Content, Discovery and Accessibility: NVP on the Audio Market

As NVP’s founding corporate partner and a world leader in audio content and production, Audible has played a critical role in shaping NVP’s investment thesis on the space.  The market expertise of the Audible team has been a key factor in identifying promising audio and voice tech startups, and once housed within NVP, Audible is fundamental in supporting their growth.  

Voice and Audio tech markets are connected, but distinct.  The market for voice technology is about the collection of information, while audio technology is more closely tied to how people receive it.  Devices such as google assistants are often categorized as voice tech because you use your voice to make requests, while podcasts are a mainstay of the audio market. Voice tech tends to be more versatile for industry, being deployed in call centers, within chatbots and throughout customer service, while the growing audio space is built for the individual, expanding on accessibility and convenience.   Today, about 10% of our portfolio are within the audio space and our theses have evolved to include audio content creation, discovery, advertising and accessibility.

Abhinav Mathur, Senior Vice President, Global Center for Urban Development at Audible, Inc. said, "Audible’s commitment to innovation is part of our DNA; our customer-centric technological breakthroughs have helped us reinvent a media category. Our role in the founding and growth of NVP has a similar focus as we champion Newark’s return to its roots as a hub for invention—in audio and beyond."

As far as audio innovation in Newark goes - you can't find a better example than ABF Creative, one of our most recent NVP Labs graduates. Led by Newark-native Anthony Frasier, ABF Creative is a multicultural podcast network, aiming to grow multi-cultural creators and audiences. ABF fits into our content innovation thesis.  We believe that just as we’ve seen in video, we will see innovation in audio: interactivity, visual layers, variable lengths, music integration, synthetic voice tech etc.  ABF’s content is not only engaging and unique, but it targets the new global majority that has, until now, been largely left out of podcasting despite the estimated 88 million podcast listeners in the country in 2019.  ABF’s most recently produced content includes an interactive podcast partnership with Ubongo, a Pan-African social enterprise that creates edutainment for kids in Africa.  Together, they are bringing the beloved “Akili and Me” series, starring a young African girl, to children and families in the U.S. Before that, ABF launched a podcast on gun violence, heard from the perspective of victims’ mothers.  We think ABF Creative has the ability to capture new global audiences through experience innovation and expand the creator universe by encouraging the demand for more diverse content.  

Another niche focus for us has been discoverability for audio content.  For large podcast players to drive the ecosystem forward, they need to improve discovery and user engagement; bring more people in to spend more time with podcasts, and to listen to a larger array of content. While platforms who have loads of user data to work with (e.g., Audible, Spotify, Google) should be able to do this the best, there is a growth opportunity for startups like Sounder.fm who solve this problem for creators of all sizes.  Sounder is a podcast platform whose Discovery Suite  focuses on discoverability and engagement. Its proprietary technology allows listeners to search for and share full podcasts as well as specific moments within podcasts, growing organic reach. It offers creators new Audio SEO tools and automatic transcription, along with end-to-end podcast management and analytics tools.  By packaging all of this together, creators can better understand what their listeners want, engage and grow their audience in new, more cost-effective ways, and deploy strategies to monetize their podcasts through advertising and partnerships. We believe Sounder is on the path to becoming “best in search” and its proprietary capabilities will be highly valued by major platform publishers, platforms and mid-market creators alike.

Speaking of advertising, Podcast Ad Spend is expected to achieve a 46% CAGR between 2013 and 2021. We have been executing on a thesis around the expanding audio advertising ecosystem, and the way startups can help with targeting, measurability, and effectiveness.  In our last blog on voice tech, we dove into NVP portfolio company Veritonic, an Audio intelligence platform, empowering marketers to understand and quantify the most effective way to use sound.  Since then, Veritonic has been proving our thesis right by growing quickly and adding INDEED, NPR, and Megaphone to its client list.

With new tools like Veritonic measuring the effectiveness of a brand’s voice, audio publishers have expanded their playing field - and everyone wants to get in on the game.  That’s where SpeechKit comes in. For every brand with a voice and audio content, there are media players and publishers who want those advertising dollars and audiences. However, many of them are not yet producing their own audio content, leaving room for storytelling innovation.  SpeechKit is a text-to-audio startup that provides “audio for every story” by turning internet-based text into audio content through high-quality synthetic voices. Providing readers with an opportunity to listen, through audio players and app integrations, the service enables its customers to reach and engage those audio-loving audiences, and more of the millennial and gen Z populations.  Speechkit also allows its clients to capitalize on audio advertising dollars and track, analyze, and optimize their audio strategies through the dashboard.  Through Speechkit, publishers can gain an understanding of their audiences and harness the data they need to launch their own audio content.  It’s a great way to attract the growing podcasting audience based on content that already exists.  (For example, you may prefer to listen to an article on FreightWaves about a recent investment, instead of reading it!).  We see Speechkit as an important tool for new or prospective players in the audio space and as an easy way to transition from general content creation to the world of audio.

We at NVP believe that this is an exciting time to invest in audio -- as this new consumer engagement platform is just starting to take shape.   Audible has proven the broad appeal and growing appetite for new and different kinds of content, and the startups we’ve invested in are diving in and delivering fresh solutions in unchartered territory.  New audiences and genres are developing as we speak, and our Founders are there to help creators produce and distribute it for our listening pleasure. 

For more on our audio thesis, or to hear directly from our partners and star founders in the space, join us on November 10th for our NVP "Audio for All" Summit.



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