By Alex Underwood, Strategic Advisor for Vurbl
It is hard to dispute that spoken word and sound are perhaps the most powerful and emotive forms of human expression.
It is also undeniable that two of the most potent forms of audible expression are currently music and podcasts. However, you might be surprised to know that music and podcasts only make up a small percentage (it is estimated about 20%) of the available audio content on the open web. Think about all of the audiobooks, scripted stories, speeches, talks, comedy, old radio, religious sermons, courtroom arguments, earnings calls, sound effects, non-profit and museum libraries, ASMR – the list goes on and on. Unfortunately, to a large extent this content has historically been orphaned or just floating around the web – each month there are millions of online searches looking for billions of minutes of this unorganized audio content. The vast majority of these search results take people to text or video-centric results.
Online search has long been held up as a great barometer of intent or what people are interested in (the cultural zeitgeist). The fact that the vast majority of audio content is not easily accessible or discoverable makes you wonder how much this has held audio back as a medium?
Audio is uniquely personal (in your ear), it reaches places and people that other media cannot while co-existing harmoniously with pretty much every form of technology. Combine this with the fact it is easy to make, inexpensive and flexible – audio really should have the ability to scale more than most media. Yet when you stack audio next to the video (and the likes of YouTube and Vimeo) it has a definite discovery, development and distribution deficit. Until Vurbl there had been no one, singular place for people to discover, consume and share all audio types and content.
Furthermore, the premium audio marketplace is highly fragmented (music, podcasts, audiobooks, streaming radio, UGC & everything else – YouTube) and mostly freemium. Often the primary objective is to get you in and make you a paid subscriber, resulting in a pretty restrictive space for audio creators looking to publish, share and monetize their content:
- People that want to push audio out rapidly to large audiences have been forced to use prohibitive video-centric mediums like YouTube or Facebook
- Audio creators have had no scaled discovery mechanisms to utilize for efficient distribution of their content – no platforms that connect them to users at scale in real time and no simple way to monetize their content. The vast majority of audio hosting sites also charge their users/creators to use the platform… this is the opposite with video sites (think YouTube, Facebook, TikTok)
Paradoxically, the audio ecosystem has actually limited people’s ability to express themselves, and reach audiences, through the medium.. The marketplace needed an ecosystem that democratizes audio for creators in order to ensure that everyone has the ability to make their voice heard, as well as the tools to encourage creativity and innovation.
Related to this – if we really want to enhance the value of audio as a business commodity – creators need the freedom and capability to build an audience and enable turnkey monetization (through advertising for example).
The much-maligned RSS distribution system (for the majority of podcasts) and app paywalls (for audiobooks) has severely inhibited the monetary potential of audio for creators and in turn impact for advertisers. In the modern ecosystem of streaming and real-time ad planning/buying – not being able to understand listener data in terms of who is engaging with your ad and what actions they are then taking is unforgivable.
Here, I am also just talking about podcasts and audiobooks (a small percentage of all audio content). Imagine the impact of a central ecosystem in which you integrate and stream all audio content types and make them discoverable and easy to consume, create and share.
- A seismic impact on the volume of available real-time audio (programmatic) inventory to advertisers, bringing unsurpassed scale to a once secondary medium.
- Making the worlds audio accessible will provide richer and deeper layers of context (think about all audio types and content organized around your favorite sports team, your favorite SNL female comedians, your favorite type of yoga etc). This will boost the medium’s targeting capabilities, allowing brands to align themselves with even greater moments of contextual relevance and deliver more personalized people connections. The power and importance of this should not be underestimated in a cookieless advertising world.
- This level of context will also turbo-charge audio’s upstream capabilities – by being able to offer much deeper insights into audio content consumption (what people are searching for and care about, why, how they talk about it, when, who is sharing/engaging with this content, where and how) and as real-time audio creation reaches scale actual insights into the cultural zeitgeist itself.
- A sandbox for advertisers to develop their voice and talk 1-2-1 (in people’s ears) in-depth and at scale about important topics. As people search for audio related to your brand or category the opportunity will exist for advertisers to build, expand and own key audible brand territories – something that is difficult to do in the current ecosystem.
- The tools to help and support under-represented communities make their voice heard along with a scaled distribution mechanism to drive greater awareness, understanding and celebration of their stories and their cultures. Stories are powerful and help us understand the world and who we are – and they need to be told but most importantly they need to be heard.
- Let’s not forget brands are also audio creators. This would give them a canvas to create, innovate, test, learn and collaborate with the audio creator community and their loyal listener bases.
In media circles, the power of audio has been talked of for longer than I can remember. Yet, it has yet to come close to fulfilling its considerable potential. The emergence of the audio creator community (buoyed by greater access to tools, content, distribution and monetization opportunities) along with audio’s ability to co-exist harmoniously in pretty much any form of technology (and your ears!) will soon see audio take its rightful place at the top table with visual media.