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Podcasts vs. radio: What's the difference for advertisers?

Picture this: You're sitting at home, checking the time, waiting for your favorite radio show to air. You try to catch it every day because the DJ is hilarious. But something comes up—you need to pick up your kid from school last-minute, or you get distracted by a work email—and before you know it, the show's over. Gotta wait till tomorrow.

With podcasts, there's no more waiting for—or missing—an exact time slot to hear your favorite stories. Instead, you can search Spotify for a huge range of podcast options and play them at your convenience.

Even though the number of people who tune into radio still outpaces podcast listeners, that may soon change—today, digital audio is seeing a big boost in popularity.1

Plus, in 2022 advertisers are forecast to spend an average of $13.70 per podcast listener—roughly a quarter of the $52.10 they’ll spend per on-air radio listener. That suggests there’s still plenty of runway for podcasting as an ad channel.2

With this in mind, many advertisers are wondering: What's the difference between podcast advertising and radio ads? What are the advantages of each? And what's in store for the future of podcasts vs. radio?

Read on to hear our take.

The difference between podcasts and radio

Traditional radio shows are broadcast live to audiences over radio waves. They often require listeners to tune into a station at a set time so they don't miss anything.

Radio stations typically air different segments targeting specific audiences, from early-morning commuters to night owls, throughout the day. Radio content also tends to focus more on trending topics and newsworthy events than on evergreen themes.

A podcast is a prerecorded show that listeners stream at their convenience or download to listen to later. Podcast hosts choose a topic to focus on, record the audio, then edit before publishing.

Podcast hosts often play around with different storytelling and formatting approaches. The WALKING podcast, for example, provides a backdrop of ambient nature sounds recorded by a man living in the Pacific Northwest—but this "host" doesn't speak at all.

Because listeners access podcasts from whenever and wherever they please, podcast ads tend to be more flexible than those that air on the radio. They can also provide advertisers with a better ability to reach niche target audiences.

Podcasts and radio are interactive in different ways

Radio call-ins and contests—think: "the 50th caller wins a new car!"—are well-known features of terrestrial radio. But podcasts take the ability to engage with audiences a step further. Spotify, for example, offers interactivity features like polls, Q&As, video podcasts, and more.

For instance, audiences can weigh in episodes of The Rewatchables with Spotify's Poll and Q&A features. Alex Cooper of Call Her Daddy has a "questions of the week" segment, where she takes anonymous questions and stories from her listeners. Interactions like this help listeners feel like they've got a personal, one-on-one relationship with the host. According to research, 83% of podcast listeners say their favorite podcasters feel like friends.3

For advertisers, Spotify offers even more ways to interact with content—like our recently launched CTA cards, which are clickable display units that accompany digital audio ads.

Estimated audiences vs. logged-in listeners

Let's talk about broadcast vs. podcast advertising. In terrestrial radio, the tuned-in audience is a bit of a mystery. For analytics, radio stations provide advertisers with a general estimate of their audience based on blanket demographics and location information. Radio measurement providers collect this data from surveys—but it's hard to know how accurate the responses are.

This is why radio ads are sometimes generic and one-dimensional: It's hard to target a particular audience when you have no idea who you're reaching.

But with podcasts on Spotify, listeners log into their accounts beforehand, giving advertisers in-depth insights into exactly who hears their content. And more nuanced data enhances the ability to create more targeted ads.

Approximate targeting vs. controlled targeting

As we've covered, radio networks are only able to provide a guesstimate of their audience demographics. You can't be sure your ad will reach the right people—in fact, your ads might very well air when your target audience has their radios off.

But with podcasts, advertisers control targeting with precision. Tapping into the Spotify Audience Network, brands can purchase spots in podcasts based on their unique target listener. And since listeners play podcasts intentionally, your ads won't get lost in the background.

Plus, advertisers can home in on much more than limited demographics and location. With Spotify Ad Studio, a self-serve ad manager that lets brands of all sizes create ad campaigns in minutes, you can get data on listener interests, devices, formats, listening moments, and more.

Limited listening contexts vs. cross-platform, multi-format connections

Radio tends to reach listeners intermittently. But on Spotify, multi-device users stream content for an average of 2.5 hours per day.4

Podcast listeners tune in throughout their entire day—while getting ready, working out, on the move, with friends and family, or just relaxing on their own—and on a lot of different devices. Research also shows that in-car radio listening is on the decline, down 6% since last year, while podcast listening is on the rise, up 2% over the same time frame.5

Smarter targeting in podcast advertising drives more valuable audience connections

Radio advertising is a one-to-many outlet. On the other hand, podcast ads give brands the opportunity to deliver a tailored message that's relevant to both the listener and the moment, driving valuable one-on-one connections.

While radio ads can be disruptive to the listening experience, podcast ads that are hyper-relevant and feel like a native part of the podcast experience have a much more natural feel—and potentially, a higher chance of converting.

Take advantage of the audience insights you get with Spotify to create on-target podcast ads that will reach the right audience at the right time. Learn more on our dedicated podcast advertising page.

Watch the video and find out how to create a podcast ad.

All you need is an idea. Tell us the details, then sit back and relax. We’ll draft the script for your approval, record the voiceover, and produce the ad for you—all at no additional charge. Check out this tutorial to learn more.
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  1. "The impressive resilience of digital radio," eMarketer. Feb 2021.
  2. "Next year for the first time, less than half of digital audio listeners won’t be podcast subscribers". October 2022.
  3. "Ear to the Ground," Team Whistle. 2020.
  4. Spotify First Party Data, global, based on daily content hours / daily active users, free users multiplatform. May 2019.
  5. "Devices/platforms used for radio consumption in the United States and Canada as of February 2021," Statista. Nov 2021.?

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