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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Inside Fox News’ winning podcast strategy

December 1, 2022 | By Charlotte Ricca – Independent Media Reporter @Charlotte_Ricca

In an era of fragmented, news-hungry consumers, it’s become increasingly challenging for brands to cut through the noise and reach their target audience. New competitors and new strategies have forced established players to reassess their businesses and take action. This has resulted in new partnerships, products, and strategies that are yielding exciting results.

One strategy that is gaining traction is podcasting. According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in July 2021, around a quarter of U.S. adults (23%) say that podcasts are how they get news, at least sometimes. One of the most successful brands in this space is FOX News, whose audio network is currently number 11 in Podtrac’s list of top publishers.

Launched earlier this year, FOX Audio Network combines all of FOX’s leading news, sports and entertainment podcasts into a diverse portfolio that aims to capitalize on the collective power of its large audience. With a catalog of more than 40 on-demand news podcasts, the network delivered record high numbers in 2021, with nearly 180 million unique downloads and 29.9 million unique listeners. A growth of 18% and 15%, respectively, from the previous year.

Interestingly these numbers run counter to research from Reuters, which found that news fatigue is setting in. Less than half (47%) of the Americans in the sample were very, or extremely interested in news, compared with 67% in 2015. 

“Post Covid our podcasts are still showing year on year growth, in terms of unique listeners and downloads,” says John Sylvester, Vice President of FOX News Audio. 

Two-pronged attack

So what is Fox News Audio’s strategy to keep its audience engaged in a world that may just be tired of news in general?

“We take a two-pronged approach to our news podcasts,” explains Sylvester. “First, we aim to satisfy the needs of our listeners by taking an ‘anytime, everywhere’ approach across multiple platforms. FOX News Audio continues this journey. So whether they are working out, or walking a dog, our podcasts make sure they are staying connected.

“Second, we provide a full gamut of information in the news space. This includes hourly news updates to longer news podcasts, such as FOX News Rundown, which is a deep dive into the news story of the day. There is also weather, business, tech – every need is covered, throughout every aspect of their day. FOX News Audio offers a total solution.”

Their strategy is bolstered by a loyal fan base. Fox News averaged 1.4 million total viewers in July of this year, and was the only basic cable network to exceed the one-million viewer benchmark. It also has the largest audience among 25-54 year olds, averaging 200,000 total demo viewers and 281,000 during primetime. This demographic is coveted by advertisers, and also the key demographic for podcast listeners, making their podcasts a highly attractive marketing tool.

“We create every type of content for every type of advertiser out there,” says Sylvester. “By creating the FOX Audio Network we have provided a unique opportunity for them to reach our broad and loyal podcast audience.”

Perfect brand extension

The network’s advertising is managed by its advertising sales team. However, in a bid to maximize its potential FOX has teamed up with Megaphone, which hosts all content. Since its launch in 2015, Megaphone has been one of the leading podcasting platforms, and in March last year it was acquired by Spotify. With its publishing and monetization tools, the platform better empowers FOX Audio Network to monetize, measure and maximize FOX’s podcast content. 

One of those tools is a service called Megaphone Targeted Marketplace (MTM) which tracks listener behavior and pairs it with Nielsen Media Research Segments, to insert targeted ads into podcasts. This innovative technology has seen a backlash, however, as audiences have balked against tracking. As a result, certain blocklists have added Megaphone to them. This means listeners cannot play podcasts if they use certain privacy tools and tracker blockers.

However, Sylvester says dynamic ad insertion hasn’t been a problem in Fox Audio Network’s podcasting space. Their revenue is still heavily driven by advertising, which is built on the loyalty of their audience.

“Our podcasting platform is the perfect brand extension for FOX News fans, and they trust our news and content,” says Sylvester. “We offer a best-in-class product, with a fair and balanced perspective.”

Unlike the viewability challenges often associated with digital video, satellite TV, and cable, these advertisers can rest assured that the vast majority of consumers actually listen to ads on their favorite podcast. An impressive 80% of listeners tune in to all, or most of every podcast episode they start. Furthermore, almost half of these ‘super listeners’ believe that podcast hosts actually use the products/services mentioned on their podcasts. Advertisers are making the most of these engaged listeners by creating relationships with podcast hosts and onboarding them to their service or product. 

Trust also comes from the careful selection of the podcast host. While it may seem obvious, many brands neglect the importance of having a clear host for their podcasts. Ideally, brands should consider a host who has industry expertise, can speak to the target audience, and can bring something unique to the table. Bringing in established names, such as Bret Baier, Will Cain and Martha MacCallum, is another key element of FOX Audio Network’s strategy, to attract and retain big audiences. 

“Podcasting is a very intimate experience,” says Slyvester. “Our audiences connect with the host on either a daily or weekly basis, which creates trust. They learn to understand their ideology, and rely on them to bring them interesting, relevant content.”

Multi-channel approach

According to Sylvester the main challenge FOX Audio Network faces is to “distinguish yourself and your brand from the robust content out there.” Aside from creating varied, quality content, Sylvester says the key to growing and monetizing your audience is to expand into a multi-channel marketing strategy.

“It’s vital to look at all platforms out there and create monetization levers across all of them,” he advises. “We have partnered with satellite radio, terrestrial radio, audio apps, smart speakers, and more to make sure we really are everywhere, anytime. It’s all about creating multiple areas of monetization opportunities.”

Given that more than half of Americans (56%) say they never get news from podcasts, Sylvester believes there are still opportunities for growth for this nascent industry. One exciting growth area is with video podcasts, which offer a great way to differentiate a brand and attract new audiences.

“We are starting to utilize video as part of our podcasting strategy,” says Sylvester. “Video gives us the opportunity to populate the social media space, so it’s another way to market our podcasts and reach that 56% which is not yet listening. It’s often when consumers discover a podcast on video platforms, such as YouTube or TikTok, that they are then converted to subscribers of the podcasts.”

Certainly, FOX News benefits from its massive audience numbers and the significant investment it is making in its audio strategy. But there are lessons to be learned for organizations of all sizes and at different phases of audio experimentation. Their audio network provides a useful example for brands trying to navigate the ever-growing podcast landscape and reach their target audience in a unique way.

Fox News has done an impressive job of leveraging its brand power to expand into the podcasting space. Indeed, the network has managed to replicate some of what has made it so successful in prime time, while also carving out a unique space for itself in this new medium. Their podcast strategy raises the network’s profile, which helps it grow its overall audience while deepening brand loyalty for existing ones.

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