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What We Learned From the 2021 IAB Podcast Upfront



  • Fragmentation poses a challenge for advertisers
  • The rapid adoption of smart speakers enables more audio consumption 
  • Host reads and dynamically inserted ads are dominating podcast ad revenue

At this year’s IAB Podcast Upfront, publishers unveiled a considerable amount of new programming, covered how technology is empowering podcast advertisers, and discussed what’s next for the rising podcast industry. It was hosted by Nora Ali, media personality and musician, along with comedian and beauty expert Jackie Johnson, creator of the “Natch Beaut” podcast. 

The virtual event took place over the course of two days, bringing together buyers, creatives, digital agency planners, and brand marketers. 

Day 1:

It’s official. Podcast advertising has become mainstream. According to Edison research, monthly podcast consumers grew by 16% year-over-year, surpassing 100 million Americans for the first time. To fuel this growing audience, the IAB Podcast Upfront highlighted the latest programming slates along with panel discussions covering challenges advertisers face, podcast ad revenue, and contextual targeting.

Many podcast publishers presented new shows at the IAB Podcast Upfront 2021. Here are a few that caught our attention:

  • NPR, the nonprofit media organization and a leader in the audio space, announced an upcoming show with former NBA player Jay Williams. Each week, he’ll go deep with icons from the worlds of sports, entertainment, and pop culture to discover the strategies and mindsets people need to grow empires out of their personalities. His show is due to launch in December.
  • Adonde Media is partnering with Hrishikesh Hirway, the host of the podcast “Song Exploder,” for a Spanish spin-off called “Canción Exploder.” It’s the latest show from the production company behind the “TED en Español” Spanish-language podcasts and language-learning app Duolingo. Adonde Media specializes in multilingual narrative audio storytelling, with a special focus on U.S. Latinos and Spanish-speaking audiences.
  • LAist Studios, the podcast-production arm of LAist, which is part of the Southern California Public Radio family, presented two new shows sure to appeal to Angelenos and beyond: “The Big One,” a survival guide anticipating a big California earthquake; and “KPOP,” a new podcast hosted by Vivian Yoon that will focus on the history of KPOP. 

Day one also included media companies and podcast publishers pitching their latest programming slate, from companies such as WarnerMedia, REALM network, SXM Media, Blue Wire, WBUR, and more. 

The last segment of the day discussed how advertisers can leverage America’s fastest-growing advertising channel. According to IAB, television and audio has shifted dramatically to live and on-demand streaming across devices and smart speakers. With more unique listeners and increasing listening times, marketers and publishers alike need new approaches to collect data. 

Fragmentation remains an issue for advertisers in the audio space, who want to measure listeners across multiple devices. According to Andre Swanston, TransUnion SVP of Media and Entertainment,  “listeners are streaming different content on multiple platforms, (smartphones, cars, smart speakers) with a variety of ways to target audiences, raising a challenge for advertisers to measure listeners.” To overcome this obstacle, marketers and advertisers are utilizing sophisticated technology to measure ads across multiple devices, utilizing layers of targeting, and producing content at scale. 

Day 2: 

Day two was all about podcast advertising and marketing. Hosted by Nora Ali and Daryn Carp, co-host of the true crime podcast “Shaken and Disturbed,” the day included presentations by Audacy, Acast, Podsights, Osiris, LWStudios, Charitable, AdvertiserCast, and Atlantic.

At the panel discussion “How Technology and Automation is Impacting Podcast Advertising,” experts from across the industry shared how they’re leveraging technology to move the needle in their business, what challenges exist today, and their expectations for the future.

According to IAB’s Podcast Ad Revenue study, the use of dynamic ad insertion (DAI), which enables advertiser placement at the point of listener download, comprised 67% of all podcast ad revenue in 2020 (up from 48% the prior year).“Those increases we saw from the PWC report are greater than what we are seeing at Veritone One, but a lot of that is new agencies and groups coming into podcasting,” said Sean King, EVP, Head of Monetization at Veritone One. “From an advertiser standpoint, we still see greater response rates and engagement from embedded host-read ads, which still play a part in all of our client’s executions. But DAI has really enabled us to lean in for more targeted aspects for targeting a genre, a geolocation, a psychographic—it’s adding a new layer of targeting and strategy in our day-to-day podcast executions.”

According to the IAB, marketers are increasingly leaning into programmatic buying to enable data-driven (and local) decision making, leveraging brand safety tools to ensure their ad runs in the right content and context, and are using technology to quickly collect performance data that enables marketers to do real-time optimization. 

“We are seeing a move from baked-in to dynamic ad insertion in terms of volume,” said Anne Frisbie, Senior VP/Global Supply & Partnerships at AdsWizz. “The benefits for advertisers and publishers are enormous, from advanced targeting, third-party tracking capabilities, ability to refresh creative, ability for publishers to monetize their back catalog right after a sponsorship has run. We are working on more automation around host-read ads so we don’t have to fully give up the power of host-read ads as we move to support more broad industry standards and enable advertisers greater control and transparency on their campaigns.” 

Although there is an increase in DAI, host-read ads continue to represent more than half of revenue by ad type. So how do you know what is suitable for your brand?

“It all comes down to the client’s specific goals, what they want to measure,” King said. “There has to be a layer of customization based on specific needs, objectives, their funnel, and media mix. Audio is a part of their overall strategy; it’s not always the largest part, and [we’re] trying to triangulate the different signals to make sure we’re giving it the appropriate measurement.” 

What’s next in the podcast industry?

According to industry experts, some exciting things to look forward to in the podcast space are the new opportunities of scaling content, expanding contextual ad targeting capabilities, and that podcast ad revenue could more than double over the next two years, from $1 billion in 2021 to $2.2 billion by 2023


Featured image by IAB