Audio for All Summit X NVP

It is no secret that Newark Venture Partners is heavily focused on Audio as a great investment opportunity. It doesn’t hurt that NVP is founded by the audio leader, Audible, who paved the way for the growing industry. It has been over twenty years since Audible released the first portable audio player designed for audiobook listening. 

The advent of the bluetooth headset along with a plethora of emerging platforms including connecting cars, gaming devices, workout equipment and smart speakers has opened a huge market for seamless integration of audio in our lives. We can all agree that audio access makes our lives better. We can multitask in ways never before thought possible.  Now, we can learn something new, stay up to date on news, be entertained, relax or escape all through audio - and we can do several of these at the same time! For businesses and consumers alike, audio access is feeling more like a need to have than a nice to have with every passing month. They all want and need to be a part of the conversation. Andresseen Horowitz said aptly “Earshare is the new mindshare.” We agree, and there’s a lot at risk for businesses who hesitate to get involved. 

With this newfound market comes great investment opportunities. We see this in the major increase in early-stage venture deals in the audio space.  If you look just at Podcast investments alone, there has been a major increase in early-stage venture activity. 

Graph of early-stage investment in audiotech

No doubt, this has been fueled by the large exits and acquisitions that have taken place in the spoken word arena over the past few years. There are numerous layers to the value chain that make Spoken Word a functioning industry. And Newark Venture Partners feels that there are technology innovation and investment opportunities to be held at each layer. 

opportunities across value chain

The roster of speakers at the event included operating representatives from each area of this value chain. They shared the technology solutions that they find to be particularly valuable -- as well as technology challenges and potential tech solutions that they see a real need for in the future. Here are some key takeaways:

Darrin Bedol - Strategic Initiatives at Audible 

There is no denying it that the audio market is growing at rapid speed: 

  • 50% of the US population over the age of 12 has listened to an audiobook in the past year, 51% have listened to a podcast over the past year
  • Deloitte projected that the global audiobook market segment would grow by 25% in 2020 and that the global podcast market would grow by 30% in 2020 --- as compared to the overall media and entertainment industry growth rate of just 4%. 
  • 50% of audio listeners are find “new” time to listen --- devices and connectedness are allowing people to find new listened occasions 

Darrin discussed one of Audible’s core principles, Be Customer Obsessed, which is a relentless focus on the customer: Customers want great content that is easy to access and available at the right time. 

Great content is the best way for Audible to deliver a great customer experience. There are three trends identified by Audible’s customers which are a guiding light for Audible’s content team.

Trend #1: A Focus on Diverse Perspectives: It is important to cover the full spectrum of the human voices and experience and particularly amplifying voices of creators of color of the LGBTQ community and reflect customers in the content we serve them. Examples include "The Autobiography of MalcolmX" perfromed by Laurence Fishburne and  "More than a Vote: Our Voices. Our Vote" featuring LeBron James, Octavia Spencer and Leon Bridges

Trend #2: Niche Focus: There is demand from the market for less broad content that speaks to the masses and a request for more focused content on specific themes. An example of this being successful is Blumhouse and what they did by focusing on low budget horror movies but being the best at it. Audible has been working with creators such as Sonoro which focus on spanish-language content and Meet Cute which focuses on romance. We feel this will unlock niche listeners who are passionate about a certain kinds of content. Audible has focused a great deal on sleep and wellness content with a collaboration with Thrive and Diddy for meditation and  The Pursuit of Healthiness with Blake Griffin. Another niche Audible has focused on is Words + Music as spoken word audio is uniquely positioned to tell stories from musicians by combining listening with reflection (check out Alanis Morissette and St. Vincent). 

Trend #3: New Spin on Familiar Voices: For anyone in media, big content is familiar, but we’re excited about taking familiar content and putting new spins on it. A just released Audible Original Sesame Street podcast introduced a new Sesame Street character, showing that listeners love getting to know familiar content in new ways. 

How and When We Listen: Connectedness & New Listening Occasions:

There was a 95% increase in YoY in wearable devices, most of that driven by “hearabels,” meanwhile 52% of 18-34 year olds report using smart speakers more for music and entertainment since start of the pandemic.  Together, these two stats prove that people are finding “new” ways to listen to audio and are listening everywhere. 

With the ability unlocked by new devices, 79% of people who listen now listen more because they can multitask. This is unlike other entertainment formats where your eyes and hands are free. Interestingly, since the pandemic, the peak listening time has shifted from commuting hours to 11am. This is a trend that Audible is tracking. Will it return back once life goes back to normal, or will audio as background continue to be a mid-morning treat? 

Audible is keenly aware that they need to create the kind of content that is appropriate for different listening times during the day. Audiobooks may work for one part of the day, but multitasking, or a 20 minute walk may require something else.  

Audible will continue to adjust to these trends over time. One way that Audible has already begun to adjust is a new product offering called Audible Plus. Audible Plus offers unlimited access to Podcasts, Audiobooks, Originals and more, and it’s one adjustment Audible has made to meet the three trends (content, devices and new occasions).  It offers new content types, new content formats and really fits into the customer's day whenever they want to listen. 

Scott Simonelli - Founder, CEO of Veritonic

As Darrin explained, the world of audio is massive and rapidly growing. Veritonic examines how advertisers can capitalize on that by extracting and analyzing data in the audio market. 

The data available today for marketers, advertisers and investors in the audio market is fragmented. Better data across the audio landscape makes it easier for people to make decisions and ultimately quantify what is and what is not working across their audio portfolio. Data is also creating more diversity in audio, showing the value of using and hearing diverse voices. 

Veritonic brings currency to emotional attributes and audio specific metrics such as recall and time. They measure things like purchase intent and engagement, which allow them to surface conclusions across the lifecycle of an audio ad. 

They can now answer questions like:

  • What are my competitors doing? (This is why Veritonic created their Competitive Intelligence tools so players can have benchmarks and norms for a given industry.)
  • What does this content sound like and how will someone respond to it? 
  • How can we quantify human response to sound?  
  • Did this work? Did someone buy my product because they heard an audio ad? 

Data can increase the value of an audio investment, and it can validate the conversation around diversity.  Right now, data tells the story that the voices in audio ads are not diverse enough. For example, 92% of the voice talent for COVID ads is white voices, when the people affected by COVID skew heavily to Black and Latinx communities. By creating better awareness, and proving the efficacy of voice content that reflects its audience, we will change the behaviors and strategies of marketers. And while we shouldn’t need to validate diversity is better performing, the reality is that it is. 

Veritonic ingests a lot of audio content and understands it. Sonic processing is involved here, and we use machine learning and AI to help understand what is happening with the audio content itself, as well as how someone responds to it, validating what is working and why. 

Michael “Manny Faces” Conforti - Founder/CEO of Manny Faces Media 

Michael “Manny Faces” Conforti spoke about the technology needs, challenges and opportunities for podcast creators. He is a Newark-based, award-winning podcast producer, entrepreneur, and founding director of nonprofit The Center for Hip-Hop Advocacy. As a podcast professional, Manny produces acclaimed shows including the award-winning social justice podcast, News Beat (www.usnewsbeat.com), as well as multimedia interview show, Hip-Hop Can Save America! (www.hiphopcansaveamerica.com) . He is the founder of Manny Faces Media, a podcast production and consultant firm.

Manny Faces pointed out a variety of operational challenges as well as tech solutions for creators: 

Discoverability: If you’re not on the “new and noteworthy’ or Apple or similar ranking in Spotify, it’s very tough to get picked up. 

  • There is interesting movement in this space: Podchaser, Podcast Index, and Goodpods are all outside of the main players and help the small guys get discovered 

Accessibility: How people with disabilities can get access to podcast content. As a Podcast creator, Manny Faces tries to be aware of this need and use technology to solve it

Monetization - Access to advertisers: The big elephant in the room -- for a small/independent creator, you don’t necessarily have the reach yet to attract the Midrolls. There are some alternatives: 

Monetization - Dynamic Ad Insertion: Dynamic Ad insertion is great for continuing to monetize old podcasts, but it’s not always available for independent creators. 

General creator operations: 

Other growth areas to consider for creators and investors:

  • Ideas that can translate to wide audiences
  • Ideas that can own a niche audience 
  • Concept that bend or create new ‘subgenres’
  • Equality vs equity: leadership roles in production and ownership 
  • Podcasts that translate into other platforms: TV/streaming, movies/documentaries, live events/streaming, etc.) 

Carl Scott - Head of Content at Players’ Tribune 

Carl has been in audio since the beginning of podcasting. Started with StoryCore, an independent show for NPR -- and has since joined the Players’ Tribune. He is focused on helping those who want to have a strong presence in the audio world and has seen the investment in the space grow.

Players’ Tribune has been around for 6 years. Derek Jeeter started it to create a place where athletes could have some control over their own narrative. It was started with the idea that players get to tell their story in their own words.

Essentially, they barter authenticity for audience. Celebrity used to be magic because you couldn't know the world of where the celebrity came from. That’s changed in the digital age.  The extent to which a celebrity can be authentic is what creates attachment --- and that attachment can be monetized.  Kobe was an early investor and insisted that if you make the content for him, his fans would follow

There is technology that helps them do what they do:

  • Content Delivery: There is a need low friction, platform agnostic content delivery. SmartURL is an example that creates smart fall-back spaces that will open up the app that users use. Some listeners may want to listen to content but don’t know how to -- SmartURL gets you there.
  • Analytics: Podcasters don’t want to be left out of the opportunity to estimate how successful an ad placement is. Demographic data is very hard to capture for Podcast listeners: household income, education, any small inkling that can give you an edge is a really great thing. Charitable is great for their basketball show, Knuckleheads.  Basketball is a very global sport, and Charitable allows them to see where it’s charting everywhere in the world.  They don’t have access to every Apple ranking, and with this technology they can see where it’s ranking in China and Australia and make interesting choices on where to try to grow the show or translate into different languages. 
  • Remote content capture: They are dealing a lot with big name athletes, it’s about creating an experience for them that is comfortable and professional. They use Apogee for its high quality and great integration with DropBox, as well as mobi.
  • Community: It is one thing to engage with content but it’s another thing to create a place where audiences can engage with each other. FlipChat is a good tool -- it’s a Redditt like chatroom based on pods. Audiences can join the podcast, watch live, or get it on demand with others. This is all about access between the host and the fans.

Audio tomorrow, there are two enormous growth opportunities: 

  • Search Engine Optimization: Transcription has to be better --- the reality of more and more podcasters being able to transcribe and post content and attract traffic via Google. There is a big opportunity for a company that can get the transcription right.
  • Intellectual Property: The most important thing that has happened to audio as a field and podcasting in general is Tiktok. If you look at social media, Facebook is photos, Twitter is the written word. TikTok is about audio first; video is there to support the audio. Meme-able moments, dances, mouthing the words of an existing script, etc - over time, these things have begun to be limited by virtue of the music industry and being paid for it. Those kinds of conversations as they relate to minimizing the extent to which users can be authentic and create things that are authentic to themselves and then share them are limiting. It’s a hard play but it should be watched. A tech solution where everyone can play in the mashup world is going to be very important. The extent to which other people can absorb and share is the extent to which it can be distributed, absorbed and monetized more widely. Audio will then become a first class citizen on the internet. 

The future of audio is a place where users, podcasters, and investors can create authentic content without barriers. 



Overall, we found that all of our speakers touched on a few major themes including the need for increased diversity among podcasters and better accessibility for listeners, improved data for monetization purposes and the need for more innovation in discoverability for creators. The event also included short pitches from NVP portfolio companies SpeechKit, ABF Creative and Sounder.fm who are innovating within many of these themes.  If you’re interested in hearing these pitches, or the speakers in full, please contact Jennifer@Newark.VC

1 Washington Park, 7th Floor Newark, NJ 07102
info@newark.vc

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