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Ross Adams

Ross Adams

· Time to read: ~6 min

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

Ross is CEO of Acast — this interview has been lightly edited for style and readability

Ross was speaking to Sam Sethi in the Podnews Weekly Review

Sam Sethi: You’ve just become profitable.

Ross Adams: That’s been a big goal for us. Early on, we were focused on growth, like a lot of kind of startups were, and whilst profitability was always the plan, it wasn’t necessarily something we focused on. Then, of course, profitability became the in-trend thing, believe it or not, to build a sustainable business. So it was great last quarter to hit profitability, and to really prove that model. In individual markets, we made UK profitable, and the likes of Sweden profitable on its own, but because we’re expanding in lots of markets, that takes a lot of investment. Our aim this year is to be profitable as a whole.

SS: The US is now one of your biggest markets, but you’re also growing in other markets as well. So where are you these days?

RA: I think it’s 15 markets that we’ve actually got people on the ground, but we exist in 200, and whatever markets there are, we can monetize that through multiple different ways, and we see demand from international advertisers all over the place. A core focus for us is the US, UK, Sweden, Australia, France, Germany. More recently, we’ve been launching in Spain, Italy and the Netherlands, as well as Singapore, we’ve now got someone on the ground there as well, starting to get our feet on the ground over in Asia.

SS: You have a true crime show called One Minute Remaining, which is now for Spanish speakers. You’ve partnered with Wondercraft. Is this something that you’re going to be doing more and more, moving into foreign language podcasting?

RA: Innovation for us is at the core of what we do, and I think this is a great example of innovation that we need to try out and see what demand we get from that. We see demand from a commercial side for Spanish speaking content. For us this is a great way of growing the show’s audience in another language and introducing new listeners to new content by translation. So we’re trialing that out and seeing how that works and we’ll be reporting back in the coming months.

SS: I think it’s fair to say that you pioneered dynamic ad insertion. Is that the core technology that’s driven Acast to the profitability that we see today?

RA: When we first looked at the space and I met with the founders, and they talked about what they want to do within the space. Inherently, podcasting was still a 10-year-old medium then, but it was very analog. There were no digital metrics applied to it and no one was really commercializing. I think America was, in a baked-in fashion, but that hadn’t scaled to the major brands that are spending in the space. So, for us, we wanted to digitize this industry and if we’re going to start to pitch for digital ad budgets, we need to professionalize, and so dynamic ad insertion was born.

Now, dynamically inserting ads into digital content isn’t new at all, but doing it with an RSS and with audio was brand new. So we had to build all of this technology from scratch. That’s why a country like Sweden, who has the top engineers in the world, managed to create that, and that is what’s driven our success and everything that we’ve built off from here on in.

SS: You’ve paid more than $300 million directly into the pockets of creators worldwide, which is great. That’s a lot of chunk of change going back to real creators, right?

RA: Definitely. That is one of my definite highlights of the last 10 years. I think that’s why we have built this company with creators in mind and being fair in how we remunerate. So $300 million is incredible, so I’m very proud of the team for that. And dynamic ad insertion has enabled brands to access audiences within podcasting, and I think that’s a testament to the revenue we start to drive.

SS: Podtrac released its rankers for March and for the first time, Acast was the number one publisher globally. That must have been a good day as well.

RA: Yeah, it’s great. I mean, we’ve always had a huge reach and we’re a bit unknown, especially over in the States, and I think finally getting onto that chart and having our reach and scale there highlights exactly what we’ve done these past 10 years. And I think I’m even more proud of how we’ve done it. If you think about the competitive set that we’ve gone against and the investment that others have put into the space, to still be number one and to still be as big as we are and continue to grow is no mean feat. So, yeah, very proud of the team on that.

SS: Acast has been blocking YouTube from ingesting Acast podcasts. That’s mainly because YouTube don’t do pass-through. So has that been resolved with Acast and YouTube, or is that still an ongoing issue?

RA: We are big proponents of the open ecosystem and RSS, and YouTube have decided not to support RSS and that’s how our entire business model works. They also want clean content, clear of ads, and if you are converting an MP3 with ads that are dynamically inserted and then you re-record that, you’re going to have ads stitched in, so we would be against their terms of service. So that’s why we stopped that and we’re working with YouTube to try and help encourage them to see the values of RSS.

SS: What comes next in the next ten years?

RA: I think for us we’ve had a core focus on profitability. That is a key thing, that’s in the near future and that’s something that we are focused on, as we mentioned earlier. But I think a big core focus for us is the US. I’m now living over here and this is something we really need to focus on and have been focusing on.

It is the biggest podcast market in the world right now and we need to be number one. We’re number one globally in terms of audience. On Podtrac’s US chart, we’re number three, but there’s a couple of people who omitted from that chart as well. But for us we need to be number one. And then I think we need to be making sure that the media agencies who are starting to spend in the space treat us as that number one player.

Our competitive set have the likes of music streaming radio, satellite radio that they can bolt on with podcasting. Growing that reach and scale for us is inherently a core focus to become that number one player. That’s a big focus, and I think in 10 years time I want to make sure that we maintain the culture of the company. That has always been my number one priority. I talk quite publicly about that, and we’ve got a fantastic culture and an amazing bunch of people. But expansion is probably on the cards at some stage as well. I think for me it’s more seeing the next three years than the next 10, but either way, it’s going to be a successful 10 years, so I’m looking forward to that.

SS: Congratulations to you, Thank you.

RA: Thanks very much, Sam.

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