With the ongoing lockdowns in APAC and audiences being homebound, the awareness and consumption of podcasts has accelerated over the past 12 months. According to consumer insight company GWI, 66% of people in the region claim to have listened to a podcast on an average day—which is translating to more time spent with the format (60 mins on average per day in APAC).
"It’s an exciting time in Asia right now for podcasts and we’re seeing a lot of interest and curiosity from publishers and brands wanting to dive into the space, driven by an increase in quality content and new talent carving out a following in the medium," says Sharon Taylor, managing director at podcasting hosting platform, Omny Studio.
In certain markets, the growth of local content has helped accelerate audience growth. For example, SoundOn, Taiwan’s largest podcast platform that produces local shows and connects podcasters to advertisers, claims to have accumulated 80 million downloads in just under two years since its existence and has grown 10x over the past six months.
"The number of unique listeners has increased month by month," says Nicole Huang, chief operating officer at SoundOn. "In April 2021, the unique listeners in a single month exceeded 40 million." Owing to the pandemic and lockdowns, Huang says increased interest in home investment and speculation opportunities has led to a surge in the listeners of business investment podcasts. "There's also been a noticeable increase of new shows on society and culture, entertainment, and mental health."
Spotify SEA has created more than 20 original local products since they launched their branded podcast offering—with a focus on good quality local content (Indonesia is leading the charge followed by the Philippines). That is likely to be the direction of travel for the foreseeable future of podcasts in Asia—more local niche podcasters is what will have the greatest cut through.
In India too, the podcast industry has witnessed significant growth, thanks to more than 40 startups operating in this space and catering to 200 million monthly active users. The lockdowns induced by Covid-19 further bolstered its growth and the segment saw the listenership rising by 30%, according to a KPMG report. The market is the third-largest podcast-listening market globally and is growing at a CAGR of 34.5%.
Growth is coupled with higher levels of engagement too—a Spotify study found that 41% of listeners trust ads more if they hear them during a podcast. Convinced by the potential of podcast advertising, last year Omnicom Media Group committed to spending US$20 million on advertising in podcasts distributed by the streaming giant.
"What is crucial in our partnership with Spotify is the investment that they made in the ad serving and measurement technologies. As these technologies become currency across all podcast mediums, we are extremely bullish on the future of podcasts," says Chris Stephenson, chief strategy officer, Omnicom Media Group APAC. "A high attention environment, coupled with controls that manage brand adjacency and insights that measure planning and enhance optimisation, are crucial ingredients that make podcasts such a ripe platform for brands to leverage."
Stephenson adds that, for marketers, there are now more effective ways to activate against audiences. "With Spotify, for example, we can access first party data-verified audiences listening to streamed podcasts across segments such as business and technology or lifestyle and health."
Audio content in general seems to be enjoying a renaissance with new formats, platforms and reach emerging. This has mostly come hot on the heels of the success of social audio app Clubhouse earlier this year. Since then, platforms like Facebook, Reddit and Twitter have also made moves into the live audio space. In May, Facebook launched the first test of its Live Audio Rooms product with public figures and creators in Taiwan. Similar to popular app Clubhouse, Live Audio Rooms allows people to listen and participate in live conversations. Facebook plan to roll out more audio social tools in the coming months, which will eventually include audio-only Rooms, podcast listening and discovery tools, and a new 'Soundbites' functionality that will enable users to create short-form audio clips using a range of effects and tools.
These new formats and platforms are clearly helping audio content in general to become more attractive to both listeners and marketers. "As with any media, it goes through a cycle," says Jamie Ng, Founder & CEO of MatchCasts, an Asia-based audio and podcast advertising platform. "From new formats such as dynamic ads insertion and interactive audio for advertising, to new platforms like Clubhouse and Fireside, these have created more excitement in the audio industry. This in turn pulls people into the medium and turns it mainstream."
With growing mainstream appeal, it’s no surprise that brands in the region are increasingly tuning in to the potential in the podcast and audio space. In fact, many brands are now launching their own branded podcasts, but to varying degrees of success. Nailing the right approach it seems is crucial, especially given that most podcasts never get beyond ten episodes.
"The content, and not the brand, should be the star of the show," says Taylor. "The biggest mistake in branded content is building one large, multi-episode ad instead of actual content. There is nothing wrong with selling goods and services, but a branded podcast is not going to be successful if that’s all the show is about."
It's true that the most successful branded podcasts (GE’s The Message, Shopify’s TGIM or Salesforces’ Trailblazing Entrepreneurs) are ones that find a way to showcase their brand alongside content that they are thought leaders on or associated with.
"Branded podcasts that focus on aligning segments of their audience with good interviews and actual behind the scenes stories tend to do well," says Ng. "Others that produce a podcast to promote their own products and tools without value adding to their audiences will not work."
At least for now, building brand awareness remains the predominant objective for marketers using podcast advertising. However, interestingly, Spotify India embarked on a campaign to persuade podcast listeners in India to convert to Spotify. By leveraging a targeted and segmented strategy that was served programmatically across the top 12 podcast apps in the country. The campaign reportedly increased app downloads by 82%, with daily active users increasing by 10.4%, and also increased podcast listenership on the platform by 200%.
"There have been some conversion-based campaigns executed but brand awareness does appear to be the dominant objective," says Gabey Goh, Asia editor, Reports and News, WARC. "This could be due to various reasons, such as the need for more sophisticated and advertiser-friendly measurement tools and features to be rolled out on major podcast platforms along with the still-growing/experimental designation podcasts have within the bigger marketing channel planning picture."
It remains the case that the podcast space is still heavily under-monetised when compared to other digital formats that are currently being used by marketers for top-funnel advertising. However, The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) predicts that ad revenues are set to exceed $1B this year and then double the following year as new tech platforms are ramping up the dynamic ad insertions and conducting more advanced brand lift studies to boost the confidence of brands in the podcast advertising space.
Optimism for the future of podcast and podcast advertising in Asia is growing by the day. Ron Baetiong, the founder and CEO of Podcast Network Asia, the biggest podcast network agency in the Philippines, believes the Southeast Asian podcast market will be as big as it is in the US in the next 3-5 years. Since launching Podcast Network Asia in Sept 2019, the agency has made 150+ podcasts with 16+ million listeners combined and $500,000 in revenue.
"We are we well on the way to closing the gap with the US, specifically with the Indonesian and Philippine markets being the main catalysts as the two biggest markets in Southeast Asia," says Baetiong. The Philippines ranks 6th as the fastest growing country in the world and the fastest growing in Southeast Asia, while Indonesia is one of the top five podcast listening countries in the world."
Likewise, Ng, founder and CEO of Matchcasts, believes that there will be more noise around podcasts in Asia in the near future. "That's why MatchCasts is taking a data approach into podcast advertising. We believe there is a lack of solutions in the market like ours which combines data, discovery, insights and strong analytics with an all in one powerful audio campaign tool that cuts across the whole podcast and audio advertising landscape."
But while it’s still relatively early days in Asia for podcasts, there’s growing confidence we’ll soon see listeners and numbers increase rapidly, as they have done and are doing in other markets. "Advertisers in Asia will get comfortable with the uniqueness of the podcast format and begin leveraging the screenless and intimate experience," says Taylor. "Brands have begun to launch their own podcasts, to showcase their expertise and build affinity around their products and services, which we’ll see continue to grow also."
Editor's note: This article was updated on July 1, 2021 to replace outdated figures from Podcast Network Asia with significantly different recent figures.