CES: Podcasting Industry Evolves as Listenership Skyrockets

Actor and director LeVar Burton, the multi-award-winning host of PBS’ “Reading Rainbow,” has more recently made a prominent name for himself as a podcaster, with 25 million downloads of his “LeVar Burton Reads,” which features storytelling. During a CES panel on “SXM Media: The Evolution of the Podcast Industry,” moderated by SiriusXM vice president and global head of revenue partnerships Kelli Hurley, Burton and two other panelists described the factors that have made podcasting such a dynamic industry sector, for creators and audiences. For Burton, having creative control was key.

Burton (below) revealed he entered the podcast space “from the feeling I needed to develop an outlet I could control without layers of gatekeepers.” “All I needed was a story and a microphone,” he said. “It was hugely attractive to me on a creative level.”

He now has a library of over 144 episodes, with a fan site on Facebook. Hurley noted that “community will translate to advertisers.” “It’s important to me that advertisers align with my values,” explained Burton. “Initially I saw ads as an interruption but now I consider them more a part of the program.”

Natrian Maxwell, GM of emerging channels at The Trade Desk revealed that his “remit is to oversee future growth engines for the company.” “We’re bullish and excited about audio,” he said, reporting that “the number of brands spending inside the podcast space is expected to double from 2022 from 2023.”

Podcasting, he said, helps advertisers connect with hard-to-reach audiences, and smart cars and houses have helped boost listenership. “We’ve gone from two guys in a basement to 4.8 million podcasts,” he said. He stated that, of the seven hours 41 minutes that the average person spends with digital media, “20 percent of their time is spent in audio every day, exceeding the time spent on social media.”

“But it’s only attracting 5 percent of advertising,” he added. “Not enough advertisers lean into audio.”

Dentsu executive vice president and head of U.S. media partnerships Sarah Stringer added that her company found in its research that, “sound is one of the most important drivers of recall.” “People feel so passionately about the podcasters they follow,” she said. “There’s a lot of innovation on how your brand can show up in a recognizable way.”

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