Laura Fernandez, SXM Media: all signs point to podcasts as being a rising star for entertainment

SXM Media: all signs point to podcasts as being a rising star for entertainment

The rise of podcasts has been inescapable over the last few years. We’ve all got one we listen to – whether it be a weekly breakdown of what’s happening in the world of sport, a discussion on our favorite film or even commentary on the political developments of the day.

Someone that’s an expert on the world of podcasts and has seen the growth of the vertical from the ‘inside’ is Laura Fernandez, VP Head of Industry for Travel, Tourism and Gambling at SXM Media.

SXM Media, Fernandez explained to SBC Americas, is the combined advertising sales for consumer-facing brands that many Americans know and love. 

“These brands include Sirius XM, Pandora, Stitcher Studios — which produces more than 250 original shows — as well as exclusive advertising and monetisation partnerships with NBC, Universal, SoundCloud and audiochuck.

“I know we’re here today to talk about podcasts. At SXM Media, we have some of the most well-loved, award-winning shows like the Office Ladies, Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend, Hidden Brain and Freakonomics.”

As Fernandez highlighted, podcasts have gone through a tremendous boom in recent years — a trend that has become particularly evident in the post-COVID era. This is unsurprising, however, when there are more than two million podcasts available to listen to. 

“In simple terms, people are obsessed with podcasts. It’s a medium that offers people something truly special that no other space can do, such as captivating storytelling and hosts they really connect with. They also offer guilt-free entertainment,” Fernandez said.

“There is such a massive amount of podcasts available now. In the US, 116 million people listen to at least one podcast every month, and over half have listened to one podcast in their own life. The growth in popularity goes back to accessibility — you can listen to podcasts anywhere. Whether that’s in your car, on your mobile phone, on a walk, cleaning the house. Podcasts really do reach the consumer on the go.”

This ‘on the go’ entertainment was one of the key factors highlighted by Fernandez as being a key driver for the growth of audio entertainment. 

Unlike visual channels such as films and TV series, consumers can often listen to a podcast and multitask with other activities such as driving, walking or even working (not that we’re advocating that!)

Fernandez continued: “Visual channels require your full attention and they keep a visual record of what is being consumed, quite often prompting people to feel guilty about the amount of time they spend watching a particular show. 

“For podcasts, however, they are so different. No topic is too niche, nor specific. No podcast is ‘too nerdy’. Listeners are able to deep dive into any interest without fear of someone asking them ‘why have you been watching this for so long?’

“With visual entertainment, you’re locked in. But with audio and podcasts, you can connect with the hosts and participants as part of your daily routine. Essentially, they’re bringing you on the journey of their conversations.”

Podcasts have grown in popularity on a general scale, but the increase in listeners and downloads has become particularly evident among multicultural communities, according to Fernandez. 

Surveys conducted by Edison Research found that there was a 44% increase in Latino monthly podcast listeners, and a 53% increase in Black podcast listeners year-over-year.  This growth, combined with the ability for podcasts to showcase a particular narrative, can reinforce the sense of community — something that Fernandez explained has been evident with some of SXM Media’s shows.

She said: “Fans have become such devoted supporters of their favorite shows. They buy merch, they buy tickets to live podcast shows. 

“For one of our top shows, Two Bears One Cave, we had a line out of the door of more than 1,000 people at 6AM. The podcast didn’t start recording until midday! It just goes to show that there is a huge fan base who are interacting both in person and on social media too. 

“It’s also much more of an intimate medium because it really does deliver one-to-one engagement. You’re a part of that conversation and you feel like you can dive a little deeper when compared to things such as influencer marketing.”

SXM Media has already made a name for themselves with its well-known podcasts. However, the brand has also expanded its own footprint via an exclusive monetization partnership with NBC — a brand known both within the US and internationally. 

Covering the NBC news and sports channels, the content ranges from podcasts to showcasts, covering “top shows” such as Date Line. 

“NBC came to SXM Media and asked us to be their exclusive monetization partner, meaning we’re the exclusive partner to sell adverts within their programming. I think the reason they came to us was because we have an incredible sales organization as well as some very deep brand partnerships.

“NBC is one of the most recognizable names in the entertainment industry. They are also one of the most trusted entertainment networks in the country and so this access gives the brands we work with an opportunity to connect with their audiences on the go, wherever they are.”

So what do podcasts mean for the gambling industry? SXM Media’s Pandora and SoundCloud brands have had long-standing partnerships with casinos, sports betting and social gaming companies, Fernandez told SBC Americas, so the roll out of gambling legislation has helped broaden the company’s horizons. 

To ensure that SXM Media localizes its content, the company uses a geo targeting strategy. She added that this not only has an impact on the content delivered, but also the demographics targeted.

“For the gambling brands that we work with, we have a geo targeting strategy that we use across our streaming platforms: Pandora, Sirius XM Podcast Network and SoundCloud. This target gives us the ability to target listeners by age, gender and geolocation which ensures that those listening are of age and living in a state with legalized gambling. We can also layer on interest-based targeting like gambling or sports fans that gamble online. 

“When we’re thinking about podcasts, the evolution that we have seen is the opportunity to connect with bettors from a national standpoint. Adverts read by podcast hosts, for example, may form part of a sportsbooks’ national strategy.

“One company that does this is FanDuel which has host-read ads on one of the top male-skewing podcasts, Two Bears One Cave with Tom Segura and Bert Kreischer. 

“The combination of both the ability to geotarget where gambling is legal and live, and then being able to connect with consumers at-scale in a contextual environment such as podcasts, can help betting brands to achieve their KPIs such as increasing FTDs.”

This approach of working with audio-based channels such as podcasts has worked particularly well for FanDuel, Aaron Dugan, VP for Acquisition Strategy & Planning at FanDuel, told SBC Americas. This is especially true when the podcast features charismatic hosts, as seen with two of SXM Media’s most popular shows.

He said: “Podcasts have worked well for us. Connecting with a highly engaged audience listening to podcasts on shows like Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend and 2 Bears 1 Cave with Tom Segura & Bert Kreischer has shown strong conversions for our brand.  We truly value the partnership with SXM Media.” 

For Fernandez, the last few years have shown that sports fans tend to be some of the most “passionate consumers” of podcasts, especially those shows featuring athletes and game analysis. 

“Sports fans wake up in the morning ravenous for entertainment, but it doesn’t stop there. They’re satisfied with watching games, but they want more, so they listen to podcasts. Men between the age of 25-54 continue to be the biggest consumers of podcasts.

“Podcasts are, by and large, the most accessible form of entertainment for this age group so it gives fans the chance to listen as a complement to the game they watched. You can listen to players talk about what they actually value and their career highlights. Often this makes sports fans feel closer to these athletes in a way that isn’t possible with other forms of media. There is a higher sense of authenticity; it’s a much more unrestricted access to athletes.”

This popularity isn’t just popular with sports fans, but we’re also seeing a growing trend among athletes to take part in podcasts to share their personal stories and experiences. More often than not, this gives listeners an “unfiltered, authentic” access to their favorite sports stars in a format that is accessible from any device.

Fernandez said: “Our podcast, I Am Athlete, is a weekly discussion between Brandon Marshall and former NFL greats. Again, a really great way for sports fans to feel connected to their favorite athletes. 

“When we’re talking about scale, SXM Media reaches over 150 million listeners monthly across podcast, music and Sirius XM satellite. A real benefit of advertising on podcasts or digital audio is that you don’t interrupt the consumers’ daily life. You can reach them wherever they are at scale with SXM Media. 

“Not only is there scale with audio and podcast, but people are also spending a lot of time with these types of channels. Brands really do have a great opportunity to connect with consumers in this medium.”

Talk soon turned towards the future of podcasts and where they fit into gambling companies’ marketing strategies. According to Fernandez, we’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the popularity of podcasts. 

This, she believes, is something that is going to continue to grow exponentially as more people turn their attention towards digital forms of entertainment and a more intimate experience.

She concluded: “As AM / FM radio continues to experience some declines, digital audio continues to rise exponentially. In other words, all signs point to podcasts as being the true rising star of the entertainment world.”