Last week we put out a call to publishers, brands, and agencies on the Podsights platform to respond to a survey about the current effects on podcast advertising of the COVID-19 pandemic. The goal was to share knowledge from the three main groups to understand how individual experiences are compared to the whole.
In this post we will share a mix of public research data, aggregate data such as downloads and opt-in survey data to understand how the market is currently functioning. We have cherry-picked the interesting parts and made the raw data available here. We did not include the open-ended responses in the raw export because some of you don’t understand the meaning of anonymous.
110 individuals responded to the survey, and they break down like so:
The big fear here was with fewer people commuting, we would see a massive decrease in people listening to podcasts. This concern has mostly turned out to be false. Podcasting has not seen the gains that TV or internet usage has seen, but it’s holding about steady in aggregate. The following graph is downloads by day for a group of 300+ podcasts on the Podsights platform. Trailing is the week prior.
Publishers were more optimistic. Almost half reported an increase, a third a decrease, and ~18% said there was no change.
There are winners and losers by category:
News podcasts saw the biggest gain for apparent reasons followed by Health and Fitness and Education. Sports was the clear loser, hard to talk about events that aren’t happening.
We are seeing a shift in download time. The following compares hourly downloads in EST for February 19th and March 19th. You can see a definite bump in the mornings in February, which shifts and is much more gradual in March and peaks later in the day. User behavior is changing, but people are still finding time to listen.
We can expect more COVID-19 focused content. We asked respondents, “How are you, if at all, evolving your content due to current events.” Almost half reported they are working on COVID-19 or adjacent podcasts.
I’m going to lead and end this section with the same idea. It’s a good time to invest in podcast advertising.
Podcasting has traditionally relied on direct response brands for advertising. As the market grew, DR could no longer support every publisher, so sales teams focused on the Fortune 500 brand advertisers.
As a publisher, more involvement with big brand advertisers resulted in the hardest hit in terms of podcast media pullback. We asked publishers where they saw pullback:
It’s too early in to see this decline in the research data, for the most part, save some pretty clear examples. DraftKings’ last ad was for march madness on the 9th, the 12th they canceled the tournament. The last time we saw an ad for Delta was on the 5th. This pullback will start showing in the numbers for Q2. Quite a bit of podcast media is now being pushed to Q3 and Q4, leaving additional Q2 inventory open until then.
The most reassuring stat here is that 80% of brands have either kept their spend levels the same or increased in this environment.
Taken at face value, Q2 is going to be down more than 20% across the board. Publishers are starting to entice new advertisers by dropping prices and increase value. To fill the void, we asked: "As a publisher, have you started doing any of the following in response to the current situation?"
The question becomes, how are advertisers doing right now? If we look at the aggregate page, view data from February through now, it paints about a flat, slightly down trend line.
Consumers are spending less time browsing DTC catalogs and spending more time on news sites. If we look at aggregate purchase events, people are not messing around.
These trends feel right. If we can't go outside, we’ll have everything delivered to our front doors. DTC companies are making hay while the sun shines.
A few anecdotes from our conversations:
- There are several brands on the sidelines or holding because they don't want to seem opportunistic.
- Without sporting events, brands with marketing budgets are looking for new inventory options.
- A few brands are doing so well in the current environment that advertising is adding fuel to the fire they are unable to support.
- From a few agency partners: clients that used pixel-based attribution were less likely to pull back. Marketing teams started going line item by line item and comparing results across mediums. If a brand could compare podcasting and digital side by side, they were more likely to stay.
We are in uncharted territory, and even so, 96.55% of respondents said they were optimistic about the future of podcasting in light of current events. (If you are part of the 3.45% I'd love to talk).
We received some answers as to why:
- "We'll learn. We'll be less reliant and take less for granted. We'll lock in our deals better with more defined outs."
- "The industry is going to mature. More dynamic ad insertion deals, fairer CPMs. More multi-platform deals."
- "Direct response brands will offer more stability and better rates, serving as the industry's safety net. It will be a huge reminder for the industry that the original "high engagement" approach to sponsorships is what made podcasts such a hot advertising opportunity in the first place."
- "There will be an increase in creativity, content output, etc. and a decrease in brand spending for the short term. This is a huge positive for listeners."
We have no grand theory on what the future is going to hold. I think we will all be trying to find level footing for a long time. We asked respondents when we will start turning around, and 60% said in the Q3/Q4 timeframe.
Till then, we wait for our savior to return to podcasting.