Our Crystal Ball Series Continunes With Kelli Hurley

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Kelli Hurley is Senior Vice President of Digital Partnerships at Westwood One where she works on all facets of the Westwood One Podcast Network from monetization, talent relations, and content creation to the acquisition of new shows and partnerships. 

PBJ: How would you summarize the podcasting industry in 2019?
Hurley: To call 2019 transformative would be an understatement. It was a year of profound change and positive momentum driven by significant M&A activity, new content and alliances, platform listening shifts, measurement advancements, and a dramatic increase in advertiser demand. Data and analytics became more prevalent and prominent as well. Tech companies like Chartable and Barometrics are bringing new audience insights, which will continue to advance the industry in a positive way.

PBJ: What surprised you the most about 2019?
Hurley: The ad community has been asking for better measurement, more transparency, and stronger accountability for years — and in 2019 we were pleasantly surprised by the number of attribution companies that emerged to provide much-needed podcast measurement and ROI data for advertisers, in addition to hosting and publishing companies adopting IAB certification.

PBJ: What three things do you expect to happen in 2020?
Hurley: On the content front, we expect more experimentation with the length, distribution, and format of shows and for the charged Presidential election season to benefit news podcasts, especially daily podcasts, as listeners seek information from sources they trust. Candidates will use podcasts to mobilize and grow audiences on both sides of the aisle. Big money is coming into the space, with a lot more funding for new projects, as well as money being raised to support new ventures.

Heading into 2020, podcast ad preferences for the industry and listeners are at a crossroads. We expect dynamic ad insertion will improve and cause controversy with Direct-to-Consumer advertisers as some publishers go all-in.

Last but certainly not least, we expect some surprising strategic alliances and shake-ups, as networks, platforms, publishers, and the ancillary podcast business marketplace come together to supplement each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

PBJ: There seems to be some anger from the podcasting community toward radio getting into the space. What would you like to say to them?
Hurley: Let’s collaborate. Radio’s powerful broadcast reach and the podcasting communities’ digital ingenuity are highly complementary. All kinds of media companies are podcasting now, but radio and podcasting have a unique advantage — sharing an audio-first perspective. Our goals are aligned too: to help consumers find and listen to podcast content, to guide advertisers, support creators, and grow the medium without losing the authentic, intimate, and engaging environment that makes podcasting so unique.

PBJ: What can we expect to see from Westwood One in 2020?
Hurley: This year we expanded our scope and doubled in size, making Westwood One the fastest organically growing podcast network in the U.S. In 2020 we will continue to be where the conversation starts, producing, distributing, marketing, and monetizing high-quality and diverse News & Insights, Sports, Life & Entertainment, Business, Money & Tech podcasts at scale.

We expect continued growth from The Ben Shapiro Show, The Dan Bongino Show, The Mark Levin Show, and Talk is Jericho, which are all having a huge year, and our newer additions including The Pat McAfee Show 2.0, Think About This… with Shelly Palmer and Ross Martin, three new podcasts with The Associated Press, and the breakout new shows from Lemonada Media, like Last Day, which Stitcher named one of the nine best new podcasts of 2019.

You can also expect to see Westwood One Podcast Network continue our hybrid approach to dynamic ad insertion, evaluating which shows make sense for this technology and maintaining our standard of excellence with host reads in-content in our highest performing direct response podcasts.

PBJ: Do you believe subscription models can survive or have listeners been trained that podcasts must be free?
Hurley: Westwood One Podcast Network is primarily ad-supported, but we have had some early success with a blended model. We have found offering free content is critical to growing a loyal audience base that may want a subscription component with premium/bonus content. Everyone is experimenting with business models and strategies to figure out what is needed and performs well. Subscription models may become more prevalent as competition for audience and advertisers increases. Still, for now, there is a high tolerance for ads in podcasts and an abundance of high-quality content being produced.

PBJ: What will advertisers think of podcasts over the next 1-3 years?
Hurley: Advertisers will continue to find value in reaching listeners seeking on-demand audio content that aligns with their passions and interests. Over the next 1-3 years more brands will discover the magic of telling their story in a high-impact way inside super-engaging podcast content. Today’s audiences can pick and choose what content and advertising they want in their life. Podcast listeners allow their favorite podcast hosts to bring advertising into their world. We aim to protect that value-exchange and ensure it’s the best possible experience for everyone.

PBJ: What are your 3 favorite (non-Westwood) podcasts?
Hurley: How do you choose just three? A few of my favorite non-Westwood One podcasts right now include Conan O’Brien’s growing podcast network, To Live and Die in LA, and The Daily.

Reach out to Kelli Hurley at KHurley@WestwoodOne.com

More from our series with:
Steve Stewart
Evo Terra
Matty Staudt
Robin Kinnie
Steve Goldstein
Emily Prokop
Rob Greenlee
Jessica Kupferman
Traci Long DeForge
Daniel J. Lews
Mark Asquith
Mathew Passy
Jack Rhysider
Matt Cundill
Jay Soderberg
Bruce Wawrzyniak