Here’s what you missed at the 2023 IAB Podcast Upfront

Branded podcasts, brand safety, and case studies took center stage this year.
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· 4 min read

This year’s upfronts are shaping up to be quite interesting as media companies navigate the ongoing writers’ strike and NBCUniversal deals with the departure of Linda Yaccarino, its head of advertising, who recently joined Twitter as CEO.

On Thursday, upfront presentations of a different sort took place. At the IAB Podcast Upfront, major podcast companies pitched brands and media buyers on new shows and ad offerings.

Podcast advertising in the US is continuing to grow, according to a recent study from the IAB, which said 2022 revenue increased 26% year over year to $1.8 billion. Even though growth has slowed compared to previous years, the IAB said podcasting remains “one of the fastest-growing digital channels.”

Here’s the most important news and trends from the upfronts.

Brand podcasts: iHeartMedia, the first network presenter of the day, emphasized branded podcasts with the debut of Ruby, an expansion of its branded podcast studio, which has worked with companies including T-Mobile, IBM, Intuit QuickBooks, and Mattress Firm. That investment might not come as a surprise, considering brands have been creating podcasts of their own for years.

NPR’s Gina Garrubbo, CEO of its NPM sponsorship division, also plugged branded podcasts during her pitch, encouraging the audience to inquire about “the custom audio we are producing for brands, including branded podcasts.”

Brand safety: It came up repeatedly at last year’s upfronts, and this year was no different. Wondery announced a partnership with Barometer, an AI-powered platform that rates podcasts based on brand suitability, and Garrubbo highlighted research into the trust NPR’s audience has in its content, which she called “brand safe.”

Barometer also took to the stage with ad-tech company ArtsAI to introduce a tool that they built in collaboration to offer “show- and episode-level daily and weekly monitoring of your podcast ad buy across brand suitability, contextual alignment, and even host intelligence,” Barometer co-founder and CEO Tamara Zubatiy said.

Brands: While brand safety is nothing new at podcast upfronts, brands themselves seemed to be few and far between onstage last year. This year, however, several presenters incorporated brand partners into their pitches.

  • iHeart was joined by Joe Prota, director of brand marketing at IBM, who discussed its Smart Talks with IBM podcast, created in partnership with iHeart and Pushkin Industries.
  • NPR brought up Cassandra LaPrairie, audio performance marketing lead at fintech company Wise, which has been spending on audio since 2017, she said.
  • Christiana Brenton, Acast’s US director of sales and brand partnerships, walked the audience through a case study featuring an Orangetheory campaign that leveraged first-party data, resulting in a “16% more efficient” cost per acquisition for Acast podcasts compared to other audio and podcast marketplaces.
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DE&I: Diversity of podcast hosts and audiences was a major talking point during last year’s upfronts (and at Advertising Week New York). While it didn’t seem to be as front and center this year, companies like NPR, Cumulus Podcast Network, and SXM Media spotlighted shows that focus on topics like race and gender.

There was also a “Minority-Owned Media Showcase” during two networking breaks that featured presentations by:

  • Alive Podcast Network, a Black-owned media platform;
  • Futuro Media, a nonprofit multimedia journalism organization that creates content “for and about the new American mainstream”;
  • Sonoro Media, a podcast network that focuses on Latinx audiences;
  • And AsianBossGirl, a “podcast for the modern day Asian American woman,” per the IAB

For the road: Of course, some networks also took the opportunity to announce new shows. Wondery, for instance, introduced Spellcaster, a co-production with Bloomberg about FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried, and Flipping the Bird, which explores Elon Musk vs. Twitter.

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