen to over 6 hours of podcasts a week). They tend to be younger and more male than audiences found on most other forms of internet derived radio. RAJAR estimates that 21% of the UK population have at some time downloaded a podcast, but that figure drops to 7% when it comes to ongoing use. For comparison that figure is 17% in the US.

We have previously discussed why we are so far behind (short version: the all encompassing/excellent output of the BBC, a different media/brand culture and lack of innovation), but what we are going to discuss today is how quickly we think that gap will be made up.

The money (and organisation) is coming

One of the things that even popular podcasts have struggled with in the UK, is a lack of organisation. Without support from established media, it is very difficult to make money or reach out to sponsors and brands. Since there are very popular podcasts in the UK however, there is clearly a gap in the market for aggregation. One popular podcast might struggle to sell ad space alone, but as part of a professional media network, they stand a much better chance.

Three such networks stand out: UK based Audioboom, who provide ads on 50 million listens a month (worldwide). Swedish based Acast, who now promise brands a UK reach of 18 million individuals across 45 million monthly listenings (following a 364% increase in audience in 2015 over the previous year), featuring upmarket podcasts from the likes of Vogue, the FT and The Economist, and Panolopy Media, who have recently moved into the UK having built up a strong US brand of own brand original content from the Slate universe (and whose shows in the UK currently run US ads).

Being unconnected in a connected world

Yes, yes. We all live plugged in lives now. Our connected phones (or watches or forehead embedded chips) do a great job of keeping us permanently in the loop. But what these devices fail to do is keep us online all the time. Pesky geography gets in the way, as does physical commuting and train wifi that seems to work about 10% of the time. Podcasts have always allowed us to listen to what we want, when we want. Conversely, the better our connections get, the more it’ll highlight the frustration of not being connected.
I believe the result will be an increasing awareness that podcasts fit our world.
They allow us to choose what we want to listen to and when. Whether commuting, in the gym or (my personal happy place) cutting vegetables for dinner – they entertain while freeing up your eyes and hands to do other important things. I can’t multitask, at all. But even I somehow manage to listen to podcasts without losing fingers on a regular basis

Change at the BBC
Podcasts have been popular at the BBC for over a decade. Fans of long-running shows like In Our Time and Desert Island Discs have long been able to download the show to listen to at their leisure. But lots of live chat and music shows have either not been available or gutted of music because of rights issues. Being able to download dedicated music podcasts with music has unsurprisingly suddenly driven a huge amount of demand from younger audiences. And, as we know, podcast users (like radio users in general) are loyal to the format. They will spill over to commercial shows.

Podcasts are an increasingly good bet for appropriate brands. For one, the context is absolutely suitable: not too many formats provide as engaged and passionate an audience, nor an audience pretty much fine with being served ads (unlike many other forms of internet based media). Often, in selling the format, podcasting is described as just another part of radio, but it has unique features that elevate it above the role of functionary. We’d agree with the Financial Times columnist, Janan Ganesh, that podcasts are creating a ‘golden age of audio’.

By Oliver Brown