Podcasters buy millions of listeners, raising questions about marketing tactics

Podcasters buy millions of listeners, raising questions about marketing tactics

POdcasters are always on the lookout for flashy new places to promote their shows, from billboards to floats in parades to airplane banners. Some networks, however, have discovered a less glamorous, but highly effective way to gain millions of bankable listeners: loading mobile games with a particular type of ad.

Every time a player taps on one of these pop-up in-game ads – and earns virtual loot for it – a podcast episode starts downloading to their device. The podcast company, in turn, can claim the player as a new listener to their program and add another coveted download to their overall tally.

This practice allows networks to quickly rack up downloads by tapping into a source of hyperactive video game users. But it also brings into question who is a legitimate podcast listener and how much time should be needed to count as a download.

“Not all impressions are created equal,” said Pace University marketing professor Larry Chiagouris. “I do not say [this tactic is] not ethical or illegal, but it raises issues. If someone is trying to play a game and that is the purpose of that interaction, they may just be eager to play the game and not very interested in the information being shared.

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Podcasts typically rely on downloads as the primary measure of ad sales. When an individual presses an in-app play button on their mobile device, an entire episode begins to download so they can listen to it even when there is no good internet connection, for example in an airplane or in the subway. Ads for an episode are inserted at this point of download, which means that even if a consumer is only listening to 10 minutes of a 30-minute show, the mid-roll to 15-minute ad is often ready to be heard. , not to mention , counted by the commercial team.

To date, the podcast industry has said almost nothing about its adoption of this video game strategy. In August, DeepSee, an ad fraud detection company, published a research article revealing how this practice captures gamers’ attention.

“Nobody really asked about it or what the user experience is like,” said Rocky Moss, co-founder and CEO of DeepSee.


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One game referenced in the DeepSee article is Subway Surfers, a popular mobile app from Danish company Sybo, which has been downloaded some 3 billion times since its debut in 2012. Over a two-week period in August, Bloomberg found several publishers using the game to rack up podcast downloads, including the New York Post, independent podcaster Scott Savlov, and iHeartMedia Inc.

Representatives for the Post and iHeart declined to comment.

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Savlov says he spends “nominal” money on in-game ads and initially used them to generate interest in his show when it launched. These days, he says, he’s turning more to social platform algorithms to promote his celebrity interviews.

“Don’t count on [in-game ads] exclusively because at some point you’re going to want as much organic, authentic growth as possible,” he said.

Podcast networks that actively leverage downloads in the mobile gaming space do so through an intermediary company, called Jun Group, which was founded in 2005 and sold to Advantage Solutions Inc., a marketing company and sales, in 2018. Corey Weiner, CEO of Jun Group, said the company specializes in raising consumer awareness of products, websites and podcasts by placing its ads in more than 1,000 mobile apps that collectively reach 100 million unique users.

“There’s a really big reason why all the biggest brands in the world invest so much money in brand awareness, because without it, you have no chance of breaking up the mess,” he said. declared. “Every publisher, every content creator, has invested in marketing to promote themselves since the dawn of time, and this is just another way of doing it.”

He said the company didn’t specifically track how long gamers would stay on a podcast after clicking on an ad.

“I think the standards bodies, the people involved in deciding what a podcast play is, might decide to raise the bar on what constitutes a podcast play,” Weiner said. “Even if you raise the bar, [the ad] will still exceed the bar. So actually, I’m actually suggesting raising the bar because we can jump over it.

According to someone who spoke with Jun Group, the price the company charges podcast networks for these ads can vary depending on whether they’re targeted to particular demographics or guaranteed to attract unique listeners. The starting price for a 20-second ad is $27 per 1,000 website page views. To monetize these downloads, podcast networks can turn around and sell the resulting audience to brand advertisers, presumably at a nice markup over what they pay Jun Group.

Jun Group’s main podcast client is iHeart, the creator of shows by Will Ferrell, Charlamagne tha God and Shonda Rhimes. According to a person familiar with the effort, the radio company, which bills itself as the world’s largest podcast publisher, has shelled out more than $10 million and gained about 6 million unique listeners per month from these ads since. 2018. The company mainly manages its in-game campaigns at the beginning and end of the month. The impact can be seen in publicly available charts produced by Chartable, a podcast marketing company owned by Spotify Technology SA.

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During the last week of August, iHeart podcasts accounted for more than half of the top 10 trending shows, even though one of the podcasts listed hadn’t released new episodes in months and another hadn’t. released no new programming for over a year. Several of the specific shows Bloomberg encountered on Subway Surfers also appeared lower on the charts, including “Life in Spanglish,” “Run That Prank,” and “All the Smoke.”

(Disclosure: iHeart is a partner of Bloomberg Media, and DeepSee discovered promotions for a Bloomberg podcast running in Subway Surfers).

iHeart also retains the top spot on Podtrac, a monthly podcast ranking that measures unique viewership and network downloads. For the month of August, it reached approximately 35.5 million unique listeners, 11 million more than its nearest competitor, Amazon.com Inc.’s Wondery. The company first topped this list in August 2020, with 24.6 million unique listeners compared to National Public Radio’s 24 million.

The incentives for investing in marketing channels like Jun Group’s are clear. The audio industry has been marked by an investment frenzy. To recoup the money as quickly as possible, companies will rely, in part, on increasing the reach of their podcasts to generate more ad revenue. The industry is expected to surpass $4 billion in revenue in 2024, up from around $700 million in 2019.

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