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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Podcasting Sounds Like a Big Opportunity to Slate

March 2, 2015 | By Michelle Manafy, Editorial Director – DCN @michellemanafy
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For a while there, it looked like Podcasting was fated to be little more than a format road-fork in the ever-expanding digital media landscape. Though a slew of individuals and media brands initially jumped on board, many just as quickly abandoned podcasting in favor of other digital formats. Slate, however, stayed the course. The company continued to invest in podcasting over the years and just announced the launch of Panoply, its new podcast network for media brands, authors, personalities, and premier organizations.

When Andy Bowers, Chief Content Officer and co-founder of Panoply left NPR to join Slate more than a decade ago, podcasting was in its infancy. A little over a year later, podcasting was named the 2005 word of the year by the editors of the Oxford American Dictionary. However that same year, Bowers recalls that YouTube entered the scene. “And then all eyes turned to video,” Bowers observed. Well, not all eyes. Slate was among those that continued to invest in the format and, says Bowers, witnessed podcasting’s quiet but a steady audience growth—an audience that, for Slate, currently generates about 6.5 million downloads a month.

That growth isn’t so quiet anymore. With the much lauded success of This American Life’s record-setting Serial podcast, the format has re-entered the spotlight. And while the success of Serial is certainly a boon for the launch of Panoply, Bowers said that even a year before its release, “the buzz was coming back and many of us in the podcasting space felt it.” According to Matt Turk, Slate’s former publisher who now serves as Chief Revenue officer of Panoply, “Yes, Serial was a game changer, but technology and changing consumer behavior are also playing a massive role here.” He cites Slate research that finds two thirds of its podcast listeners using mobile devices to listen to programming of interest whenever and wherever it suits them. And, as it becomes increasingly easy to listen to podcasts in cars, Bowers and Turk predict an even steeper audience growth trajectory.

It also seems that once someone discovers podcasts, they develop a robust appetite for them. Bowers says that the average podcast listener regularly consumes seven or more. Given the potential audience, the Slate team felt there was an opportunity to improve content discovery mechanisms and to foster the growth of the overall podcasting market with the launch of a new network. While there are a number of podcasting networks already in the market, Bowers says that “each has its own specialty and we fit an important niche. We’re a place for premium brands, thinkers and authors. These are brand-safe environments and that is an important point of differentiation.”

At launch, Panoply holds commitments for programming from: The New York Times Magazine; HBO Documentary Films, Inc.; New York magazine/Vulture; The Huffington Post; WBUR radio; Real Simple; Popular Science; Gretchen Rubin, author of the No. 1 New York Times best-seller The Happiness Project; Food52; FX’s The Americans; and the National Constitution Center.

In addition to focusing on fueling podcast discovery for media brands, Panoply will also distinguish itself from existing networks by offering “a compelling combination of production, audience-building and sales,” according to Brendan Monaghan, Slate General Manager of Slate and Panoply co-creator. He says that Panoply has plans to create and acquire programs in audience- and advertiser-friendly categories such as news and politics, culture and lifestyle, sports, and women’s issues—an area he describes as underserved within podcasting to date. “We’re starting out with brands and publications in a similar space to us, those we knew were interested in podcasting, but that also represented categories that are ripe to grow,” says Monaghan.

Audiences aren’t the only ones increasingly attracted to podcasts. According to Turk, advertiser receptivity to podcasts is markedly on the rise and he reports that “year to date we already have more ad revenue in podcasts than in all of 2014.” These podcast advertisers include Prudential, Delta, Acura and Nissan.

In Monaghan’s role as GM, he is charged with incubating and launching new opportunities. Given the way the stars—or market forces—are aligning for podcasting, and the company’s track record of podcast performance, he is confident that Panoply provides an opportunity for growth for his organization and for podcasting as a whole.

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