We exchanged emails for this interview and it has been slightly condensed and edited.
Marc Goldberg : Tell me about your journey
Bryan Barletta : That’s always a fun one. I dropped out of college in my fifth year of attempting to convince myself I wanted to be a history teacher. I founded AppVee.com and AndroidApps.com with a friend and I recorded 12 mobile app reviews, written and video, five days a week. From there, Medialets hired me and moved me from Massachusetts to New York City, and started my career in Sales Engineering and Product Management. I worked for basically every M named mobile advertising startup at one point or another before joining Barometric, a podcast attribution company, as a founding member, as they split off from AdTheorent and eventually were acquired by Claritas. After a year there, I went over to Megaphone as their Sr Product Manager of Data & Monetization before starting Sounds Profitable in collaboration with Podnews, in September 2020.
MG: So what is your new thing?
BB: Yes! I really love being a sales engineer. Understanding adtech completely and helping people fit it to their goals is weirdly fun for me. So I decided I wanted to be a sales engineer for the entire podcast industry. Sounds Profitable is a weekly newsletter and twice a week podcast that breaks down how podcast advertising technology works and makes it accessible for anyone at any skill level. There’s a massive failing in many companies, not just podcasting, where they’re not educating all levels of employees. Few companies do proper onboarding and training of their specific tools and offerings and even less provide weekly internal emails or podcasts to keep their teams up to date. So, hopefully, I’m helping decision-makers and the employees under them be properly equipped to be the experts their companies need and grow into new roles over time.
Everything I do with Sounds Profitable is funded by my sponsors as I have zero desire to ever charge anyone to learn from me, especially the people who need it the most which are the ones least likely to be able to easily expense purchases.
MG: So almost everyone has a podcast. How are people monetizing?
BB: So many different and interesting ways. Podcasting doesn’t have a “banner ad”, there’s no set formula, which makes it both exciting and frustrating. Ads can be read the host, producers, or an announcer/third party. They can be baked directly into the episode itself, or they can be inserted at time of download. Direct sold or programmatic. Almost every option for buying advertising in other channels exists in podcasting, the difference is that each publisher can sustainably choose their own path, so buying in podcasting can be a bit more manual.
Subscriptions have received a spotlight lately and I think they’re amazing. Anyone dismissing them is underestimating how much easier it is for someone to sell more of their own content than it is for them to sell you underwear or exercise equipment. But for those considering subscriptions as a monetization path, don’t default to removing ads. Get creative. Get weird.
MG: How are people discovering and getting scale?
BB: I think that the aggregators like Apple and Spotify fail most podcasters and the illusion that people will organically find your podcast from within those apps is starting to crack. It’s simple marketing, and for many podcasters, that’s a fully new concept for them. It’s why bigger companies that understand marketing, advertising, and content creation around multiple different channels are having such great success in the space. Building a community or audience isn’t unique to podcasting.
MG: The numbers are starting to become very big. I come from the land of ad fraud and trust…well nobody., how do we know people are listening?
BB: I don’t think podcasting has any peers in the open nature of it’s delivery method, which is a big reason why these aggregators are so aggressively trying to kill the RSS feed. Spotify, with their SAI, really turns a podcast ad into an app ad, by pausing the podcast and having the app play the ad, but the user experience suffers. That also only works on Spotify, which isn’t even half of the podcast listening market. So the truth is, in podcasting, we know just about as much as dropbox does when you download a file from their platform. IP address, user agent, and the content you’re requesting. There’s a lot of great things we can do with that data while staying within a privacy framework, but I really think we haven’t dug into it enough yet because the industry is growing steadily and we haven’t hit the wall the demands us to revisit it.
So today, we know a download happened, we don’t know if a listen happened, outside of completely unverified first party data from each of the podcast apps out there, if you log into their portal. And truthfully, I’ve never seen an advertiser ask for that data because its about the shows downloads and listens in aggregate and nothing to do with where the ad is in the show.
MG: This is a similar problem that OTT/CTV is having with SAAI. A user downloads the podcast to listen to later, but maybe later does not happen. What are definitions in podcasts? Any fraud detected?
BB: The IAB, with their v2.1 spec, defines a download in podcasting as 1 minute of downloaded audio. The problem is that pressing play for 1 second on any podcast player and then turning airplane mode on will progressively download easily 1.5m of content. While that sounds bad, that took a ton of effort. I think it would be real hard for podcast listeners to actually end a podcast before 1 minute has played, but that still doesn’t answer for listens.
In those portals I mentioned, data aggregated from Apple and Spotify tend to show that on average, listeners drop off somewhere after 70% or more of the episode. There are a lot of companies that use it as an excuse to not enter the podcasting space, but really that’s a weak excuse. Advertising clearly works in podcasting and everyone who dedicates the time to learn it and meet it for what it is, not just cram streaming radio and terrestrial radio ads into podcasting, is doing fantastic. But that can be a hard sell when an underpaid 20 year old can run hundreds of Facebook campaigns in their 12 hour work day.
MG: Who are 3 industry podcasts people should be paying attention to.
BB: If you’re reading this and want to learn more about podcast advertising and advertising technology, definitely check out Sounds Profitable, but there are two podcasts that I really think everyone should be following.
– Podnews – Every weekday James Cridland gives you the rundown of everything you need to know about the podcast space overall in under 5 minutes.
– Podcast Pontifications – For those thinking of starting a podcast in any professional capacity, Evo Terra gives some killer bite-sized thoughts for you to consider as you go about your process.
MG: You are now in San Antonio after leaving the Texas digital world Austin. Tell me how is your new world?
BB: The Austin housing market really went nuts and we had nothing tying us there, so we bought an amazing house in downtown San Antonio, with enough space for me to build out a full recording studio office space with plenty of room for my nerdy gaming habits. But the thing I love the most about it is all the things nearby. Since we’re both vaccinated, we’ve started venturing out a bit more so my two year old can have some semblance of a normal life. We’ve got a zoo, botanical gardens, and a kids museum all within a 10-minute drive. Our neighbors are amazing and the area is very walkable. Also the people here remind me of the people I met in Austin when I moved there five years ago, instead of the tech bros that moved in last year.
MG: Double Vax Bros! So you have one on the way too? Where is the first family of four trip?
BB: Yup! Number 2 is due at the end of July. I don’t know where our first family of four trip will be, but if Disneyland opens back up in August, my son turns three so close to when kiddo 2 is due that I want to make sure he doesn’t feel like he lost a birthday, so I think we’ll take a trip just the two of us and explore the parks and eat too much cotton candy. I’m VERY thankful that he’s obsessed with his dinosaur facemask.