“Announcer Reads” Aren’t the Future of Podcast Advertising (Even If Big Companies Want You to Believe It)

Amanda McLoughlin
5 min readMay 27, 2022

Don’t let SiriusXM’s many breathless press releases or the IAB’s sponsored annual podcasting report fool you. “Announcer-Read” ads are not the future of podcast advertising. Host-read ads are what make podcasting ad space valuable, and emphasizing cheaper, shorter, annoying programmatic ads will doom podcasting to repeat the mistakes of older media.

If I asked you to describe a podcast ad, you would probably say something like: “The host of the podcast describes an e-commerce product, makes some jokes, reads talking points and ends with a discount code.” What you’re describing there is a host-read ad, where a sponsor rents space and the familiar voice of the show’s host(s) to read a ~60 second ad. Like influencer marketing and YouTube video sponsorships, these ads work because they’re personal to the host and their audience.

On the other hand, you may have noticed another type of ad creeping its way into podcasting over the last few years. This style of ad, newly branded an “Announcer-Read” ad, is often shorter, and read by an unfamiliar voice. It might sound like something you’d hear on the radio, with an actor or “announcer” loudly barrelling through a commercial for a major name brand. This sounds like a pretty typical TV or radio commercial, but it’s a new player in podcasting. According to the recently released SiriusXM and IAB reports, this style of ad is on the rise (see images).

A graph reads, “Shift to announcer-read ads reflects its efficient ad creation and deployment functionality.”
The IAB report shows that announcer-reads are up to 40% of total ad share according to this self-reported data, up from 27% in 2019
Increase in revenue from announcer-read ads YoY: 86%
SXM Media Podcast Revenue by Ad Type, 2021 vs. 2020
Did you catch that footnote in the SiriusXM report? This data is all from SiriusXM’s own revenue.

SiriusXM, Spotify, and other legacy media companies getting into podcasts are shouting from the rooftops about announcer-read ads — and you would too when you realize how much money they pull in for those same companies. Whoever is selling the ad gets to charge the sponsor money to produce the ad, plus pay podcasters a lower share of the revenue on that ad since it doesn’t require the podcast host to do the additional work of voicing the ad. The effect is that already-huge media conglomerates pack more ads into podcasts (eight 15-second ads per two-minute slot instead of two minute-long ads), take a larger share of the revenue, and charge brands to produce those ads for them.

The upside to announcer-read ads, these companies claim, is that they allow for more efficient user targeting. That means using incredibly invasive tracking to serve ads to specific users based on their demographic data, location, and/or browsing history. And the targeting doesn’t always work — anyone remember when Spotify served liquor ads on sobriety podcasts or Reply All apologized for U.S. military ads?– — because the trackers reduce a listener to their demographics, location, and browsing history. I’ve spoken with tons of podcasters who felt pressured by big networks to overload their episodes with programmatic ads, or who had embarrassing instances of advertisers they had explicitly blocked getting inserted into their shows anyway. In most cases podcasters have to commit to a minimum number of ads per episode in order to sign with a network in the first place, and unless your audience is huge, you don’t get to push back. It makes sense that more large podcasts are offering ad-free versions of their show behind paywalls as relief for these commercials, saying to their audiences: “Yeah, we know it’s terrible, here’s how to avoid it.”

SiriusXM’s annual podcasting report features optimistic conclusions about announcer-reads—and ends by encouraging you to buy ads with them.

Here’s where all of this leaves me as the owner of a digital media business: it’s not worthwhile to switch from host-reads to announcer-reads. Lots of services are in my inbox every week trying to convince me to sign up for “all-in-one,” “hands-off,” “monetization at scale” solutions, but I know that that would strain my audience and break our hard-earned trust. At Multitude, we give ads the same amount of preparation and thought that goes into the rest of our show. We thoroughly vet and research the sponsors we accept, pushing back on talking points that make unreasonable claims and declining to work with companies that use shady business practices. We make ads as funny and relevant to the episode as we can, and honor listeners’ time by limiting ourselves to no more than three ads per episode. When people tell me that Multitude’s ads are funny, helpful, or unskippable — not to mention the fanfic and fanart some of our ads have inspired! — I know I’m doing my job well, honoring my listeners’ autonomy and time.

It turns out that mutual respect is also good business. Host-read ads are more effective and command much higher prices, with average CPMs (cost per mille, or 1,000 downloads) of $25–30 rather than the $8 CPM a major podcast hosting platform offered me two weeks ago to sign up for their new programmatic ad offering. And I’m not the only one who’s bullish on host reads — Gumball just got a multimillion-dollar investment to grow their host-read ad sales platform. It’s possible to make a sustainable living in podcasting without compromising your values or subjecting your audience to ever-more-annoying ads. Preserving your audience’s trust needs to be your primary goal. That way, when the unexpected happens — like ad spending cratering early in the pandemic — your audience can come through for you.

These wildly pro-announcer-read studies are sponsored by the very companies that benefit most from announcer-reads eating into host-reads’ market share: AdsWizz (programmatic ad tech), AdLarge (radio ad sales agency now in podcasting), Cumulus Media (radio conglomerate buying up podcasting companies), and of course SiriusXM (whose own report funnels readers to their announcer-read ad creation service). These companies want announcer-read ads to keep squeezing audiences’ patience for short-term financial gain, but this fate is not inevitable for podcasting. Our medium has always been more decentralized, innovative, and resilient than other kinds of digital media. Independent podcasters know what it takes to grow and retain audiences, and that comes down to respect. They respect me enough to value my opinion when I read ads, and I respect them too much to serve them quantity over quality when it comes to ads.

Host reads are personal, high-quality, and respect listeners’ time and interests. And they aren’t going anywhere, not as long as I’m podcasting.

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Amanda McLoughlin

Helping fellow creators earn a living at @MultitudeShows ; co-hosting @spiritspodcast + @jointhepartypod. Brooklyn, NY 🌈