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The great re-pivot to audio

“The middlemen who profit — agencies, buyers, and the like. They’ve been waiting for a moment like this.”

2018. Depending on whom you ask, it either was the worst year for audio or the best.

And it seems like almost every year, whenever you talk about audio, the words “golden age” accompany the discussion. There must be some marketing or lobbying machine pitching that narrative constantly. It comes across more like a mass conspiracy than reality.

Then the mass of layoffs. Digital powerhouses including BuzzFeed, Panoply, and Audible led many to wonder whether podcasting was experiencing some sort of bubble. I haven’t seen the landscape greatly impacted by these changes — just the lives of many whose livelihoods have been thrown for a curve, many I call friends.

The idea that producing audio is fast and cheap — you know, the pick-two of the iron product triangle — is what investors, money people, and those who don’t sit staring at scripts twelve minutes too long pretend to love about audio. But producing audio isn’t fast, and quality is certainly not cheap. Relative to its other medium counterparts, yes, in theory.

The place where the lack of quality seems to bump its head, again and again, is all those awful, almost-every-weekend festivals, where the same cast of characters trumps their versions of podcast Tupperware. I don’t know about you, but I’m not buying this stuff. It’s all feeling too multilevel marketing to me, too much Kool-Aid. Everyone’s showing off their Mary Kay Cadillacs, but no one’s saying how they drove themselves to such success.

With all that, so many companies who pivoted to audio — testing the waters by adding their formulary to the equation, only to see their Red Dye No. 5 not catch on — have been left with an inscrutable itch that must be scratched in 2019. They will re-pivot back to audio.

Why?

Anyone who pivots knows that the act itself is one of self-preservation — seeking to hand the ball to someone else, who’ll probably run into the same trouble as the last player, but figure out who to get it to next. The person with the ball acts with such fervor that it seems like the ball is some hot potato straight out of the oven — when in actuality, the shiny potato isn’t hot, but acting like it is seems to keep stakeholders (board members, investors, agencies) excitably hopeful.

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Which leads me to the advertisers, and the world that lives off the ecosystem of inventory and media buys.

There’s no question that the boom in the world of audio has been heard loud and clear. Podcasts have been around for more than a decade, but it’s only in the past few years that they’ve been getting attention. And why? The middlemen who profit — agencies, buyers, and the like. They’ve been waiting for a moment like this. When their worlds of print, banner ads, and billboards came crashing down, the landscape was bleak. But now in the wild west of audio, they can be both the Sheriff and the Bandido. They’re not about to turn their backs on this opportunity, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we see these players actually become producers themselves in order to boost inventory to sell.

There’s too much riding on any one person or group to shy away from audio. 2018 was just a year that some in the business needed a break. A separation. A time to see other mediums. But like the great platform and distributor that she is, audio will have them running back, asking for forgiveness, begging to be taken back, asking if we can try just one more time. Sadly, despite her name, audio is silent. She’ll take him back and pretend nothing happened. They’ll date again in 2019; some will go on to get married, have children, and start saving for the next cold, bleak, dead winter.

You see, it’s all a cycle. Next year, guaranteed, someone out there will say that “this year is the golden age for audio,” and that feeling of a marketing conspiracy will sound more like a recommitment to trying things again, like the first time never happened.

Andrew Ramsammy is CEO and founder of UnitedPublic Strategies.

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