So my number one source of info on cool new trends is home from college for the holidays. The other night at dinner she casually mentions that she never listens to ads on Pandora anymore. She does most of her streaming on her laptop, because, you know, college kids are attached to their laptops a lot of the time. As long as you use Chrome, she tells me, you can use the ad-blocker which blocks all the audio ads.
It turns out she’s right. In fact, in the Chrome Web Store, there are several browser extensions that enable the listener to tune out the ads. Available for free. At least one has been around for more than a year. Of course, ad blocking is unethical, but it’s pretty hard to explain that and make it stick when the extension is sitting right there. It all seems pretty legit. I’m sure Pandora is delighted. One of the pitfalls of being the streaming music platform of choice is that the service becomes a target for developers who have the know how to “improve upon it.”
The good news is, audio ad blocking doesn’t seem to affect mobile streaming, and with 70% of Pandora’s listening on mobile devices, that’s a good thing. Advertisers pay by impression, so they aren’t getting hosed by this. But every time someone listens to Pandora and doesn’t listen to ads Pandora loses money, because they pay royalties by the listener. So it’s a bad thing.
I’m completely on board with the notion that ad blocking is unethical. (And believe me, I explained that to my daughter.) But this is not an isolated issue, and it’s not just Pandora’s problem. I had a conversation with a client yesterday who told me that “no one sees ads on the web anymore, everyone uses an ad blocker.” ( Which I know isn’t true, because I do not use an ad blocker myself.) But ad blocking is there, it’s real, and it’s a growing problem. Content platforms need to be aware of it, and develop solutions – better ways to incorporate ads into content, better ways to communicate the importance of ad revenues to their audience, maybe even better ways to deliver ads to their audience.
There’s buzz and activity around podcasting these days. Podcasting isn’t new, but I think it’s become reinvigorated of late with a few players moving things forward. Organized access to content that makes it easier for listeners and producers to connect and easier for advertisers to purchase and track ads, is the force behind this new momentum.
A key company in the space is Podcast One, owned by Norm Pattiz. Founder of Westwood One, Pattiz has the know-how to build a content network, and he’s now applying that skill, and his relationships with celebs, to build a network of podcasts. Launchpad Digital Media is a sister company that sells ads for the network. According to a recent article in Bloomberg News, Podcast One hosts 200 shows in its network and averages 100 million downloads a month.
There are other players in the space as well — Earwolf is a comedy network that also offers producers the tools they need to connect with advertisers through sister company The Midroll. WNYC in New York offers a substantial suite of downloadable audio including Freakonomics hosted by author Stephen Dubner, Radiolab, and Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin. Stitcher’s been around for a few years, organizing access to content and offering a mobile app that has been downloaded 12 million times, and is integrated with several car manufacturers and both IOS and Android phones.
Meanwhile, the elephant in the room when it comes to podcast networks is iTunes, which offers a huge library of downloadable audio but no monetization opportunities for the producers. Which creates a nice opportunity for the other companies who are willing to figure out the measurement and monetization piece.
We’ll be discussing that aspect of podcasting, and a lot more at RAIN Summit NYC on February 5th in New York City on a panel called “The Download on Podcasts.”
The all new RAIN News site has launched, and I’m sure you will want to check it out and then use your social media tools to tell your friends about it. There’s a new url, a new site, and a lot more content there which will be updated throughout the day.
The announcement that Winamp would shut down before the end of the year didn’t surprise me given that AOL had already abandoned its online radio platform, but it did make me pause. There have been several times this year that I have stopped and thought that surely this event is one of the signals that online audio has left the “niche” stage of its development and entered the reality of being a full blown mass appeal marketplace. One that a product like Winamp, free downloadable software that began as a tool to enable people to play all those songs they downloaded from Napster, couldn’t survive in.
In fact, I’ve wondered a lot over the years, why AOL kept updating it at all – given that the business model – getting users to pay for an improved upgrade to the player – was so weak. In fact, AOL didn’t just continue to update and distribute Winamp when it purchased Nullsoft in 1999 for $400 million, it also kept Shoutcast running all this time as well. And that was an even stranger conundrum, given that many of the biggest stations on Shoutcast were getting free bandwidth (at least a few years back they were). The deal was, at least back in the early 2000s, that you couldn’t run any ads if you wanted the free bandwidth. I never could figure out why that was. Didn’t that hurt AOL’s own Internet radio platform?
In any event, although Winamp and Shoutcast operated independently at AOL for lots of years, it seems that someone has finally noticed the lack of a business model in that department. Winamp will shut down later this month, although there is word that Microsoft may purchase the intellectual property. The end of an era that also signifies the arrival of a new one – the mature online audio marketplace, where you have to have a business model to compete…