I am very excited to join the Signal Hill Insights team, especially right now. I think there is some vital work to do in support of growing podcasting, and Signal Hill is in a central position to do this.
I cannot overstate the importance of independent third-party research in the development of any media platform. That said, publishers are a fundamental driver, and many invest in internal research, done with integrity, to build their business. In turn this elevates the whole medium.
I’m proud of what I accomplished at Midroll Media – one of the first podcast ad networks – which became Stitcher, and was then acquired by SiriusXM/Pandora. It was farsighted of Midroll’s founders to prioritize research, and publicizing that research, from the very start, nearly a decade ago. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to do this construction at the ground floor of a new medium. Then, it was enormously gratifying to find myself in the company of a large team of talented researchers and analysts at Pandora, where the entire SXM Media sales team embodies a deep respect for the insights that get generated.
However, as Signal Hill founder Jeff Vidler observes, podcasting has now reached an inflection point, even as Bloomberg’s Ashley Carman and Lucas Shaw report on “The Great Podcasting Market Correction.” I think it’s the right time to make this move to a respected third-party, where I can better serve the entire podcasting industry at this juncture.
The time is right for more holistic insights, in both advertising effectiveness and audience development. Let’s look at ads first.
Predicting the Future (Campaign Performance)
Today there’s a very comprehensive set of third-party analytics that show advertisers how well their podcast campaigns performed across the funnel. The next step is to shift from analytics being mostly post-hoc, to informing a “pre-hoc” strategy. This entails leveraging historic performance data to create predictive models that inform future podcast campaign strategy.
The ad creative is podcasting’s special sauce. Overseeing and analyzing ad effectiveness studies across hundreds of campaigns has proven this time and again. But it can’t just be reduced to something as simple as, “host-reads are best,” or “mid-rolls work better.” There are multiple factors, and plenty of nuance. I’ve heard announcer-reads that equal or outperform host reads – untangling the differential requires looking at the whole campaign strategy, and never losing sight of the creative itself.
That whole strategy obviously includes targeting, whether you’re buying at the show level, at the network level, contextually, by audience, or even leveraging AI. However, as targeting gets more sophisticated, I worry that creative considerations become secondary (or tertiary), and expediency results in radio or streaming creatives being used in podcast campaigns. The concern is that expediency comes at a real price, leaving out the special sauce, negatively impacting performance and depressing podcast placements compared to other channels. I’ve already seen this happen on real-world campaigns.
The way forward is to dissect the many variables of performance, and analyze them deeply. From here, patterns emerge and hypotheses are formed, which then can be tested. The results drive new models for optimizing podcast campaigns, taking more guesswork out of the planning process, and mitigating uncertainty for brands taking their first leap into the medium. As an independent third-party, at Signal Hill we have the advantage of scanning the horizon, across publishers, brands and verticals, and the opportunity to create formulae both customized for specific partners, as well as for the benefit for the whole industry.
Knowing Our Audience (To Be)
While intelligent advertising models will grow more brand investment in podcasting, audience growth remains critical. As Tom Webster observed way back in 2018, the next frontier is (and remains) 100 million weekly listeners. The question is: what does it take to invite the next 20 million listeners in? More precisely, what are their barriers, and what are their incentives?
As the research agency behind The Canadian Podcast Listener, Signal Hill has deep experience in audience insights. I, myself, have surveyed hundreds of thousands of podcast listeners over the last nine years. All of this helps clarify the inquiry, but also highlights how much we still don’t know. It’s time for the industry to invest in this project at every level, because every podcaster, publisher, agency and advertiser stands to benefit. I believe Signal Hill is ready to play a key leadership role.
At Least We Don’t Have To Explain Podcasting Anymore
This probably seems like an ambitious agenda. But podcasting as an industry was born of such audaciousness – it wasn’t so long ago when most of us spent half our time explaining what a podcast is, nevermind that they had ads. To succeed, I look forward to continuing productive work with Signal Hill’s broad base of publisher, brand and agency partners, and forging new relationships, including other leading and emerging third-party firms.
Our mission requires collaboration and an open mindset, driven by a clear focus. Podcasting has thrived on a unique industry-wide esprit de corps, and I firmly believe this is essential to its continued prosperity. I’m here for it. Perhaps you’ll join us?