With over 15 years of experience in facilitating streaming with Stream Guys, Eduardo Martinez has had a front-row seat observing the rise of the podcast. Now, with the wide scale implementation of server-side adverts and listeners buying up audio-focussed devices, the industry is a far more welcoming place.
Eduardo Martinez is a man bubbling with enthusiasm about how far audio has come.
“13 years ago, the word podcast was something very new to people,” Martinez says. “Now, we’re seeing compelling audio content making the jump from one medium to the other. We love this industry so much because it evolves rapidly.”
Founded by graduates of Humboldt State University in northern California in 2000, Stream Guys now supports some of the world’s most popular podcasts and streams - with a major focus on dedicated client care.
The company has expanded, recently opened new offices in San Luis Obispo, California, and now retails digital tool kits to help broadcasters and media creators make their content go further.
Martinez knows the focus is shifting from simply supporting streaming. Going far beyond the technical concerns of supporting a podcast or streaming series, the question is now how to improve workflows and get more from the content in the marketplace.
“These days, content delivery is becoming something of a commodity,” he says. “As a service provider, we have to ask: “’What are the things we can do to provide the next level of service, and what are the hot new trends?’”
More than ever, Martinez sees the insertion of server-side adverts as something that content producers are increasingly seeing the benefits of.
Providing an architecture that can cope with delivering ads in an on-demand environment, with no dips in quality and seamless stitching, is no mean feat. However, it’s increasingly required in the marketplace.
“Back in the day, very few people were doing server-side ad placement or knew what it was,” says Martinez. “Nowadays, there’s a spectrum of those who are eager to drive it for the good of the whole industry. There are a lot of new people on the block who are innovating.
“From our perspective, customers are free to do what they want [in terms of ad delivery] - but at the end of the day, you want a good consumer experience, and you have to make sure that the likes of server-side ads are perfect,” he explains. “You want to make sure you’re stitching them on smoothly, and that it’s super fluid.”
It’s up to Stream Guys to make sure that ads can be stitched into everything from everything from a national-level broadcaster to a rough-and-tumble home-produced podcast.
Martinez explains: “We work hard to make sure the creative upload is normalised and encoded at the bitrate that people are listening to.”
With more and more entrants to the audio field, including from creators who do not have a traditional broadcasting background, that customer service ethos swiftly comes to the fore. Guiding passionate but uninformed creators regarding the technical side of things is an essential step.
“[Regarding quality], when we talk about digital signal processing for live, or when we talk about a high-bitrate MP3 file, or a high efficiency HEAC version 2 - we try to do everything we can to educate the customer, as to their options,” he says.
Generating an actual monetary return, largely through ad and sponsorship revenue, is a solid yardstick that can decide a podcast’s fate. Now, the time and manpower needed to chase down those life-sustaining adverts may be decreasing.
Martinez is confident that even for niche productions, the difficulty in achieving revenue is easing off. Thanks to matchmaking between podcasts and sponsors, and the improvement in ad-delivery technology, connecting with revenue is getting easier.
“From our perspective, we always see the organisations with their own ad-sales team realising that revenue faster, but for small broadcasters, there are other alternatives. Beyond the usual ad agencies, there are ‘match-maker’ companies out there that will help in terms of finding advertisers that will fit a podcaster’s niche specifically.”
Paying close attention to the content, however, is vital. Stream Guys are particularly concerned that a cookie-cutter approach to advert insertion is not the way to go, preferring instead to let clients stay in the decision-loop.
“We’re not the kind of company that would ever traffic our own ads on top of our customers’ content,” he says. “Other organisations do that from a revenue-sharing perspective, as a kind of barter.
“For us, our client’s content is sacred. We never go down those avenues. Instead, we want to play the matchmaker. The barrier to entry to podcast monetisation has definitely come down in recent years, creating space for those who don’t have their own ad-sales team.”
New Permutations in Content Access
Speaking in advance of the IBC conference, Martinez feels that every day can bring new developments in the sector. Some of these could likely point to interesting new ways of delivering and paying for content.
“For me, as a director of technology, it’s all about keeping on top of the latest and greatest. That would include the likes of live, low-latency video delivery,” he explains.
Staying on top of the standardisation requirements is also on his mind.
“At the end of the day, for us, the worries are triple-checking the standards, such as those that the IAB [Interactive Advertising Bureau] come out with. We want to help clients monetise in an easy way, but also provide the IAB-compliant statistics to show to underwriters that the impressions reported are meaningful.”
However, sea changes with regards to podcast access are coming. Previously open-to-the-world, many of the best titles are increasingly becoming part of subscriber packs for the first time.
“On the podcast side of things, we’re seeing a lot more interest in the likes of subscription-based monetisation, including the things that Wondery is doing. That would include the recent announcement they recently had with Castbox.”
Wondery, the podcast network set up by former Fox International executive Hernan Lopez and home to critical darlings like Dirty John, made the announcement in June that its premium subscription podcasts will be made available via a paywall on the Castbox app.
Moves like this bypass the clunky process of searching and subscripting via different apps that has typified the podcast consumption experience. Monetisation is built into the process through a Netflix-style subscription. It poses an interesting alternative to a purely ad-based model.
Audio Content Making the Jump
Now firmly established in the industry, Stream Guys has been quietly facilitating some of the best rated audio-productions in North America, including Freakonomics and Radiolab.
As a consumer of popular podcasts, Martinez is now witnessing many audio productions push the definitions of success.
The leap from the audio realm to on-demand TV that certain shows have made stands out as particularly exciting for him.
“I’m a fervent listening to Aaron Mahnke’s Lore podcast, it’s one of my favourites. That evolution [from audio podcast to visual programme on Amazon Prime] was one of the coolest we’ve seen.
“We’ve seen it before with 2 Dope Queens. They have a 2-hour HBO special produced by WNYC, he adds. Four new 2 Dope Queens specials via HBO have just been announced for 2019.
“It’s so great to see this compelling type of content make the jump from one medium to the other,” he continues. “It goes to show that content is still king, and if it’s good, people will simply want to see it on that other medium.”
IBC2018 Eduardo Martinez will speak as part of the Power of the podcast: How to reach new audiences through audio session on Friday at 14:45