Slate Doubles Down on Podcasts

Panoply network banks on brands' growing interest in the digital format

There's always been a loyal base of listeners who download podcasts weekly, but thanks to the popularity of shows like Serial, more people are paying attention to the digital format. And the digital media company The Slate Group is betting demand will only continue to increase.

In late February, Slate announced Panoply, a full-service podcast network made up of media companies, authors, personalities and organizations. The new venture, led by Slate podcast chief Andy Bowers and general manager Brendan Monaghan, launched with a dozen outlets that host 18 shows, with more on the way. Programming from The New York Times Magazine, HBO Documentary Films, New York magazine (Vulture), The Huffington Post, Food 52 and FX's The Americans was included, in addition to Slate's 15 established podcasts.

"I don't know of anyone who started listening to podcasts and stopped," Bowers explained. "Once you are able to control how you spend your time rather than do it on somebody's schedule, the time-shifting elements and the power of being able to start and stop when you want is kind of addictive."

Monaghan explained the idea for Panoply started when he and Bowers realized just how successful Slate's podcasts were. In 2014, downloads for Slate's podcasts more than tripled from approximately 2 million at the beginning of the year to over 6.5 million by December 2014. The media company also completed a survey of its listeners and found that 60 percent hear more than seven podcasts per week. Those who tuned in tended to be on the young side: 45 percent of survey takers were under age 34, and 80 percent were under age 50.

Panoply will allow Slate to share with content partners what it has learned about podcasting over the last decade. Programmers are allowed to run their own sales, but Panoply will also have an internal sales team that can aid with brand requests. Last year, Slate worked with about 45 brands, and 25 marketers came on board for the first time—including Acura, GE, Delta and Prudential. Ad opportunities include host-read sponsorships, 15-second prerolls and integrated content at live tapings.

"We're starting to see more and more interest, and there hasn't been much in terms of brand advertising," Monaghan noted.