The Podcast Purveyor: Panoply
In August 2015, the podcast network Panoply announced that it had acquired a software product named Audiometric, “a producer-focused podcasting CMS and ad insertion technology.”112 To the layman, this might sound like an innocuous move. To the podcasting insider, the acquisition offered a major insight into how Panoply, already one of the biggest players in the field, is strategizing its future growth.
Panoply was born from The Slate Group, which has been in the podcasting business for a decade and can now boast a steady stable of popular, mainly conversation-based shows. Capitalizing on the fact that Slate’s audience, and particularly its podcast listeners, is highly engaged and loyal, the company launched a membership platform in April of last year called Slate Plus.113
All this time, Slate functioned as a podcast network does—people recognized the Slate name and were willing to try other Slate podcasts as a result. However, Panoply, the official “audio arm” of The Slate Group that launched in February 2015, was meant to be something new.114
Panoply does include Slate shows, however, the network was conceptualized as an independent operation that partners with a variety of publishers seeking to develop their own podcasts. Panoply now boasts 15 Slate podcasts and over 20 partners, from The New York Times Magazine, to Real Simple, to The Huffington Post.115 Panoply provides these partners with advertising, technological, production, and audience development services in exchange for a share of the advertising revenue. The exact split is determined according to the partners’ reliance on Panoply (for example, if a partner already has recording capabilities, this would affect the split).116
Advertising revenue is generated via host-read ad spots charged at, in the words of Panoply CEO Brendan Monaghan, “meaningful CPMs” (this translates to between 20 and 80 dollars).117 Panoply is also exploring the options of branded content and native advertising. In early October, it announced its latest venture: a partnership with GE on an eight-part science fiction drama that hearkens back to the GE Theater of the 1950s. The episodes, free to download for consumers, are also ad-free (and thus serve to raise brand awareness for GE rather than directly generate sales).118
Panoply is similar to networks like Gimlet Media and Radiotopia in that it hopes to create a brand identity that stands for quality—and thus attracts listeners and advertisers. As Brendan Monaghan, Panoply CEO, told me, the network creates “an opportunity to help audiences find and discover great content.”119
However, in many respects, Panoply represents a very different network model. As Panoply CCO Andy Bowers explained, the network has always had two constituencies: consumers as well as producers. Panoply’s efforts to reach consumers are done in collaboration with their partners: “We very much want a show’s first audience to be the audience of the magazine or author. That is the audience they know best, who’s most likely to tune into a podcast by the organization or individual,” said Bowers. Should Panoply one day wish to replicate the success Slate has had with its freemium model, for example, it would undoubtedly do so in collaboration with its partners. Bowers added, “We’re not expecting to have Panoply ‘groupies.’ We want Panoply to be a wider network. Panoply will come to mean quality podcasts from reputable people and organizations.”120
The acquisition of Audiometric emphasized that, for Panoply, the podcast creator is arguably just as important—if not more than—the listener. Monaghan said in the press release: “We originally launched Panoply to provide listeners with a network of the best voices in podcasting, but along the way identified that there was an opportunity to provide partners with meaningful technological solutions as well.”121
Audiometric will allow Panoply to offer a better technology to its partners than currently exists. The process of uploading, distributing, and tracking a podcast requires fluency on a variety of platforms; plus, the process of inserting ads dynamically into downloadable podcasts is both hard and expensive. Audiometric is a “producer-friendly,” end-to-end platform that provides hosting, management, monetization, dynamic ad injection and targeting, excellent analytics, and distribution (even to external podcasting apps)—all in one place. Panoply may also develop an embeddable player in the future (only SoundCloud and Acast currently offer players); however, for now, the technology is meant to work with all existing platforms.122
The technology’s capacity for more accurate analytics is one of its core advantages. Panoply’s Nick Quah hopes that the detailed analytics will not just allow creators to better cater their shows to their audiences, but also push podcasting more fully into the world of digital journalism.123 What’s more, of course, the more accurate the metrics, the more advertisers will invest in the space (unsurprisingly, Panoply is also on the IAB working group focused on establishing industry standards for podcast ads).
Although the technology has been designed for the use of those within the Panoply network, Bowers told me he could “envision a future” where people outside the network can access the technology—presumably for a fee.124 For Panoply, which has ads at the core of its business, this technology play represents the company’s move toward a more independent business model. Not only does it decrease the network’s reliance on outside technological platforms, but it also creates a potential alternate revenue stream to advertising as it amplifies the possibility for increased advertising revenue through its dynamic ad injection.
It also signifies (to my mind) the network’s embrace of the producer-facing side of its identity. Indeed, if Audible could be compared to HBO (a subscription-led network), and Gimlet perhaps to AMC (a more mixed model), I would liken Panoply to Netflix—consumers may recognize the name, but their relationships will be with the individual brands the network carries. Of course, as Bowers pointed out to me, the parallel falls apart when you consider that Netflix is a service you pay for and so is invested in keeping you within its ecosystem: “We want to get out to as many people as possible [...] We want to be recognized as a purveyor of producers.”125
For publishers (particularly big name publishers) interested in producing podcasts, Panoply offers an interesting, low-risk way to enter the space.
Branded content could be a viable way of earning advertising revenue beyond CPMs.
Panoply believes strongly that podcasts allow publishers a way of creating engaged, loyal audiences that can support freemium models.
For now, Panoply remains advertising-reliant; possible future revenue streams include freemium models, as well as paid access to its technological platform.