NPR, iHeartMedia CEOs Explain Why We’re in the ‘Golden Age of Audio’

Each company announced new programming series at the IAB

Jarl Mohn, CEO of NPR and Bob Pittman, Chairman and CEO of iHeartMedia, chatted onstage at the IAB podcast upfronts. IAB

Fresh off their on-stage discussion at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Podcast upfront, Adweek caught up with Bob Pittman, chairman and CEO of iHeartMedia and Jarl Mohn, CEO of NPR to hear their thoughts on the state of the industry, advertising on podcasts and their programming strategies.

Here’s what they had to say:

Adweek: What are some of your takeaways after a full day of IAB podcast upfront programming?
Bob Pittman: I think the most important thing is that there is an IAB [podcast] upfront. Our programming strategy is probably very similar to what they do at NPR. Our strategy is, we are where our listeners are with the products and services they expect from us and clearly podcasts have turned out to be something they really expect from us.

I came back into the audio business in 2010, I took over as CEO in 2011 and at that moment there was a thing of, ‘Oh my gosh technology is going to kill radio, it’s going to be like newspapers and television.’

And the bet I made was, I actually think technology will enable unique growth and get us into a golden age of audio. And I think that’s happened, that suddenly audio is the hot thing, whether it’s Alexa, whether it’s the podcast. Radio broadcast listening is going up, digital listening is going up, suddenly people are focusing back on the spoken word.

I think the fact that we’re included in the Interactive Advertising segment is exactly where we belong … and it’s an incredible recognition of what’s happening in the audio space today.

Jarl Mohn: I agree with what Bob’s saying. The fact that we’re here at the IAB and that this is such an interesting topic for brands and for advertisers I think is really important. And we’re delighted about that. And, funny thing about technology to add to what Bob said, the funny thing about radio is that there’s so much heat around mobile. Radio was the very first mobile technology. We had it with our transistor radios, we had it in the car, radio has always been a mobile technology. And that’s been one of the things that made it so user friendly.

But the fact that there are so many brands here, and brands interested in this format, and I think the one message that is the most important and I hope we were able to communicate it—the whole notion of intimacy in this messaging and the way people experience audio and the way they particularly experience podcasting. I think it makes the message for any marketer incredibly more powerful. I really think it’s head and shoulders above other venues or mediums to communicate.

Pittman: When you look at radio advertising, there’s an extraordinary ROI compared to TV or digital. And I think one of the reasons is that if I’m seeing a spot in a TV show, they basically cut a hole in the program and stick a commercial in there. On radio, radio’s about companionship, we’re about telling you things, it’s your best friend telling you something.

And I don’t know about you, but if my friend tells me about something, I’m influenced a lot more than if some stranger says something…. When we get to podcasts, we get even more into it. The live read, the intimate format, which for us, our premium priced advertising is when you have a live read with the DJ. They’re the ultimate influencer… Podcasting is that top of the line kind of influence.

There’s so much competition in the media landscape for listeners and readers’ attentions, where does podcasting fit in?
Mohn: For almost any medium, but certainly for the spoken word, there’s great stuff, there’s mediocre stuff and there’s terrible stuff. From anybody, from any provider. So, I think for us to break through, and for any producer of any podcast or of any particular kind of content, you really have to have something that is special and unique.

And in the podcast format, it has to be a great story, there has to be great narrative, so people can connect and relate to it. But it’s tough… we have the scale where we can let people know [about new programming.] There is a lot of good material out there that is not noticed because these companies don’t have a way to promote it. Bob’s company, iHeart, has a great way to get the word out, we do the same at NPR, and I think it’s one of the reasons we’ve been a bit more successful than most.

Pittman: People want to fill in every minute of their day. Audio allows you to fill holes that you couldn’t fill with video or reading. It is the beauty of Alexa. If you think about it, I can’t watch something and drive. When I’m cleaning out my room or moving things around, I can’t be watching or looking at something… Radio is the great friend, that reliable friend that you just love spending time with… the reason audio is in this growth spurt is [because] audio is the only medium that can really carry you.

We heard about the opportunities in podcasting, what are some of the challenges?
Mohn: A lot of brands really haven’t committed the money to podcasting yet and we think that’s really a great opportunity. We’re excited about it. It is for the leaders in the industry, the early adopters on the brand marketing, advertising side, have jumped in early and done it with great success … the opportunity for us, I think, is that there are a lot of brands that have not come over yet, haven’t tried us.

Pittman: And I think they are still operating in silos. They’re still operating in that’s podcast, that’s broadcast radio, that’s digital radio, that’s TV, without understanding that the consumer is using it all. How does it all fit together? … Some people get it, most people aren’t there yet.

But look, we lived through the early days of cable TV when a lot of people weren’t there… the people here early are getting paid dividends because probably their competitors are not here and haven’t figured out how to use it seamlessly between podcast, broadcast and digital. Those people are really winning and eventually their competitors will figure it out and be there. But the longer it takes them, the better for them, the worse for us.

@SaraJerde Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.