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This week in audio: podcast ads gone wrong and the news you missed

This week in audio: podcast ads gone wrong and the news you missed


Programmatic comes for podcasting

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Hello and welcome to 2022. It remains winter, y’all. I haven’t seen the sun in seemingly weeks, but we’re pushing through, surviving on podcast news for warmth and cheeriness.

Now, let’s get to the news. There’s not a ton to discuss today, but I do have a new report that I’m excited to share with you all. Let’s start there.

EXCLUSIVE: Podcast ads gone wrong

This morning, I published a story on The Verge about the ongoing push to make programmatic advertising work in podcasting and the struggles podcasters are already experiencing. The idea behind the transition is to allow advertisers to easily and automatically bid on podcast ad inventory and have those ads targeted against specific audiences. This is why we’ve seen podcast platforms not only buy up advertising and hosting platforms, like Amazon with Art19 and Spotify with Megaphone, but also ink deals with podcasters for the exclusive rights to sell ads against their programming. To make this work, platforms not only need a lot of advertisers but also a lot of podcast inventory. 

That’s only one part of the challenge, however. The second, and likely the more difficult one, is getting podcasters comfortable with the idea that software will insert ads into their shows without their expressed okay for each individual ad. This is especially tricky in podcasting because it has traditionally been an industry where the audience appreciates the ads they hear and takes action because of them. (I’m sure some folks would even argue this is the “magic” of podcasting and a critical selling point.)

All this context leads us to my story, which highlights a few situations in which ads showed up in places they shouldn’t have. A science podcast, for example, received ads for oil companies, despite blocking those categories. Meanwhile, American Public Media entirely disabled programmatic from its children’s programming after an incident in which an ad for The Sex Lives of College Girls was inserted. Both of these issues come down to miscategorization, or ads being categorized under one catchall genre that either is inaccurate or not robust enough. In the case of Sex Lives of College Girls, for example, the ad was categorized under “television” but could have come with some sort of rating or mature label to prevent this exact situation.

In both incidents, Spotify powered the ads. I reached out for clarification on how the platform classifies ads, as well as what it’s doing to prevent situations like these moving forward and have yet to hear back. Still, Spotify has been the most vocal about its moves into podcast advertising and presumably needs programmatic to work in order to make money back on all its audio investments.

I have questions, though, following this reporting. For one, does the industry want to move toward a programmatic future? Is getting away from personalized host-read ads the best move? Can podcast ads become automated while maintaining a high-quality bar? Will audiences soon learn to tune out podcast ads, like they do with TV ads, radio ads, and web ads? 

I don’t have the answers, though I do have my thoughts, most of which is yes, the industry, with industry being defined as big companies, wants this, so long as it isn’t a requirement for smaller shows to participate, but that it will come with a sacrifice of audience engagement. I think we’ll also end up in a world with no skip button. Some intrepid platform might make its selling point the ability to skip ads, though, and while I’m thinking far down the line, these decisions are what the industry is building toward. 

Phew, that was a long one. I just have a few more bullet point news notes to mention, mostly stuff we couldn’t shout out before the holiday. Starting with some ad-centric news.

SiriusXM signs content development and ad sales deal with Tom Segura’s YMH Studios

SiriusXM keeps on making deals. This time, it’s signed one with comedians Tom Segura and Christina P for their YMH Studios. The two companies will work on developing new content, the content will go ad-free within Stitcher Premium, and Sirius retains exclusive global ad sales rights. This follows Sirius’ deals with The Last Podcast on the Left, Audiochuck, and 99% Invisible, among others. It’s all about the ad sales, baby!

Deadline profiles ICM’s Caroline Edwards, focusing on “activism and advocacy” content

Before Christmas, heh sorry for the delay, Deadline profiled ICM’s director of podcast initiatives Caroline Edwards. The piece mostly involves Edwards taking stock of the industry up until now and offering us some idea of what she and the team are focusing on in 2022. They’re looking at “diverse voices,” children’s programming, and politics — specifically advocacy and activism. 

“I’m really excited about bringing up, cultivating, and supporting this next generation of people talking about what’s going on in our world and what we can do about it. They’re not the easiest sales, but 2020 was all about the celebrity show, and the fallout from that is not all of them are hits, so we need to focus on people who are native to this medium. People are now looking at people who are just genuinely good [at podcasting],” she says.

Here we are with ad sales again :’)

Spotify’s chief legal officer and head of global affairs leaves for Disney

A small note here but Horacio Gutierrez, Spotify’s chief legal office and head of global affairs, is leaving for Disney, where he’ll be senior executive VP, general counsel, and secretary. Many words, one title. He’ll take over that role on February 1st. Gutierrez mostly showed up in our world as the primary spokesperson for Spotify’s battle against Apple. My editor-in-chief Nilay Patel interviewed him for Decoder in June, during which Gutierrez argued Apple not only acts as a monopoly but is “unfair” and deserving of government regulation.

That’s all, folks. I hope the podcast news gods will bless us with more this week because we’ll be back Thursday and Friday for you Insider subscribers. For the free folks, we’ll see you again Tuesday. Bye-bye!