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Pary Bell

Pary Bell

· Time to read: ~8 min

This interview was first in the Podcast Business Journal newsletter, with the latest podcast news and data. Subscribe free today.

Pary is CEO of TPX - The Podcast Exchange — this interview has been lightly edited for style and readability

This interview is in the Podcast Business Journal Spotlight podcast

Pary Bell: TPX - The Podcast Exchange - is a boutique agency in Canada that specializes in understanding the research and the platform of podcasting, with a rich history of being a first mover in Canada. It offers services of helping brands and agencies connect with listeners on podcasts by representing publishers that are in Canada, both Canadian and international publishers. We also offer research and production assistance and other services. But the majority of our business really is in evangelizing the benefits of the podcasting platform to agencies and brands who are looking to really connect the dots with their audience and their targeted users.

James Cridland: You joined from Rogers Sports and Media and transitioning away from sports broadcasting into podcasting. What was your initial impression when you joined TPX earlier this year in terms of the Canadian market?

PB: Yeah, I have been working in the Canadian media industry since 2000. So I’ve been a pioneer on the digital space. And I’ve seen the digital evolution from traditional broadcasting and traditional magazines and the growing pains that went with it. And in stepping into the podcast industry, I’ve noticed it feels a lot like 2009 or 2010 did digitally where there was a race to acquire inventory and scale and learnings from the past. And so I find it a very interesting, almost Wild West, where it’s finding its footing, both in Canada and internationally.

And there is no doubt that the platform is growing in leaps and bounds. Everyone, even my own 79-year-old mother, is listening to podcasts. And it’s amazing how passionate people are about it. But what I would say is lagging is connecting the dots for marketers to understand how rich a platform it is. I think there’s still a concern over the measurability, over the inherently trackable digital behaviour that can be challenging in podcasting. And so there is a resistance to putting what I would say is probably the right amount of budget into podcasting. But there’s still hesitation and there’s still a little aversion to that at the moment. That’s my broad picture.

JC: And do you think the measurement piece is just a misunderstanding, or do we have somewhere to go in terms of the industry?

PB: I think if you’re only comparing it to digital platforms, I think that was where some of the challenges are. If you look at media more holistically, you understand that magazines were measured for 100 years without actually any tracking or any pixels or any attribution. You simply found a sample that you agreed to and you move forward. Same thing with television, same thing with outdoor signage. You get comfortable with the measurement. I would say podcasting is still in that stage of there’s a desire for it to be as completely digital as other digital platforms. Yet the convenience of it is by being downloaded and being offline, there are certain things you can’t actually get. And so from a user perspective, it’s actually really nice and convenient. But from a deeper tracking perspective, it’s not there. And so I think the industry needs to figure out that balance point where you understand the values of the platform and the limitations and you move forward.

One thing I find incredible having stepped into this industry relatively recently is the notion of collaboration across the whole industry. That there are competitors who understand that it’s on all of us to increase the awareness of what podcasting can do. And that relationship with the listener and how intimate it is. We are all, I mean the old saying of all boats rise with the tide. We all will benefit if we work together.

It’s been fascinating to read some of the stuff that you’ve been writing about with regards to ad standardization, about a community. I have felt a sense of community even with our competitors. So one of the things I’ve done is I’ve been meeting with our competition and I haven’t worked in any other media industry where it hasn’t been knives out. This has been incredible. There is a genuine interest for everyone to make podcasting successful. So I found that really inspiring.

JC: You have a big neighbor to the south of us. What’s the difference do you think between the US podcast industry and the Canadian podcast industry?

PC: It’s both a blessing and a challenge at times in terms of the US culture does definitely roll into Canada. So in terms of often the biggest shows and the most popular shows are the ones that are in the US. Canadian culture in Quebec, the French culture is very similar to Australia where there is this notion of nationalism. And your top shows are going to be intrinsically French Canadian and they’re going to not be replaced by France. But in English Canada, our biggest and most popular shows are generally going to be the US shows.

The challenge with the Canadian market is that we are a fraction of the scale in terms of population. We have a community that tends to be… we’re very cautious people. I think Canadians historically have taken risks, but we are often very conservative on our approach and we like to wait and see. And so it puts us in a situation where there’s tremendous growth happening in podcasting in Canada. But we are probably four or five years behind the trend line of what it is in the US per capita. And so there is still opportunity. I see it as continuing to evolve, but we’re behind.

JC: What podcasts do you represent in terms of ad sales? You’re representing Canadian shows, or is it more than that?

PB: We have a mix. We have some brands that we have helped get up and going. We host, we provide nurturing and support with them and they are good Canadian grassroots businesses like The Loonie Hour. We have brands that we represent in Canada, some exclusive like Corus, some non-exclusive like the CBC. We work with great Canadian publishers, but we also do a lot of our work is with some amazing US content, with iHeart Media, with All Things Comedy, Soundrise, with WNYC. We’ve been extending our own networks and we’re doing a lot of business development around trying to find appropriate premium publishers to partner with.

JC: Many podcast ad companies are global in nature - you’ve got Spotify out there, you’ve got Acast out there, Global’s DAX, although that’s sort of changed a little bit in this market. What advantages does TPX have in being a Canadian company focused on Canada?

PC: Again, I step back into the media industry: there is something great about being Canadian, about being focused on Canadian people, on Canadian listeners, on Canadian brands. There is always a strong global presence. In digital in the past it was, it’s been and continues to be Google and Facebook and Instagram and TikTok. It was Yahoo in the past, it was, it has been other brands, I guess they’re still around. In terms of dominance, there was always a look at Canada from the international perspective as, well we’ll just open it as a sales territory. Without really understanding the culture, without really understanding the problems that marketers in Canada might have that might be different from Sweden, or they might be different from the UK, or they might be different from America. And so one advantage that we have is we are very Canadian and we’re very focused on Canadian solutions. So we are 100% Canadian, we are not selling internationally, we are focused on monetizing and helping Canadian marketers connect with Canadian listeners.

I think that often times global companies look at Canada as “you’re just like the America market”. And so we are often treated very homogeneously and thought of as very similar to our American cousins. Once you step into Canada you realize that there is a nationalism, there is a unique identity and culture. And so our approach is very much through that Canadian lens.

JC: And where do you see the future going in terms of podcast advertising?

PB: I’m really excited about the opportunity. I think as the media world gets more and more challenging to prove the return on ad spend, as marketers have more and more challenge in defending their budgets, one of the really interesting things is podcasting is one of the platforms where the data shows that if it is good advertising, it’s contextual and you’re leveraging that host listener relationship, people don’t mind listening to the ads. In fact, they will listen to the ads and they’ll act on the ads.

And so I think that there will be a bit of an awakening as more marketers are actually looking to legitimize where they’re spending their money. And they will find that they will start to increase. So the first step is trying it and then you’ll get they’ll get good feedback, whether it’s through brand attribution, through brand list studies. There is a way to show that there is ROI on their spend. I think it’s getting harder and harder and harder for marketers to defend that. And so ultimately, this area of growth is it’s fascinating to watch.

JC: Thank you so much for your time.

PB: Our pleasure. Thank you.

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