The IAB has released its inaugural ‘Podcast Playbook’, in the wake of news that podcasts now reach 25% of consumers over the age of 12 in the US, with those consumers listening to an average of six podcasts per week. At the same time, PwC forecasts podcast revenue in the US to be in excess of $220m in 2017, up 85% YoY from 2016. Are podcasts about to go mainstream?

Young, entrepreneurial internet brands like Squarespace, Audible, Slack and MailChimp have long been at the bleeding edge of content advertising, employing podcasts as a key vehicle for reaching audiences effectively through this native style of advertising.

ComScore claimed last year that consumers found podcast ads the least intrusive form of digital advertising, yet uncovered that two-thirds of listeners have either researched or purchased something they first heard about in a podcast advert. Unlike radio, a largely passive consumption medium, podcasts speak to the curatorial spirit of this generation of under 34-year-olds.

These brands have built up a dedicated following of otherwise hard-to-reach early adopters and trend-setters, attaching their name as facilitator to the content they not only enjoy but active seek out. Start-ups like Casper Mattresses, Blue Apron, Harry’s and Lyft have enjoyed this halo effect using the medium as a spring board to fame via a loyal, highly-social foundation of consumer.

Branded podcasts have also become popular, with advertisers partnering with production studios for podcasting content solutions. Awards are no longer reserved for the likes of Serial (which picked up a Peabody award in 2015); GE and Panoply collected a Cannes Lion for their branded science fiction podcast, ‘The Message’. While, multinationals like Nike, Tinder, Virgin Atlantic and Goldman Sachs have all commissioned their own series.

And interest in these is no less fervent amongst the core podcasting demographic: eBay’s first foray into branded podcasts reportedly attracted more than double the number of downloads guaranteed by Gimlet Media.

Naysayers have pointed out monthly downloads doesn’t necessarily equate to listenership. With iOS 11, Apple has announced that podcasters will be able to see how audiences are actually responding to their shows – with data aggregating actual listenership, as well as starts, stops and skips by episode. Gimlet Media has called this “an inflection point for the industry,” and looks to offer transparency for brand and media owner over the number of people who actually listen to the content, alleviate concerns and opening the doors for more brand-centric and less direct response advertising without relying on promotional code redemption as a metric.

A broad pool of media owners is increasingly realising both the business and brand potential themselves. Independent US digital media company Vox Media, already making considerable inroads in podcasting, recently announced a renewed commitment, seeking to launch a ‘Daily News Explainer’ podcast following the appointment of a newly created Executive Producer of Audio. While the Guardian and The New York Times have been increasingly active in supplementing their print and digital journalism with longform discussion, interview and content series in the form of podcasts.

Now, even the big dogs are starting to get in on the action too, as WPP invested $5 million into podcast start-up Gimlet Media in September (who incidentally raised a further $15 million from venture capital firm, Stripes Group).
In a media landscape where, increasingly, content is king, and context is key, podcasts offer a means of cherry picking audiences, facilitating and tailoring content with a highly attentive, curatorial, captive audience. More popular than ever, and fervently consumed, it’s time to turn the volume up on podcasts. “Are you listening? Your hardest-to-reach consumers are,” said Hernan Lopez, Founder & CEO of Wondery.