Radio Companies Are Eyeing Podcasts as Viable Investments

Which means they shouldn't necessarily be the highlight of a marketing strategy

An image of a radio microphone
Radio investments are moving into a place of taking over podcasts. Getty Images
Headshot of Dan Granger

Half a decade after leaving radio (Clear Channel/iHeartMedia) due to the podcast phenomenon being ignored, podcast now has the full attention of the radio companies, with the majority of the top podcast networks now actually being owned by them.

The takeover will continue as more deals occur, like iHeartMedia’s recent acquisition of How Stuff Works for $55 million, mid-bankruptcy. Next investment into podcast content development and acquisition will escalate by groups like Westwood One, Entercom, iHeartMedia, etc. As this takes place, you’ll see radio starting to look and sound a little bit more like podcast, and over time, podcast is going to look and sound a lot more like radio.

The content pie in podcast is growing much faster than the audience pie. The new American dream includes a house, a car and a podcast. Admit it, you have a podcast, too, or at least you’re thinking about it. But for every new podcast that comes out, they have to steal a listener from another podcast in order to grow. Meanwhile, investment is growing with it, and the financial projections expect it to become a billion-dollar industry over the next three to five years.

So, does a radio invasion mean podcast won’t be cool anymore? Kind of. Just like when your mom first tried to connect with you on social media. You may not have canceled your account, but you started to think about it differently.

Investment is growing with [podcasting], and the financial projections expect it to become a billion-dollar industry over the next three to five years.

The changes will be subtle at first and won’t jump from two ads per hour to 18, but more prominent brands will come in, and not just all the direct brands you’re used to. They’ll want more control. Even without FCC standards, hosts will need to be more careful, though some independent talent and networks will still refuse to work for the man. This balance will help podcast keep the pirate radio edginess that made it what it is and forced the big groups to compete by staying hip and not getting upset when the talent swears

Here’s how to prepare for the changes.

Play your position

If you’re a brand advertiser, you need to start demanding a uniformed ratings system. Right now, your CPMs may be completely arbitrary. The most widely accepted standard is the IAB’s version, but you’re more likely to find Amelia Earhart than someone who can explain it to you simply. Most brand marketers are buying podcasts today because buyers think they’re cool or because clients don’t understand why they’re not on their favorite show. But don’t kid yourself—it’s not because there is confidence in the impression data.

If you’re a performance marketer when a gold standard is set for ratings, you’ll need to buy things brand marketers won’t. That means doing what performance marketers have done for decades on the radio: sponsor political conservatives. Sorry, but it works, and the big brands will continue to steer clear of it. Remember, advertising on a show doesn’t mean you agree with the host. Focus on the audience and how you can win their hearts and minds with your products.

Get good at radio

The value of knowing how to deal in radio will increase over time, so better to get started soon. Learn the impact of frequency, placement in a spot break and the value difference between produced spots and host live-reads.

Remember, there is opportunity amidst the chaos. One of radio’s great advantages is 24/7 programming with many long breaks, something your favorite podcast cannot offer with 90 minutes per week. Leverage it. Buy podcasts and radio from the same people when possible. You can use radio’s vast surplus of inventory as insurance or value-add to offset the high CPMs or potential performance challenges of podcast.

Keep your eye on the smart speaker

The first podcast was in 2001, but it didn’t get that name until 2004. For 10 years, it was for hobbyists and geeks until it went mainstream in 2014 with Serial. Now we’re all talking about it.

I know it’s sad for podcast enthusiasts to think about things going corporate. So take heart. The smart speaker is the new iPod. Over the next 10 years, the smart speaker will drive another renaissance in audio communication with limitless possibilities for navigating or customizing content and responding to advertising (read: better attribution).

For now, stop worrying so much about your podcast strategy. The ground rules are quickly becoming obsolete. Focus on developing your audio strategy as the two worlds become one.

@oxford_road Dan Granger is the CEO and founder of Oxford Road.