OUR THINKING/ARTICLE

Tune into the audio boom

Meg Wright

From million-dollar deals to Pulitzer-winning podcasts, 2020 is boom time for premium audio content. So, what is changing? And how does B2B stand to gain?

When Spotify announced an exclusive deal with The Joe Rogan Experience in May of this year, its stock skyrocketed. Rumoured to be worth $100 million, the arrangement will see Apple’s long-time number one show become a Spotify exclusive by year’s end.

But that’s not all. The Joe Rogan Experience, and its 11-year back catalogue of episodes, brings with it a YouTube empire of 8.5 million subscribers and some 3.7 million daily views, not to mention a veritable treasure trove of influential headliners: Mike Tyson, Elon Musk, Lance Armstrong, to name a few.

Indeed, The Joe Rogan Experience is the latest in a string of investments that Spotify has made in its premium audio content. Last year, it acquired Gimlet Media, Anchor and Parcast, in addition to signing other exclusive deals, such as with the Obamas’ production company.

You may find yourself asking, so what? Well, according to one audio blogger: “In the years to come, Rogan’s move to Spotify could be seen as the landmark moment that started the shift from the market-dominant YouTube to the rest of the platforms.”

In an audio landscape that is currently booming—thanks to an increase in user-generated content driven by the impacts of the global pandemic—Spotify’s moves signal a subtle but strong shift in agenda: Now is the time to invest in premium audio content.

For firms that have long considered a foray into the world of audio, it’s the perfect interlude to take stock of the new audio landscape, and to consider how businesses may stand to benefit from it.

From freemium to premium

On-demand audio content used to start and end with podcasts. That is certainly no longer the case. The shift from “freemium” aggregation and hosting platforms—the likes of SoundCloud and Apple Podcasts—to premium, gated, subscription-based and even brand-hosted models is reflective of this shift.

And, just like any other piece of great thought leadership, for premium audio content to succeed, brands must consider who they are speaking to and what it is they have to say. For this reason, premium audio content needn’t cost the earth. Rather, it should be seen as an investment in high-quality relationships with niche audiences.

Spotify aren’t the only ones that understand this. For instance, Majelan, the podcast player and service created by former Radio France CEO, recently announced its move away from aggregation towards premium content production.

Further afield, the web giants of the world are in hot pursuit of their own premium audio strategies. Apple is ramping up plans to add audio content to its paid news subscription service, incentivising publishers to add this feature alongside their written content submissions.

Personalisation is firmly driving Amazon’s audio investment as it opts to create localised podcast content, like news and sports, to sit adjacent its television offerings. Here Alexa could prove to be the company’s most lucrative weapon, enabling users to leverage voice technology to discover new content suited specifically to them.

The list of examples continues to grow, revealing a noisy battleground for the growing premium listenership of the world. In parallel, the number of podcast listeners has grown some 225% in the US alone in the past five years, and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and PwC estimate that advertising revenue from podcasts is likely to top $1 billion by 2021.

Voicing the benefits of audio thought leadership

So how do businesses stand to gain from this shift?

As a medium, there are ample benefits to audio content. For starters:

  • 30% of the world’s population are estimated to be auditory learners;
  • Audio content enhances consumption experience for those with sensory impairment;
  • Voice content offers flexibility and variety, such as speed and on-demand listening;
  • And, with a sharp increase in the number of voice-enabled devices, it offers development opportunities that extend beyond the net of standalone written or visual content.

Of course, none of this is to mention the possibilities that the format yields for in-depth, nuanced discussions, captured and delivered to an audience intimately. For this reason, audio is a natural fit in the realm of thought leadership: it delivers the ideas, insights and experiences direct from the thought leaders themselves.

This certainly aligns to our own research, which finds that a clear and compelling narrative (41%) and unique insights (40%) are among the top things senior executives crave most from their thought leadership content. Audio is also simple to consume, making it a popular option with this oft-time-poor audience.

Perhaps best of all, when done right premium audio content builds bridges between businesses and their clients, customers, prospects and stakeholders. By literally putting a voice to their message, firms can establish trust that leads to a highly engaged audience, enhanced brand awareness, and increased commercial opportunities, to name a few.

Final word: Talk about the future

Despite reports that audio content consumption has flatlined amidst the global pandemic, the “big picture” premium audio landscape tells a remarkably promising story.

The addition of audio journalism to the list of Pulitzer Prize categories from this year has certainly heralded in the next era in premium listening: one where content is not just created, but recognised and celebrated for its calibre.

And with the prospect of great return for those that invest in their own message wisely, it really does go to show that there’s never been a better time to tune in to the world of audio. So, what are you waiting for?

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About the author: Meg Wright

Meg is one of the latest additions to our expert editorial team. Specialising in all things tech, Meg is a former marketer at tech start-up agency, Rebeltech, after spending a number of years as an editor and storyteller in both London and Sydney.

A journalist by training and nature, Meg also has a passion for podcasting and video production, and has vast experience in developing wider content strategies for a range of companies.

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