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Spotify and the quality of podcast advertising
Andriod Auto

Spotify and the quality of podcast advertising

2023-03-27

Spotify went on something of a shopping spree related to podcasting, wideness both content and technology, between 2019 and 2022:

  • In February 2019, the visitor acquired Gimlet Media and Anchor, two podcast networks, for a combined $340MM;
  • In March 2019, the visitor acquired Parcast, a true treason podcasting studio, for $56MM;
  • In February 2020, the visitor acquired The Ringer, a sports-related podcast and media network created by Bill Simmons, for nearly $200MM;
  • In May 2020, the visitor acquired the sectional multi-year publishing rights for The Joe Rogan Experience, a podcast, for a reported $200MM (the podcast did not wilt sectional to Spotify until September 2020);
  • In November 2020, the visitor spent $235MM to acquire Megaphone, a podcast publishing and razzmatazz platform;
  • In June 2021, the visitor acquired the sectional multi-year publishing rights for Call Her Daddy, a podcast, for a reported $60MM;
  • In December 2021, the visitor acquired Whooshkaa, a podcast hosting and monetization platform, for an undisclosed sum;
  • In February 2022, the visitor acquired both Podsights, a podcast measurement service, and Chartable, a podcast analytics tool, for a combined $87MM.

These content acquisitions — in wing to sectional content deals struck with the likes of the Obamas, Prince Harry, and Kim Kardashian — were mostly spearheaded by Dawn Ostroff, a veteran television operator whom Spotify hired in 2018 into the Chief Content and Merchantry Officer role. Spotify’s strategy of simultaneously developing its podcast production and monetization capabilities while moreover aggregating a content portfolio through the vanquishment of sectional publishing rights for large, well-known shows was for a time, ostensibly, working. In Q2 2022, the visitor reported 19% year-over-year growth in subscribers versus 31% year-over-year growth in razzmatazz revenue (versus 23% growth in overall revenue, as I detailed here).

But Spotify performed something of an vicissitude on its podcasting strategy: the visitor laid off 6% of global staff in January of this year and parted ways with Ms. Ostroff, imparting many of her role’s responsibilities with Alex Norström, formerly the company’s Chief Freemium Merchantry Officer, now elevated to Co-President.

Spotify’s strategy with podcasts followed something of a television playbook: reap headline content and pair it with broad-based trademark advertising. From this piece in Semafor:

Ostroff’s biggest editorial bet, however, was on Hollywood talent, and on a podcast industry that has increasingly centered on packages created by talent agencies.The former executive had focused on signing big name idealism talent, lovemaking A-Listers and making overtures to non-podcasting celebs like Kerry Washington, Gigi Hadid, Bill Maher, and Jennifer Aniston…She appeared to unhook on the promise: Spotify signed deals with the Obamas, Kim Kardashian, and Prince Harry and Megan Markle. But others at the visitor saw her as inexperienced in audio, and focused on big names over quality content. People familiar with Spotify’s numbers said Michelle Obama, TikTok star Addison Rae, and Kardashian’s podcasts were initially successful, but churned users quickly without the first few episodes, rather than developing loyal audiences.

The podcast strategy began to walkout fractures in Q3 2022, when razzmatazz revenue growth slowed to 19%, which the visitor attributed to a “challenging macro environment” (my thoughts on that rationale here). With the layoffs and executive reshuffle older this year, the visitor powerfully capitulated on the strategy; in the earnings call for Q4 2022, held on January 31st, a little increasingly than a week without Spotify’s layoffs were announced, Ek relented that Spotify’s “podcasting merchantry had been a stilt to our gross margin profile.” Spotify’s razzmatazz revenue in Q4 2022 grew by 14% on a year-over-year basis, representing 14% of the company’s total revenue. In response to a question on the commercial viability of the podcasts strategy in the call, Ek said (emphasis mine):

Now what you’re probably asking underneath all of that is that it’s been a stilt on the gross margin side. So, what does that midpoint future? Well, we’ve been making many investments. Some of them have been working greatly, and you should expect us to double lanugo on those. And some of them, not surprisingly, haven’t worked out. And there are unrepealable shows that work really, really well for us, and there shows that didn’t perform as we expected. And I think that’s a sign of maturity that you go for the growth first and then you seek the efficiency….But generally, what you should expect us is wideness the workbench now to be focused increasingly on that efficiency and creating increasingly leverage and that’s certainly true in podcasting too. And the management changes really had nothing to do with the transpiration of strategy in podcasting. It’s increasingly virtually increasing the speed of decision-making and increasing the focus on efficiency wideness the board considering the next era of Spotify is one where we’re subtracting speed plus efficiency, not just focused on speed or growth at all costs.

In considering Spotify’s podcasting strategy — aggregating large audiences tying to headline content and pairing it with ads — it’s important to recognize the request of the ad placements that can be joined to podcast content. Trademark advertisers are enticed by the large, heterogenous audiences that follow tentpole podcasts, just as they are with tentpole television series. But podcast ads inherently present challenges for conversion measurement; if uncontrived response advertisers are to be courted by platforms like Spotify, which does offer some measurement assistance through tools like Podsights, then targeting must be unprotesting by contextual relevance, which isn’t present in content that is as widely well-flavored as what Spotify was investing heavily into acquiring. As I write in Twitter and the quality of trademark razzmatazz revenue:

Brand razzmatazz revenue is unreceptive to a participation trophy for a social media property; it’s a low-leverage ways of converting sustentation into revenue. And while trademark razzmatazz revenue is fairly easy to harvest, it’s susceptible to disruption through forerunner boycotts and “shiny new object” syndrome. Uncontrived response razzmatazz tools aim to use behavioral and contextual data to unlock value through relevance targeting; trademark razzmatazz tools requite advertisers untargeted wangle to attention. As a result, uncontrived response advertisers buy conversions and revenue, while trademark advertisers simply buy reach.

And in The perilous mythology of Trademark Marketing for digital products:

The promise of trademark marketing is that, by creating presence of mind within a consumer for a particular product, the purchasing of that product becomes habitual on some cadence; for instance, whenever a consumer is in the market for new shoes, they default to a particular trademark considering of some unification for it that has been cultivated through trademark razzmatazz (and, obviously, product satisfaction). The promise of uncontrived response marketing is that, given whiz targeting, it can produce a purchase immediately, exploiting existing demand and creating the opportunity for the consumer to engage with the product.

What is the quality of trademark razzmatazz for a podcast network? It’s table stakes — preliminaries noise. Amassing an expansive, diversified regulars and then shoe-horning trademark razzmatazz into that content is a commercial strategy borrowed directly from television. But television predates the existence of direct-response advertising, which, by now represents the towering opportunity in digital advertising. There is no contextual relevance for mass-market podcasts outside of the most widely well-flavored brands, which would squint at podcast razzmatazz as a supplement (or substitute) for television advertising.

But the zillion of uncontrived response advertisers aren’t interested in this format, and a lack of measurement solutions (which Spotify acquired) aren’t the primary obstacle: the cadre content wits simply provides no contextual relevance to uncontrived response advertising, nor does it unconcentrated intent. And as Semafor reports, podcasters finger constrained by exclusivity contracts: universal reach wideness platforms, but expressly YouTube and Apple Podcasts, is preferable. So while sectional distribution for tentpole content has scrutinizingly certainly driven subscriptions for Spotify, albeit at exorbitant expense, the unrestrictedness of those podcasts has likely undercut razzmatazz revenue. The network television strategy simply doesn’t translate to the digital realm.

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