NPR partners with Spotify to boost podcast advertising

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Gina Garrubbo of NPM, left, and Emma Vaughn of Spotify spoke during a Podcast Movement Evolutions event March 9 in Las Vegas.

As NPR tries to reach younger audiences while closing a budget gap, its marketing executives are looking to increase ad revenues and visibility for its podcasts through a new partnership with Spotify.

National Public Media, the sponsorship organization owned by NPR, PBS and GBH, and the Spotify Audience Network will manage the partnership on the Megaphone advertising platform. The Spotify team will be able to court advertisers for NPR podcasts on behalf of NPM and fill any ad slots that NPM’s team doesn’t sell. The partners announced the agreement at Spotify’s Stream On event in March.

NPM President and CEO Gina Garrubbo said the partnership allows NPM to expand into new advertising sectors like personal care and food and beverages. NPM does not currently have a large advertising presence in these categories, she said. 

“We started talking to Spotify about joining their ad network about a year ago,” Garrubbo said. “Most recently, we saw a bit of a downturn in podcast revenue, primarily in the technology and B2B sectors. The partnership with Spotify allows us to expand sponsorship categories to get more business.”

Bryan Moffett, National Public Media COO and NPR SVP of network growth

NPR has had several advertising partners since it started producing podcasts, including AdsWizz, ART19 and Triton Digital, according to Bryan Moffett, NPM COO and NPR’s SVP of network growth. In each instance, NPM maintained creative control over how ads were scripted and read as well as the types of sponsorships it took on, he said. Those rules remain in place with Spotify.

“We wanted a partner who would give us that full control, where any time they sold something that was going to land in our podcast, we voice it and we script it so it sounds indistinguishable from something that we sold ourselves,” Moffett said. “And at the end of the day, Spotify was the only partner who could meet those requirements.”

The closer relationship with Spotify might also position NPR’s podcasts to be displayed more prominently in the Spotify app, Garrubbo and Moffett said. However, as of March, conversations about enhanced post prominence had not begun in earnest, they acknowledged.

Exposure to new listeners

“NPR has sought to reach a younger, more diverse audience, and our podcast Up First is already part of Spotify’s Daily Drive,” Garrubbo said. “The more exposure NPR’s programming and podcasts get on Spotify, the more ability NPR has to reach a younger audience.”

From Spotify’s perspective, the partnership puts NPR’s content alongside podcast publishers from Paramount to the Wall Street Journal and gives Spotify’s advertising team a portfolio of shows that appeal to a broader audience. NPM’s audience research shows that 87% of NPR listeners take action in response to something they heard on NPR. They’re also influential in both the business and cultural sectors. 

Emma Vaughn, global head of advertising business development & partnerships at Spotify, said the variety of content available across NPR’s podcast portfolio, from daily news shows to long-form investigative series, will also appeal to Spotify’s advertisers.

“A rise in buying-based audiences represents incredible potential for NPR within this partnership,” Vaughn said. “Now, advertisers have the option of targeting specific audiences consuming a wide range of content versus sponsoring only one show. This is how advertisers have told us they want to buy, and it’s something that bodes well for NPR.”

The Spotify Advertising Network is currently only available to podcasts produced centrally by NPR, but Moffett and his team are working to make Spotify an option for shows produced by PRX and by NPR member stations through the NPR Network Initiative. If everything aligns, he said, stations would be able to leverage the Spotify Audience Network for ad slots that they’re not able to sell on their own, both on new episodes and across their podcasts’ back catalogs. 

“We really want to build an ecosystem where there are options,” Moffett said. “The key thing that’s important to stations — their ability to do direct sales — they’ll be able to do that through a number of different channels and still do backfill in the same way that NPR shows can.”

Changing economics for podcasts

Not long after the Spotify partnership announcement, NPR announced plans to cancel the podcasts Invisibilia, Rough Translation, Louder Than a Riot and Everyone & Their Mom as part of an effort to close a $30 million budget deficit

Taken together, Moffett said the cancellations and the NPR/NPM Spotify partnership represent a broader shift that extends across podcasting — from limited-run series to the year-round shows that are easier to monetize. 

“Limited series that have eight or nine episodes per year are expensive to make, especially if they have very high production value,” Moffett said. “The way the medium has moved … the economics of those shows are becoming harder. And it’s more difficult to keep an audience because there’s so much competition for ears out there.”

NPR has “really put a stake in the ground” around daily podcasts like Up First, Book of the Day and The Indicator From Planet Money, Garrubbo said. She expects announcements of more news shows and formats during NPR’s presentation at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Podcast Upfront May 11.

“The ad community recognizes NPR’s continued ability to test new shows, as well as the ebb and flow of those new shows and formats,” Garrubbo said. “Some of those new shows and formats make it and some don’t. Sometimes it’s because there’s not enough audience, and sometimes it’s because the economics aren’t working out.” 

However, Moffett said that NPR’s limited series are not going away. A larger pool of potential advertisers could open more doors for those projects down the road.

“Our challenge as an organization is how do we make our content more multipurpose … so that not only can great radio come out of it but also more limited-run podcasts that don’t need to get 250,000 people to listen to [them] but can be sustainable with smaller audiences,” Moffett said.

Despite the setback with NPR’s podcasts, Vaughn said the partnership with Spotify comes at a good time for both organizations, as well as podcasting more broadly.

“NPR has been at the forefront of audio for so long,” Vaughn said. “Coming together at this stage of evolution in the space to build something that can then be scaled across the industry is something we are incredibly excited about. Together, we hope to unleash a tide that will raise all audio ships.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that in its relationships with advertisers, NPR has maintained creative control over how ads have been scripted and read, as well as the types of sponsorships it takes on. NPM, not NPR, has played that role.

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