We dug into the podcasting industry and found four big surprises. 

As we had to stay at home in early spring 2020, we found ourselves desiring some unexpected creature comforts. In no particular order: Lysol wipes, plants/seeds, Amazon, booze, toilet paperbad/good TV, flour and yeast, tonic water, Joe Maldonado-Passage, NHL re-runs, and, surprising the mighty podcast. 

It’s worth noting that until this point, podcasts had been classified as an away-from-home or an outdoor medium, because, well, people were actually going places then. You know, by car, bus, train, etc. 

When we shifted to not “going away from home,” the podcast received a distinct advantage over, let’s say, toilet paper in terms of its enjoyment factor and flexibility. Podcasts can be consumed anywhere – alone, in the company of the people in your bubble, and here’s the kicker: while multitasking. So while many of us distracted ourselves from the daily news horrors by making bread, gardening, washing windows for the 11th time (true story!), we could do so while listening to a podcast about making bread, gardening, or washing windows. “Binge-listening” is now a thing.

Be the most popular person at backyard parties — just name drop “Joe Rogan”

Prior to the pandemic, many sources estimated there were over a million podcast shows online, and over 30 million episodes. A study found that 36% of consumers in Canada listened to podcasts monthly in 2019, up from 28% in 2018. And 54% of listeners say they’d consider buying products advertised on podcasts. And that was when it was considered an out-of-home medium. Safe to say now, with people accustomed to hearing their ars PARADOXICA episode with their morning croissant (homemade of course!), those numbers have all gotta be higher now. 

If you were a Canadian advertiser, (and hey, we are!), you’d think that other than TV, which enjoyed enormous gains in viewership since the pandemic, podcasts would be THE next place to place ads.

You’d be wrong.

A bit of a head scratcher as to why, but in a nutshell: while podcasts have been around for decades, – many of them incredibly popular – it would seem that no one has really bothered to evolve the apps and technology to track and collect the demographic data that advertisers seek in order to buy on a large scale. That is: valuable audience, measurement, device, geographic, and targeting information. And this makes the use of audience-level targeting nearly impossible.

Bit of a shame, really.

“At this stage, trying to layer in targeting in Canada would yield almost no scale.”

Sara Unruh, McKim media director

The big issue is that people have the option to stream or download. If they stream, there is access to live data which might trigger the ability to target users based on geography and interests. But some apps aren’t set up to share targeting data like device IDs and cookies in order to truly get personalized information the way websites can. If the podcast is downloaded, it’s disconnected from the servers, so there is no transfer of audience information.

The second challenge is inventory. When buying nationally, there’s a lot of inventory available if you are doing a simple network buy. Once you start trying to add targeting such as interest or geography, the inventory becomes too small to be effective.

The third challenge is reporting. As CBC says, each platform has its own unique set of data and reporting methodology. So it’s not all consistent and the depth of data may vary widely, making it more challenging to determine what is successful and how the campaign performed. 

The CBC makes a good point, Sara adds. Podcasting is “digital,” or passive, which means listeners are less likely to click or engage. It’s more like radio in this way, which does track listenership and supports demographic and geographic targeting. There might be clickable opportunities if, say, they are listening through YouTube. But they are likely listening and not engaged with their screen.

The good news is it turns out that YouTube, a channel rife with the audience information advertisers seek, is the main platform Canadians use to consume podcasts. A full 40% of Canadians consume podcasts this way, as opposed to 23% and 21% who use Apple and Spotify respectively. 

A fourth issue is the providers. While NPR in the U.S. is pioneering its own measurement product for podcast listening, the big providers — Apple, Spotify and Stitcher — have not agreed upon a common technology and aren’t sharing audience data. Probably because they’re competitors. 

Plus, it would seem that Spotify is counting on some sort of major ROI, having spent as much as U.S. $600 million on podcast acquisitions since the start of last year, and $100 million to bring Joe Rogan over this fall – an exclusive deal which some say will actually shrink the show’s reach. Fun fact: currently, an astounding 8% of Canadian adults listen to the Joe Rogan Experience on YouTube and Vimeo. That’s more than 3 million people, or the population of Newfoundland and Labrador, Manitoba and Saskatchewan combined.

So while there is still not a precise placement opportunity within podcasts, hopefully we’ll get there soon. With the existing limitations, with a network buy we can get:15 or :30 second audio clip running pre, mid or post podcast. When it comes to individual buying, however, we can buy live reads (that is, the host reads your ad copy during the podcast, but then there’s always the chance they may flub or mock it). There may also be on-screen opportunities, although if people are listening and not watching these have little impact.

We’ll loop back when more data becomes available and the industry for advertisers is more promising. Until then, in no particular order, here are a few of the McKim team’s favourite podcasts: 

Prof G Show

Revisionist History

Serial

Freakonomics

Lore

Death, Sex & Money

Behind the Bastards

Spittin’ Chiclets

 Questlove Supreme

The Book of Basketball 2.0

The Rewatchables

Hotboxin’ with Mike Tyson

Your Mom’s House

NYT The Daily