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Pandora On Combining Ad Sales With SiriusXM And Stitcher – And Why Programmatic Is A Podcasting Priority

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This week SiriusXM Holdings reorganized into a cross-platform ad sales team that combines SiriusXM, Pandora and Stitcher.
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After spending $4 billion combined to acquire Pandora in 2018 and Stitcher last year, SiriusXM’s podcast strategy is starting to crystallize.

This week, in conjunction with the IAB’s Podcast Upfront event, SiriusXM Holdings reorganized into a cross-platform ad sales team that combines SiriusXM, Pandora and Stitcher.

The new unit, which is operating under the name SXM Media, will serve as a single entry point for brands, who can plan, produce, manage and measure their digital audio advertising across all three platforms. Combined, they reach 150 million people per month through 5,000 podcasts, which translates to around 24% of the total podcast-listening audience in the US.

The creation of SXM Media is representative of SiriusXM’s overarching podcast strategy, in which each asset brings its own strength and expertise. SiriusXM has relationships with top-shelf audio talent, including Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell. Stitcher brings the distribution. Pandora brings the advertising experience.

“We can take the exclusive content we have from Sirius to build new shows, use Stitcher to find new audiences and monetize in a way that makes sense for the intimacy of the podcast medium,” said Lizzie Widhelm, SVP of ad innovation and B2B marketing at SXM Media.

Widhelm caught up with AdExchanger for a few hot takes.

Lizzie Widhelm, SVP of ad innovation and B2B marketing, SXM MediaOn making monetization work in podcasting. “We know podcasting is different. It’s not just a repurposed broadcast experience. It’s not a shock that the lion’s share of advertising coming into podcasting thus far, mainly from DTC brands, has leveraged host-read ads. Creators also want to maintain their authenticity.

“Our opportunity is to bring more advertiser diversity, especially with advertisers that are what we call ‘podcast curious.’ They need a way to extend their buys beyond just one show to be able to reach a certain category of shows or a specific demographic. We have an in-house creative consultancy called Studio Resonate to help them create announcer-read ads, so they don’t lose the intimacy, but they can also get scale and buy these ads programmatically.”

On best practices for podcast advertising. “There are some brands that still don’t do basic things in an audio ad, like actually say the name of their brand – you’d be surprised. But beyond that, there’s a need not just for sonic branding, but also really understanding how your brand needs to show up in the audio space.

“What are your calls-to-action? How long does it take in terms of frequency for an ad to be remembered when people are hearing it rather than seeing it? How many times do you need to mention a brand’s name?

“All of those basic things are well established for print, outdoor and TV, but some are still struggling to achieve it in audio.”

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On the evolution of audio targeting. “It’s challenging when listeners shift across multiple platforms. We have an advantage because we reach listeners on all of the popular podcast apps, including our own, and we’re the exclusive rep for NBCU and all of their Dateline podcasts.

“But as the ecosystem of shows continues to grow, targeting is a challenge. The most popular solutions are contextual. For example, take all of the mom-themed shows and put them together into a mom channel. You can do this for anything: true crime, DIY, health and wellness, female business decision makers, sports fans.

“Another popular trend is pairing, which means picking a really big show, like Office Ladies, for a host-read opportunity, and then pairing that buy with other shows in the entertainment space to also reach that cohort elsewhere.”

On brand safety and suitability for podcasts. “DTC brands have been in this space for a long time and they’re comfortable, but the next phase of advertisers jumping in are understandably very interested in brand suitability.

“We’re beta testing a tool that understands what’s going on in a show at the transcription level and our plan is to build that into a tagging solution over time. Our goal is to continue modernizing our understanding of all our shows down to the episode level, and it’s doable. And then once we have all of that data, advertisers can activate it in our ad server.”

On whether SiriusXM has more podcast M&A plans. “We’re focused on growth in all areas. Content is obviously important, both homegrown and what we create with partners. We also just want to keep on improving our technology.”

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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