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Sports boom and other IAB Podcast Upfront takeaways

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May 13, 2024
Adam Schefter and Mike Greenberg sitting behind a desk that says "GET UP"

Adam Schefter and Mike Greenberg. Photo: Kerry Flynn/Axios

After last year's brutal slowdown in podcast ad revenue, companies pitching at the annual IAB Podcast Upfront exuded confidence about new shows, measurement improvements and overall strategies.

Why it matters: U.S. podcast ad revenue grew only 5% to $1.9 billion in 2023, compared to 26% the prior year, per a recent IAB report by PwC. But a resurgence is coming with an expected 12% growth in 2024.

Here's what we heard:

Sports podcasts are booming

  • "Everybody's been talking about sports today," SiriusXM Media's Lizzie Widhelm said prior to pitching NBA content. Indeed, half of the presentations touted sports. IAB's report ranked sports as the second-most-listened-to podcast genre, after comedy.
  • ESPN and Good Karma Brands, operator of ESPN's radio and podcast business, was the event's principal sponsor. Better Collective — owner of Action Network, Playmaker HQ and other sports media brands — was a first-time presenter.
  • "Is there anything more important than sports in the United States of America? Absolutely not," Paramount's Steven Ellis said. Paramount and iHeartPodcasts each noted investments in women's sports with "We Need To Talk" and the Women's Sports Audio Network, respectively.

Paramount and Amazon's Wondery promote scaled advertising

  • CBS News' "Blood Is Thicker" podcast ranked No. 1 on Apple's charts, Paramount's Steve Raizes said. But his pitch centered not only on the scale of individual shows but also its larger network.
  • "Podcasting ... is an amazing, highly effective format, but podcasting, when leveraged in with the rest of the advertising that Paramount has, we can touch so many more people," Raizes said.
  • Acquired by Amazon back in 2020, Wondery has gotten further integrated into the tech giant's ad network. As part of the Amazon DSP (demand-side platform), Wondery will soon show how podcast ads can drive sales on Amazon.com.

Podcasts expand beyond audio with video and TV spinoffs

  • For Libsyn's presentation, "The Viall Files" host Nick Viall said video boosts the reach of shows. He said his episode with "Vanderpump Rules" cast members Tom Schwartz and Tom Sandoval got close to 2 million audio downloads and then another 1.4 billion social media impressions.
  • Wondery said it's audio-first but not audio-only. Keke Palmer's podcast is on Prime Video and Shea Serrano's is on YouTube. It also repeatedly used the phrase "headphones to Hollywood" to describe how its podcasts, like "Dr. Death" and "The Shrink Next Door," have turned into TV shows.

"Short-term pain, long-term gain" from Apple's changes

  • YAP Media Network CEO Hala Taha presented on the evolution of podcasting after Apple's automatic downloads update, which slashed downloads. ("This American Life," for one, changed its reported audience to 3.5 million weekly listeners, down from 4.5 million.)
  • "In the long term, it's gonna be good for everyone," Taha said. "Podcasting has entered a new phase of maturity." She predicted ad revenue will grow due to performance improving, in particular with direct response ads.
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