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The Dawn of Audio UpFronts


If you’re in the TV business, you’re familiar with the UpFronts. That’s the annual dog and pony show put on by the networks to debut their new shows and to impress and dazzle advertisers and media.

On the digital side, we have the more recent NewFronts. Sponsored by the IAB, this event features 20 or more companies in the digital video space, including Google, Yahoo, Hulu, and others.

And as of this month we finally have some equivalent events in the audio space. And for the record can I say this: It’s about time.

Last week, iHeartMedia launched its first “SoundFront,” where they debuted a slate of new original programs that were widely misinterpreted by the media. For example, the headline in Ad Age read “IHeartMedia Shows Off Original Podcasts at ‘Soundfront’.” While that is technically accurate, what’s much more accurate is the deeper reality of iHeartMedia’s strategy which few outside iHeartMedia and their advertisers seem to understand.

What is that strategy? Well, it’s not a podcast strategy. It’s a platform strategy – as in, content across every platform. Every piece of content iHeartMedia creates will live in some form or another across all of its platforms, thus magnifying the reach and engagement for that content and also magnifying the opportunities for advertisers to connect with their consumers wherever those consumers happen to be and however those consumers wish to consume content.

This is an important distinction, and it’s entirely on trend. Kudos, iHeartMedia!

We have already seen this strategy play out for the iHeartRadio Music Festival and the iHeartRadio Music Awards. Frankly, I’m waiting for the iHeartRadio TV and Movie Awards, which can’t be far behind, because iHeartRadio is less about radio than it is about popular culture.

But iHeartMedia isn’t alone. This week NPR, WNYC and WBEZ will hold the first ever Podcast Upfront (sadly, they skipped the catchy name):

This podcast upfront will bring together the storytellers and producers responsible for six of the top 10 most downloaded podcasts in 2014, including Serial, This American Life, Radiolab, Freakonomics Radio, Invisibilia, and Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me. Glynn Washington, from Snap Judgment, and Radiolab’s Jad Abumrad will host the event and will share the stage with This American Life creator Ira Glass, Serial executive producer Julie Snyder, and TED Radio Hour’s Guy Raz; there will be a musical performance by Lord Huron.

Taken together, these announcements signal an important new milestone for audio: Audio as an event. The primacy of compelling content in a time of unlimited choice and distribution. The elevation of audio in the advertiser’s bag of tricks to a tier much closer to – if not the equal of – video.

This, my friends, is HUGE.

There’s just one peculiar aspect of this in the audio space which is not reflected in digital video or on TV, and that’s this:

These are private affairs. They are not industry events.

The TV UpFronts are for all the networks. The NewFronts are for the most important digital video players. But the SoundFronts? That’s iHeartMedia only. And the Podcast Upfronts? That’s NPR plus two influential public media stations only (even if they do comprise six of the top ten downloaded podcasts, according to iTunes).

Wouldn’t the audio space speak with a bigger voice if its events invited a larger fraction of major content-makers in the space? If you really want to persuade advertisers that something important is going on, then isn’t it best to open your event to all the producers who matter? And who is the organizing body that can most effectively do this?

Perhaps this is exactly the direction this will go. But it’s certainly the direction it should go.

Granted, other media have their solo NewFront efforts, too, but that doesn’t change the power of my point.

Advertisers want great choices, but simple choices. Give them great stuff to buy, but make the buying easy.

And to maximize your impact, speak with one big voice.

By the way, that’s why I created this event:

the audio future festival
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