How Gimlet Media Is Tweaking Its Podcast Programming for Voice Assistants

Shorter is better when it comes to Amazon’s Alexa

Gimlet's first Amazon Alexa skill is an ad for P&G. Chompers
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Brooklyn-based Gimlet Media—the media company behind some of the most popular podcasts, like Reply All, Homecoming and Startup—wants to learn how to make content work on Amazon’s Alexa.

A week ago, Gimlet Media launched its first Amazon skill called Chompers, which is sponsored by P&G-owned Oral-B and Crest Kids and educates kids on how to brush their teeth. Gimlet Media is creating two, two- to three-minute shows every day for the skill. In the morning, the skill guides through the four quadrants of brushing with music and games, such as asking kids which animal has the most teeth. Rachel Ward, who formerly was the host of the show Surprisingly Awesome, narrates the content.

A team of seven worked on Chompers, and the idea for the sponsored content came up at last year’s South by Southwest when Gimlet Media met with P&G in Austin, said Anna Sullivan, vp of brand partnerships at Gimlet Media.

“Anyone can build a skill, but what are you actually saying in the skill?” Sullivan said. “Our expertise is in creating compelling content that people want to engage with.”

So far, the results are promising. Forty-five percent of people who have downloaded Chompers use it every day. Chompers is also the first time that Gimlet Media is putting paid media behind its programming. The media company regularly cross-promotes its shows on its network of podcasts, but Chompers includes a media buy through Amazon Marketplace and influencer marketing with moms. Since Amazon skills do not allow ads within skills, P&G isn’t mentioned in the content. However, a podcast version of the show reads a sponsored message out loud.

To head up its move into voice, Gimlet Media recently hired Wilson Standish, formerly director of innovation at Omnicom’s Hearts & Science, as the media company’s first director of voice. While agencies and tech vendors are increasingly building up voice capabilities, Gimlet Media’s roots in audio content give it a leg up to other media brands, Sullivan said.

In terms of how podcasts are different from voice skills, voice content “has to be short—you want to make habit-forming things that fit in with people’s day,” Sullivan explained.

Elsewhere, Gimlet Media continues to make stand-alone branded podcasts for advertisers like Tinder, Gatorade and Virgin Atlantic. According to Sullivan, more than half of Gimlet Media’s ad revenue came from brand advertisers, growing 134 percent, though she did not disclose specific numbers.

With that shift, brand advertisers are increasingly asking for more data to prove that their campaigns are working. Through Apple and Spotify’s podcast analytic tools, Gimlet Media analyzed listening curves to learn that less than 10 percent of its listeners skip mid-roll ads. From there, Sullivan is working to create a new reporting metric called a time spent listening rate that gives granular insights into how much time people spend listening.

“The Apple stuff is a good first step but it’s not everything we need,” Sullivan said.

@laurenjohnson Lauren Johnson is a senior technology editor for Adweek, where she specializes in covering mobile, social platforms and emerging tech.