Two months after announcing that it’s divesting from the content business and laying off its entire editorial team, Panoply has publicly signaled its first major move as a pure Libsyn/Art19/Simplecast/Blubrry/etc. competitor: signing a deal that officially brings the entire Vox Media Podcast Network on the Megaphone platform.
In the beginning, Vox Media’s podcast portfolio was scattered across Megaphone and competitor Art19, but around the beginning of the year, the network had completely moved to Art19. This marks a notable shift, in which a major podcast publisher is wholesale moving its portfolio from Art19 to Megaphone, marking something of a significant win for Panoply.
“Megaphone’s technology is the best we’ve seen in the market,” Vox Media president Marty Moe declared in the corresponding press release. “Their innovations in ad ops, campaign management and targeted advertising technology will help us streamline our podcast operations and increase our revenue.”
As a reminder: the big thing to track along when it comes to Megaphone — which presumably is the thing that the company bullish enough to double down on and pull itself out of the highly competitive content business — is its bet on building out a programmatic marketplace for targeted podcast advertising, the seeds of which were planted when it forged a partnership with Nielsen last summer. That partnership hinges on combining Nielsen’s Data Management Platform, an audience segmentation tool built on the company’s various audience intelligence initiatives and databases, with whatever shows Panoply is able to bring onto its nascent marketplace.
And in case you need a rehash of the overarching theory manifesting here: Megaphone’s gambit appears to be a bid to create a podcast advertising revenue channel that reduces the friction of ad buying/selling and implementation, which would hopefully lead to higher volumes of advertising transactions over time. (Because, in theory, it makes it easier for advertisers to try out podcasting as a marketing channel, and it makes it easier for more publishers to access those advertisers. Grease is slathered on both the supple and demand side.) Of course, the critique against this approach revolves around the notion that this view of podcast advertising essentially commoditizes the podcast advertising experience, thus compromising what makes podcast advertising special in the broader digital media marketplace at this point in time. In this very moment, podcast advertising is particularly known for its ability to engender exceptionally engaging advertising experiences (either through host-read ads or thoughtfully-produced ad spots), and that value proposition could well be systematically compromised with the advancement of a technology encourages the easy use of lower-quality context-less ads.
Of course, the counter-argument to that critique would be that this product, in theory, stands as an alternative and complement to the high-touch high-friction premium host-read podcast ad options that the space has come to be known for — a monetization channel that, while giving the medium an effective and prestigious sheen that makes it stands apart from the overwhelming transactional nature of all other digital ad formats, is nonetheless accessible only to a small fraction of podcasts.
For what it’s worth, I see the argument for both sides. But I also generally believe that your gut feeling on how this turns out probably comes down to your capacity to trust in Panoply’s ability to effectively create and govern a high-quality marketplace. Should Panoply’s gambit work out — and it probably will, I reckon — the burden then falls onto the company to foster and manage a good culture of programmatic podcast advertising. Whether or not the long-term future of programmatic podcast advertising sounds like shitty radio ad-world 2.0 probably depends in large part on their guiding hand, and depending on how you feel about the company’s decisions and actions so far, this is either hopeful… or not so much.
An amendment: An earlier version of this post raised the suspicion of ZipRecruiter ad being used in both Serial‘s third season and Vox’s The Weeds. As it turns out, this was not the case. I was told that the ZipRecruiter ad that ran on The Weeds isn’t the same one that was produced by the Serial team to be used on the latter program, but an ad experience created by Vox Media’s custom advertising team. It should be noted that this team handles both host-read ad spots as well as higher-touch experiences that feel like mini-segments within the flow an episode. As some might remember, the most prominent example of this rolled out back in May, when Recode Decode ran an advertising segment that featured Kara Swisher interviewing a fictional tech CEO as part of a campaign promoting the latest season of HBO’s Silicon Valley. (We’re in peculiar, new territory here.)
Also: the company, I’m told, doesn’t run third-party ads as a practice. Whatever commonalities in those advertising experiences, it seems, were purely coincidental as a matter of aesthetics, which is wild. I regret the error.