Cheat Sheet: At IAB Podcast Upfront, diverse voices take center stage while podcast advertising revenue and audiences boom

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At this year’s IAB Podcast Upfront held May 11-13, brand and agency executives listened to upcoming audio show releases and audience data insights to get a preview of the podcast landscape in 2021, with more programming highlighting diverse voices and the development of more ad targeting for brands. About 30 companies presented, and 4,500 brands and agencies registered, more than any previous Podcast Upfront, according to Eric John, vp of the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Media Media Center. Here are the highlights from the three-day event.

The key details:

  • U.S. podcast ad revenues grew 19% year-over-year in 2020 and are on track to exceed $1 billion this year, according to IAB’s U.S. Podcast Advertising Revenue Study.
  • Dynamically inserted ads, host-read ads, mid-roll placements and direct-to-consumer brands dominated the podcasting space.
  • Programming announcements dominated the event, but companies also shared listenership stats, introduced new ad sales arrangements and pitched new ad products.
  • Increasing diversity was a focal point across presentations.

Most of the companies that presented at the IAB Podcast Upfront signaled they had or were going to add more diversity to their programming, both in hosts and content. Many women, people of color and LGBTQ+ people were featured in the presentations. According to IAB CEO David Cohen, 43% of podcast listeners are non-white.

The diversity of audiences in audio is “part of the growth behind podcasting,” the IAB’s John told Digiday. “In podcasting, that content is increasingly reflecting the audiences that make up America,” he added.

The IAB is creating a directory of minority-made diverse publisher creators that will help the agency and buying communities find that kind of content, John said.

iHeartMedia, in a partnership with Charlamagne tha God, launched the Black Effect Podcast Network last fall and has expanded it to include nearly 30 podcasts. During the company’s presentation on Thursday, Conal Byrne, CEO of the iHeartMedia Digital Audio Group, announced the launch of My Cultura Podcast Network for Latinx podcasts. The first six shows will launch in July, and by the end of its first year, the network is expected to grow to 30.

Other companies also acknowledged podcasts by and for Black creators. ViacomCBS announced BET’s podcasting initiatives, emphasizing the demand for content from Black creators. Acast is launching a new podcast with the stars of Netflix’s “Styling Hollywood” show and husbands, Jason Bolden and Adair Curtis.


The IAB’s Cohen opened the Podcast Upfronts with stats about podcast listenership during the pandemic. “There are 100 million podcast listeners consuming more than 2 million shows,” he said. In March 2021, 53% of weekly listeners reported spending more time with podcasts since the pandemic, up 29% from July 2020, according to a study from Cumulus Media and Signal Hill Insights. (The study also found that weekly listeners would pick exclusive content over an ad-free experience when choosing podcast subscription features.)


Slate announced four new shows and two new seasons of its popular documentary podcast “Slow Burn.” One of the new shows is an offshoot of the “Slow Burn” franchise called “One Year” launching in June. Host and co-creator Josh Levin will walk listeners through a specific year in U.S. history and everything that happened in a 12-month span. The first season will focus on 1977. Slate says 57% of its podcast listeners discover new Slate shows via its existing shows.

Edison Research

Tom Webster, svp, Edison Research, discussed the organization’s annual “Share of Ear” research study, comparing 2014 data to trends today. The study found that podcasting’s share of time spent listening to audio sources reached a record 6% and that it’s the fastest growing audio medium (up from 2% share in 2014). AM/FM radio’s share has declined to 39% from 51%. In 2014, people listened to an hour of podcast content for every 25 hours of AM/FM content, according to Webster. “Today, it’s more like a one-to-seven ratio,” he said.


On Monday, SiriusXM, Pandora and Stitcher announced their ad organizations are merging to become one sales team and rebranding as SXM Media, so brands can plan, produce, manage and measure digital audio ad campaigns across the three companies. (SXM Media is the exclusive ad and sales representative for other platforms and podcasters, such as SoundCloud and NBC News and MSNBC podcasts.) Stitcher announced Seth Rogen will launch his first podcast with the company later this year.

Vox Media Podcast Network

Vox Media signaled it will add video components to its podcast shows, including “Pivot,” hosted by Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway. Preet Bharara’s show “Stay Tuned with Preet,” which was acquired by Vox Media in April 2021, also teased video additions. “At the moment we’re podcast-first and we’re all audio, but there are lots of opportunities for us at Vox Media for us to take our vision and our voice and do other things on other platforms as well,” Bharara said. Later this year Vox’s New York Magazine will launch its first serialized investigation podcast, called “True Story.” 


Meredith Corp.

Meredith added 15 new podcasts or seasons to its audio portfolio in the past year. New shows coming this summer include “People in the ‘90s,” where each episode focuses on one issue of People magazine from the 1990s, featuring interviews with the stars of the decade to discuss the big news, shows, music and style of the time. The editors of People, InStyle Southern Living and Parents Latina will also host podcasts like “People Every Day,” “Ladies First,” “Biscuits & Jam” and “That New Mom Life,” respectively.


Wondery, which was acquired by Amazon Music in January, announced a slate of podcast programming, including a third season of the popular “Dr. Death,” which will premiere later this year. The company also said it is testing voice-actionable ads in podcasts, where people listening via an Alexa-enabled smart speaker can take action on an ad with a voice command.


The podcast hosting and monetization company is working with heavy metal band Metallica on a podcast coming in August focused on “The Black Album,” which sold more than 16 million copies in the U.S. ART19 said it sells targeted ads across over 1,000 shows and host-read ads across a curated selection of shows.


The Podtrac company announced three new podcasts coming, two of which are from Texas Monthly magazine, including “State of Mind” with stories of Texas life premiering May 26, and “America’s Girls,” on the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, releasing in the fall.



In March, ESPN Audio announced its sales team will represent ABC Audio’s podcast network — both companies are owned by The Walt Disney Company. ESPN Audio also handles ad sales for podcasts produced by National Geographic (as well as FiveThirtyEight and its own network). During the Upfront, the three companies highlighted returning programming, like “The Dropout” podcast’s August return to cover the trial of former Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes. A new series for the “30 for 30” podcast will spotlight hip-hop’s influence on basketball, and a new podcast will coincide with the 25th anniversary of the talk show “The View.”


iHeartMedia’s Byrne said the podcast network attracts 30 million U.S. unique listeners across 500 podcasts, 50 of which drive more than 1 million downloads a month. Byrne gave more details about the company’s recently announced private marketplace (PMP) for podcasts, thanks to its acquisition of programmatic podcast and analytics platform Voxnest in October. It comes with three main targeting options: by category, by geolocation and by psychographic. (An AdsWizz survey released at the Upfront found 23% of digital audio buys are done programmatically. However, 60% of advertisers plan to buy programmatically in the next six months.)


Audacy’s presentation for Cadence13 and Pineapple Street Studios included new podcast show announcements, such as “Tell Me with Ellen Pompeo” with the star of TV show “Grey’s Anatomy,” as well as pop singer Demi Lovato’s new show out this month called “4D with Demi Lovato,” which will explore topics like identity, mental health, creativity and LGBTQIA+ rights.

Sony Music Entertainment

Sony teased new shows for kids coming this summer and identified key podcast listener groups, including kids and family, true crime and entertainment. Among upcoming programming mentioned was another one about Theranos’ CEO, called “Bad Blood: The Final Chapter.” It’ll be hosted by John Carreyrou, the journalist who exposed the fraudulent blood-testing company and wrote a book with the same name.


ViacomCBS announced new and returning podcasts from across its portfolio of media properties. Categories spanned comedy, news, true crime, sports, kids, entertainment and music. The presentation noted podcasts for “Wild ‘N Out,” “Love & Hip Hop, “Spongebob BingePants” and “Avatar: Braving The Elements,” among others. Since September 2020, ViacomCBS says it has seen a nearly 14% increase in downloads year-over-year and is on track to produce over 120 shows, including more than 20 podcast premieres, this year.

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