There’s more than one way to expand overseas. U.S. podcast network competitors Stitcher and Wondery have decided to pair up to take on the U.K. where they’ve launched a joint podcast platform, Podfront, to capitalize on the small but growing podcast market.
The joint venture has arrived in the U.K. with a library of over 300 podcasts produced by the two companies, including hits like “Dirty John,” “Dr. Death” and “Oprah’s Super Soul Sundays.” The plan is to hire eight people in London by the end of the year to sell these shows to advertisers before expanding to create more local content, according to Ruth Fitzsimons, managing director at Podfront.
“The [podcast] industry is starting to professionalize, this is being approached from a global media perspective,” she said. “We want to be part of the industry internationally. The U.K. has reached the tipping point where it’s worth investing in an office and building out a team to grow the footprint.”
Stitcher and Wondery have shown signs of international expansion in recent months. In June, Wondery secured $10 million (£8 million) and announced its first head of international, Declan Moore. According to Stitcher’s sales organization, Midroll, the U.K. currently ranks third in listening across the company’s network of over 250 podcasts, although Fitzsimons wouldn’t share specific audience numbers.
From the outset, Podfront will use U.S. ad trade body the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s standard for podcast measurement. In 2018, both Wondery and Stitcher made the switch to IAB’s standards and felt the short-term pain of a drop in download figures. Previously, numbers were inflated because podcasts don’t always download in one go, so they were being counted as multiple downloads by the hosting platform. While podcast growth has been mired by lack of standardization and measurement discrepancies globally, that’s beginning to change. In the U.K., the IAB said a number of its members already adhere to this standard of measurement.
“All media owners are starting to see we need to move toward standardization across the board,” said Fitzsimons. “It’s important that we do that from the beginning to be consistent, as that’s the key frustration for agencies. Advertising won’t increase if we don’t do our job and make it easier for agencies to buy.”
Drawing on the resources and experience from Stitcher and Wondery, Podfront will bring expertise in host-read ads from the U.S. Host-read ads fetch higher CPMs, roughly between £25 ($31.24) and £35 ($43.73) compared with between £8 ($10) and £15 ($18.74) for spot ads, according to research from podcast consultancy 4DC and Audioboom. CPMs for host-read ads have doubled in the last year, but agencies say spot ads are more common formats among advertisers in the U.K., at least for now.
“Here you don’t buy live read in isolation, it might be as part of a partnership. The percentage of live reads is minuscule,” said Charlie Yeates, commercial trading partner at MediaCom, adding around 75% of the podcast ads for campaigns run by MediaCom are spot ads. This is partly cultural, he said, as the U.K. is particularly vigilant about separating commercial and editorial messages.
The U.K. audio landscape is crowded and fragmented, with numerous platforms delivering podcast inventory for the relatively small size of the market. For Podfront to succeed it will need to scale quickly and provide differentiated content if it is to stand out, according to agencies.
The U.K.’s podcasting ad landscape is small but growing. In lieu of official ad spend numbers, industry sources estimate it’s in the region of £10 million ($12.5 million), a drop in the ocean compared to the£383 million ($479 million) that U.S. marketers spend, according to figures from the U.S. IAB and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
But there are positive signs: Research from Global’s audio platform Dax found that 75% of U.K. advertisers will increase their budgets this year. Six-figure sums for advertising on a single podcast were virtually unheard of a year ago, according to Fitzsimons. Advertisers with direct-response objectives are increasingly switching to podcasts, enticed by proof via post-campaign analysis and econometrics modeling. Guinness, for instance, has a year-long partnership for “House of Rugby,” a Joe Media podcast about the game.
“Larger multinational brands are now taking an interest in podcasts,” said Lawrence Dodds, communications planning director at UM London. “Whereas before we had seen smaller advertisers and category challengers exploiting an opportunity to drive a greater share of voice in an underexploited format.”
Responding to this activity, the IAB will host its first Podcast Upfront event in October where companies showcase their wares to buyers — five years after the IAB in the U.S. launched its first Podcast Upfront.
While agencies welcome the increase in competition in the podcast space with local sales reps on the ground to pitch Podfront, the local team will have its work cut out to convince agencies to buy different local and international campaigns.
“Clients are not clamoring to buy multiple network spots,” said Yeates. “Coca-Cola doesn’t need a different campaign for what’s happening in France.”
Fitzsimons was unable to share specific audience numbers, saying that they were “healthy” and of equivalent size to three other players in the U.K. market, Dax, Acast and Audioboom.