A Podcast About Truth, Science, and the Future of Marketing


David Shiffman – The Sounds of Success


David Shiffman, Executive Vice President, Research & Analytics at iHeartMedia, speaks with Allyson about how audio became a core part of our lives and why it’s such an important medium shaping the advertising industry today.

Join them as they reflect on audio’s place not only in our daily routine but in society, and as they examine what all this looks like through the marketer’s lens. They discuss everything from consumer behavior and first party data to the everlasting potential of radio and the psychology of sound.


  • The Power of Connection – Audio is sparking human connection, but what more can advertisers do to harness its power?
  • The Big Three – How have radio, podcasts and streaming music evolved and why is authenticity the key to all three?
  • iHeart Radio’s ecosystem – What role does data and technology play in its expansion?
  • Proof of Performance – Does measurement matter? And why is Shiffman ‘Team Hybrid’?
  • Is the future unscripted? – How will audio change in the years to come?

Episode Transcript

Allyson Dietz: Today on the podcast, we have David Shiffman. David works across iHeart Media's diverse assets, including radio, streaming audio, podcasting, and live events. He delivers customized research, measurement and optimization solutions to support iHeart's national clients and their partner agencies. David's expertise in understanding consumer behavior and his knowledge of the rapidly changing media landscape is instrumental in serving the needs of his clients and shaping new solutions for audio research.

David, welcome to the No Hype podcast.

David Shiffman: Hi, thanks very much, Allison. Really happy to be here and thanks for inviting me to join you today.

AD: Yeah, so today we are missing my esteemed co-host, Brett, he's traveling at the moment. But I'm so excited to speak with you too. And in preparation for this podcast, no pressure at all. I learned that iHeart media is the largest public share of podcasts. So obviously we've got some expertise here on the podcast today. So again, a little nervous about that, but hopefully we'll do okay. I found it really interesting, Emarketer estimates that 126 million people in the US listen to podcasts. And on average, adults listen to podcasts for an hour each day. Work is saying that consumers spend a third of their media time in total with audio. And yet most of what we talk about in the industry is digital. Desktop, mobile and video. Why is audio such an important medium in our industry today?

DS: Yeah, it's a pretty incredible stat when you really step back and look at it.

AD: Exactly.

DS: Over 30% of people's media time is with audio. I think at its core, that is suggesting how central it is to people's lives and how important it is and how much they get from it. And I think that's part of it. And when you think about broadcast radio, over 90% of people in the country use broadcast radio on a monthly basis. And they're spending a considerable amount of time with that medium. And then you look at streaming audio and all the time that people spend with streaming as well. And then you look at podcasts, as you were saying, incredible growth there.

DS: Audio is core to people's lives, it's core to their world. It's part of their daily routine. It's how they connect with their community. It's how they connect with things that are of interest to them, whether it's music, whether it's news, whether it's talk radio, or whether it's stories and deep information that they're getting from podcasts. And I think part of the challenge sometimes is because it's such a core part of our day and how we spend our time, it's almost forgotten sometimes. Like it's there, it's always there. It's, I'm listening, I'm hearing. And it is a unique medium in that sense, because you can listen and still do things. And you can really go in and dive into all the different kinds of content that you want that meet different needs.

DS: I think ultimately it's a real under leveraged medium for advertisers, but a massively leveraged medium for consumers. So one of the things we're always looking at is how do we help educate, how do we help go to the marketplace and marketers and agencies, and say, people don't spend a third of their media time with something that isn't compelling, important, central and meaningful. So we absolutely see that. And I think the other thing that we see in some recent research we've done is all the different ways that people use audio to meet different needs at different times of the day because of the things they want.

AD: Do you have an example of that? I think that would be really interesting to just hear a little bit more about that consumer behavior, right?

DS: Yeah. So look at radio for an example. It is sort of a little bit of a Swiss army knife in terms of what it does for people, right? It is their connection to community. They have these incredible relationships with the stations they listen to, the on air hosts and the personalities that they listen to and that they've grown up with and continue to listen to. It is music. It is discovery. It is news. It is information. It is all those things that people continue to go to and turn to.

DS: On the other side of the spectrum, is you have podcasts, which is really about deep immersive stories, storytelling, learning, education, and, the way I always look at it is this mind expansion opportunity for people to listen and engage in the things that are really of interest to them. So complimentary, but very different.

DS: And then in the middle, you've got the streaming music, which is a little bit more about disconnecting. It's a little bit more lean back and you're listening to two things in a little bit more passive ways. So three pillars of audio all used in different ways to meet different consumer needs, but in totality, all working together to drive massive engagement in terms of how people listen, where they listen and why they listen.

AD: So you talked about all these different approaches and ways in which consumers engage with audio. And I think that's really interesting. I also have to believe and would assume that there's a lot of research on how audio has evolved in the last two to three years in light of the pandemic. We've had others on the podcast relate it to out of home. And similarly, radio and out of home remind me of each other in that there was a lot of this time in the car where people were listening on their commute to work, and then all of that stopped. I guess I'm curious, how has consumer behavior changed as it relates to audio in the last couple of years? And are there changes in consumer behavior that are here to stay?

DS: We've definitely seen shifts, there's no question. We touched on it a little bit earlier, the growth in podcasts, it's just been incredible and you see it, it's almost a straight line up. And I think that was happening pre-pandemic, but it's continued as people have wanted different kinds of long form audio content. And we see that growth across all major podcast categories.

DS: Radio has been, definitely, early days of the pandemic, there was some impact as everyone was shut in and longer going out and being out on the roads. But what we've seen is this reemergence and stabilization of listening across the board and radio continues to be a consistent, an incredibly consistent vehicle in terms of people listening, people listening in the car, it is still the dominant medium and in the car.

DS: I think just from an overall behavioral perspective, what we've definitely seen as well, and I think this was largely triggered by changes in terms of where people work and how people were living their lives. Increased use of digital and connected devices for listening to audio. More streaming, and whether that's AM/FM radio or just digital consumption of podcasts and those sorts of things. More time shifted listening that happens with content, connected speakers, connected televisions, mobile devices, all of those things that have continued to ratchet up over the last couple of years. There's no sign of that slowing down. And as someone in research, I'm always curious about, what are the behaviors that people adopt and they abandon? And what are the behaviors that people adopt and say, "Wow, this is an amazing way to consume the things I want," and that they keep?

DS: And I think that the digital consumption, the podcast, the immersion in that long form content is here to stay. And that I think is a human truth. If you give people content that they're interested in, that they believe in, that is authentic and real and meaningful, they will find it across every platform that you make it available. And honestly, that's part of our proposition as a company and a brand. It is distributed content wherever, and whenever people want to be able to consume it. And we see consumers gravitating towards that, adopting those behaviors and sticking with it.

AD: Yeah. It's not a really big surprise. If you think about the changes that we've seen in TV over the last 10 years, it's the same behavior. I used to sit down and watch a show when it came on TV, and then now almost no one does that anymore. Everything is on demand. And when you want it, you're right. It's the stories that you are interested in and the stories you want to hear when you want them. And I think that's the behavior that audio has also been able to capture through the digital ecosystem and through things like podcasting.

DS: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I think there's a definite parallel there. It's funny, I always think about when my mom comes to visit and my mom's a little bit older than I am obviously. So she still has some of those old school video TV behaviors where she's like, "I'm going downstairs to the basement to watch my show." And I said, "What?" And my kids look at her like, "What do you mean you're doing that? You can watch it whenever you want." Same kind of thing and same kind of idea.

AD: To your point, my kids get in the car and they ask for certain songs and you say, "No, the radio is on. You can't just ask the radio to change the song just because it's what..." Their behavior, that generation is going to be completely blindsided by it all happens when they want it. And I think our generation, it sounds like you and I are in this hybrid of understanding both some things happen in that real time, and there're some pros and benefits of that. But some things are also on demand, whereas they're purely an on demand generation.

DS: Yeah.

AD: Yeah.

DS: But that's an interesting thing, because I think we... And it goes back, you were asking about our industry focus on video and digital and this on demand set. There's no question, on demand content is hugely important and a big part of what people want and what people do. There's also a big world of content that is there and programmed for people that people really, really, really like. Again, we continue to see that in the stability in our radio audiences that it is programmed content and people go there because of the relationships and the engagement there. But so it is, it's this combination, I think for sure.

AD: Well, let what if we dive into the more digitalized, the more on demand side of things. I recently came across an article that said, iHeart Radio has 161 million registered users and listening across 250 platforms and over 2000 different connected devices. That is a massive ecosystem. So what role does data and technology play in that expansion?

DS: We've continued to be focused on and evolve our business in terms of digital data and technology. We've been down that path for a while and we continue to push down that path. It's absolutely core to what we're doing as a company. And it is core to what the marketplace is looking for. So data is infused into how we think about our properties, our platforms.

DS: How we go to the marketplace in terms of being able to leverage our first party data, whether it's from the broadcast world or the streaming world, or the podcast world to enhance targeting, to target the right audiences, the right people across all of our platforms, building technology to enable that across all of our platforms. And then putting things in place that allow us to leverage our first party data, as well as other data sets to measure everything that we do for our clients and for our advertisers. So it really is absolutely core and it continues to be where we're seeing growth and where we see the opportunities and really, what I say, digitizing our entire business and bringing technology into the core of how we operate has been a path we've been on and continue to drive towards.

AD: Yeah. I think traditional broadcast has always been seen as this mass reach too. And one of the advantages of the newer audio formats is the ability to target, to be able to identify specific audiences. And I think there is some role that contextual can play, I guess. In the digital world we talk about in terms of contextual, but you know certain types of people, who probably listen to certain types of audio content. But I think having the access to that first party data just makes that much richer, that much more ability to actually target. And then also to connect to the advertiser's data ecosystem. They have their own first party data that you want to match and to be able to help them reach specific audiences that they're going after. Right?

DS: Yeah, absolutely. We've got an entire product called Smart Audio, which is really now a cross platform where we're able to work with our advertisers and their agencies to understand who they want to target, be able to take, whether it's third party data or client first party data, integrate that with ours and be able to target across platforms.

DS: So in broadcast, it's being able to leverage that first party registered user database, map that to broadcast to identify where those audiences are across our stations, markets, day parts, et cetera, and be able to optimize the plan that way, which has been an incredibly important and powerful mechanism for us. And the proof is there. If you do better targeting, if you put the right message in front of the right people at the right time, you drive better results. And then on the digital side, being able to do that as well on a more one-to-one basis. But all in all, singular set of sort of targeting strategies that can then pipe through and be delivered across all of our audiences across all of our markets and all of our platforms.

AD: So we've been talking a lot about audio. Obviously, iHeart has other channels as well. So what role does data play in other channels like events and gaming? I think we're seeing a lot of opportunity there and a lot of focus there as well, a lot of growth.

DS: Look, events has been an amazing rebound, right? We-

AD: Thank goodness, right? For all of us. You guys, but also just in general, humans. I think we all needed that.

DS: Well. And that's been the big insight there is people were just clamoring to get back to live events. That said, we, I think, organizationally we did an amazing job of being able to take our live events and all the amazing things that we do there for our audiences, as well as for our advertisers and move them to a remote world. But now that we've able to go back, it's just been incredible to see the response from our listeners and from the marketplace in terms of being able to go back and connect with these audiences and core in live, face to face kind of ways. And it's been great.

DS: And then, we continue to use, use data and insights to define what we do, how we do it, and then get back to the marketing community in terms of the impact and the success of their activations at our events, whether that's live and on the ground or social activations or all the things we do on air and across our platforms that revolves around some of our big tenfold events.

AD: Yeah. I think you've been talking a lot about connecting the dots between activation and targeting and all the work that advertisers are doing to reach their audiences, and then also demonstrating that impact. Being able to link that together is becoming more and more of a challenge across the industry, with data deprecation and the changes in the ad ecosystem. How are you attacking those challenges at iHeart? And why is that still important? Why is that important for you and for your advertisers to ensure that you can help them make that connection?

DS: Yeah. As you say, the world of connecting data is going to be getting increasingly challenging. I think one of our unique benefits is all the first party data and the relationships we have with our consumers that give us access. I think we're continuing to evolve into more permission based, and again, leveraging data in privacy compliant and the right ways. I think in many ways, some of what's going on works in our favor, given the way we interact with our end consumers and the access points that we have and the trusted relationships that we have. I think it's important, like one to one targeting, one to one measurement is incredibly important.

DS: And it's something that we're very, very focused on. At the same time brands need scale, they need reach, and they need to be able to bring those messages out to the masses, and then look at some things in aggregate to be able to understand how that's all working. So we have the benefit of doing both of those things as well that I do think is... All of that becomes very important, I think in terms of balance approach, reach versus targeting, and then being able to close the loop on all of those elements and pieces. And we're doing a lot of different things to be able to connect our campaign level data through to various analytic approaches and modeling and effectiveness solutions that really prove out the value and the fact that we're having for advertisers.

AD: Yeah. I think it is becoming more challenging. But to your point, it's still such a critical way in which marketers and advertisers are trying to demonstrate the value. I think you're right about this aggregate view of understanding, reach and scale. At the same time, understanding on a micro level, how are certain campaigns performing? Or how are certain activations performing? And what audiences are you reaching? And how are you growing that audience base for your brand? I think that continues to be a critical initiative and a critical focus for advertisers.

DS: Yeah, absolutely. It's interesting because one of the things as an organization that I think is unique about us, we are a [inaudible 00:20:17] multiplatform audio company. So it becomes really, really important that we obviously live that and we leverage that, but that we map out ways to tell that story. Understanding the audience opportunities, and then how all the pieces work together. So there's a lot of things we're doing in terms of measurement using exposure level campaign, specific data across broadcast, across streaming, across podcast, to be able to understand how all those elements are working together, how they compliment each other, how they compliment other marketing channels as well. And building the right data assets in the right partnerships in the marketplace to be able to do that.

AD: Right. We talk a lot on this podcast about identity, obviously given our expertise. And I think, I think that's one of those things that's where it plays a role, right? Being able to create some sort of glue to stitch together, all of those that exposures and to enable that. And being able to pull together your first party data in a way that allows you to make that connection right across the platforms.

AD: I think it's interesting that we're talking so much about one to one measurement. I think audio, in general... It's for most people, especially of my age group, who think about audio. You don't usually think about audio as being this one to one measurement or this one to one activation that we're talking about here. And it's interesting that is such a core part of how you work with advertisers. What advances in analytics attribution have you seen in terms of audio and streaming in order to enable that? We've talked a little bit about that. But I'm curious, what has it really enabled that?

DS: So I think one of the big myths, and I've been in the organization for about six and a half years now and have seen this come and go and all. But I think one of the big myths, or lack of understanding is audio is, and has been just as measurable as other media, right? And there's no secret to that. It's just people don't believe it and don't necessarily understand it. So we're having a lot of those conversations about. You can measure radio in the same way that you can measure television against the same kind of metrics. You can measure digital audio in the same way. You can leverage all these data assets, whether it's aggregated, market level, weekly data, time based, or more individual exposure and aggregated exposure level data that you can feed into and provide the right kind of measurement and metrics.

DS: So I think the first thing is getting everyone to understand that, yes, audio is measurable. Two, not only is audio measurable, but when you focus and you measure it, it performs incredibly well. We bring in new audiences, we extend reach. We put messages in front of, and in the ears and heads and minds of people who trust the content, trust the advertising, want to hear, want to believe and want to act, and they do. And I think so there's a couple things there that I think are really important. So I think one of the advancements is getting people to see and know and understand that it is all measurable. And we've built a suite of tools that really do that. And it's different models, its different methods to be able to do that across different channels. But I can say with confidence that we've got, and audio has measurement solutions that can prove the effectiveness and provide insights about how different channels and different things are working across all of our platforms, broadcast radio included and across any brand and marketer, business objective or KPI.

DS: And that is fact, and I think we've been in that place for a number of years, but we continue to enhance that, and enhance that through again, some of our first party data across platforms to be able to do that. It's working with partnership, being able to start to integrate all of our data into not only econometrics, but multi-touch attribution solutions, direct one-to-one attribution solutions in the same way that other media feed their data in including, digital data that people might be familiar with. It's very parallel, it's very similar. And I think that's meeting an important marketplace need that we are absolutely delivering on.

AD: So you'd mentioned earlier on in this conversation about educating the industry. And so, it sounds like measurement plays a pretty critical role in helping to enable that industry education, right.

DS: It absolutely does. I'm sure you hear it all the time. Proof of performance is critical. Understanding, and being able to deconstruct the performance, to understand the elements that are working and generate the insight around it to learn, improve, optimize is super important. It's also really an exciting area to live in and to be in because we're really breaking new ground that is, critically important for marketers and their agencies and for small business, all the way up to the biggest companies and organizations that are in the marketplace. But yeah, part of it is helping people understand when you do it right and when you have the right messaging, the right plans, it works and we can measure it and we can help you get smarter as you go as well. So that's all. Thankfully, part of what I do between the hours of nine and six.

AD: Well, we've talked about, you've said the word scale a few times, and I think one of the things that we talked to a lot of our advertisers about is how do they achieve scale? Particularly in light of things like data deprecation and challenges around being able to identify audiences in some areas of the ad ecosystem. And it sounds like audio is a great way for advertisers to achieve scale. Right? And proving out that value is part of the role that you have in terms of the measurement side of things.

DS: Yeah, absolutely. We look at how does audio work with, or fit in with some of the other channels? And let's say TV as an example or video, because it is still a big part of the advertising world.

DS: We can, and we've validated this with Nielsen studies and some other studies that radio, for example, can drive an incremental audience reach of 30 to 50% versus television alone.

AD: Wow.

DS: Right. So that means you are, in your TV buy, you are missing out on that.

AD: On all these people.

DS: We're bringing all these new people in. And we see similar kinds of things across all of our audio assets as well, that become just the first step in bringing new audiences in. And there're many schools of thought and many reports out there that say, it is crucial that brands reach more people and scale their advertising to get more people to buy their product.

AD: Are you mentioning Byron Sharp here on this call, on this podcast? We've done a lot of work with the MMA around growth models. And Byron is definitely a hot topic in the last couple of years. But yeah, how brands grow is, scale, it plays a role in how brands grow for sure. So I think that's interesting.

AD: We were talking a few minutes ago about, you mentioned being able to feed audio and feed your data into marketing mix modeling, multi touch attribution. There's a ton of talk in the industry around how data deprecation is changing the face of marketing measurement. And in particularly we talk about this a lot on the digital side, but the future of solutions like marketing, mix modeling, or multi-touch attribution, or a hybrid of both. So most marketers today are looking at the tools in their toolkit and thinking about when and where do you use each. So I would love to get your perspective, given your tenure in the industry and research background. How should marketers evaluate these solutions? Especially in light of audio and in the role that they might play in helping to manage and optimize your audio spend.

DS: Yeah, that's a great, great question. And it's a great line of thought, to be honest, more broadly. I've never believed that there's a singular solution through which you can measure everything and learn everything.

DS: I think market mix modeling, when it's done well, when the data inputs are strong and comparable across everything that's being measured, which in many cases, isn't ne- isn't necessarily true. So we try to help there. But I think it's a great solution and it puts everything on a level playing field in terms of how are different elements working. And I think ultimately, market mix modeling tells you the efficiency of different media in terms of contribution, which is incredibly important, and it is a financial metric and it is really important. But then there are all these other ways to measure other marketing outcomes that are I think, equally important as well.

DS: Whether that's brand metrics and brand studies. We work with a lot of marketers and I talk to and know a lot of marketers who have integrated that data into their modeling work. So that they're understanding brand effects, brand preference, and lifts and attributes and how those latter into sales effects and how those pieces all work together, because that's what marketing does. It changes how people feel. It changes how people think, and it gets them to do things. And being able to do that in the most compelling way. And then I think there's some of the more granular analytics, whether it is single channel. So exposures feeding into eCommerce measurement and pixel based solutions there, or feeding into multi-touch attribution models that start to provide views into how do different channels impact what people do and where they go through their journey.

DS: I think sometimes it's a miss to not be thinking about that insight and that learning and how the pieces all work together. Like you said, "It's great to get that cross channel understanding of sales effect and sales efficiency. But you want to get smarter and better and understand it through a human lens. And I think that's where the more granular data can be really helpful. Understanding, who is it impacting? Where is it taking them? How do the component pieces work together? That's got to be the goal of measurement from my perspective as well. We want to understand what people do and how we trigger those responses and how they feel and where they go and what they do. And I think all of these pieces work together to be able to do that. And I think it really is essential.

AD: I agree. I think it doesn't sound like David is team MMM or team MTA. He's team hybrid, which I am as well. I think that there's so many different measurement tools out there today, and the tenure you've had and tenure I've had, it's interesting to see how they all come together to tell a holistic story. I think that's where the marketer's role is to take and to triangulate all those data points, and to pull together a story and a plan for what they should do in order to drive more change, drive more conversion in the future. So I think you're absolutely right. I have a question around the future of audio. We've been mostly talking about audio, so I think, hopefully you don't mind that. But I think we've talked a little bit about the future of measurement and what that measurement looks like.

AD: I'm curious about the future of audio, because Gale, the CMO at iHeart, was recently on the AdExchanger Podcast and talked about how broadcast radio is one of the few places left where you get real unscripted human content. And we've talked a little bit about that early on about programmed content and how it is real time and it's real and authentic. And I think that's truthfully very different from what you find in other channels and other digital television, other media channels that you might find today. So what do you believe is the future of audio? What is the future it holds for advertisers and what role does that unscripted authenticity play in its future?

DS: Sure. I think Gale hit on something that's really important. It's the live, it's the human, it's the authentic, it's the trusted. And it is part of your daily routine that those are human realities and human truths. And I think we live in a world where that becomes increasingly important, that level of connection with other people, shared experiences, hearing those voices and being part of the community conversation. And I think that is why radio in its current form will continue to have a really strong place in people's worlds and lives. They may listen to it more through digital modes and means, which we talked a little bit about before. But the compelling content and the relationships and what they get out of that, I think only becomes more important and more meaningful in the world we live in.

DS: So I think that's part of it. We were talking about it over 30% of people's time, media time is now spent with audio. Podcast is still in growth mode, right? There are people who are still discovering it. There's still amazing content that is being developed. And that people's desire for long form stories and learning and education. Again, I think there's a real need that people have for that. And that's why people are going there and that's why people continue to go there. And obviously, streaming and music, music has always been part of humanity.

AD: Exactly.

DS: And will continue to be. And it just, again, it's meeting different needs. I think what we're going to see is, I think we're going to see consumption continue to grow.

DS: I think it is going to be across all of these three core pillars. And I think the same way we've seen over the last few years, people start to adopt new technologies, new devices, and new ways to consume the content that is meaningful to them. And I think that will just continue to happen. And we are going to be focused as a company on continuing to create that kind of content and have the right on air personalities, the right podcast hosts, the right on demand content that people want. I think that relates to another piece that we’re continuing to see is this on demand-ness because of what people want. We have a lot of people who will download content from a radio show, podcast world, because that's how they now want to consume it. That's just fueling the growth. But again, it speaks to the strength of the content, the relationships that people have. And I think we're just going to continue to see that. And I think the good part and part of our messaging and in the marketplace is again, the amount of audio consumption that is happening is substantial. Right?

AD: You don't go anywhere without a podcast. I'm walking the dog and I have a podcast. I think everyone does nowadays, where that multitasking behavior that you now see, a lot of times we talk about on television, somebody's got their phone up while they're watching a show. That's always been there, when it relates to audio. You've always been driving and listening to the radio or listening to music while you're running. Those things have always been part of our lives, that multitasking behavior. And it makes it that much easier to consume that content because you're doing it while you're doing other things, but it's embedded in our lives, to your point.

DS: Yeah. And I do think that there's that sort of let's call it underlying psychology, but this growth in voice and listening and those sorts of things that are a... I don't want to go way deep into the psychology of sound. But there's something very interesting there that is very different, that again, I think is very human that will continue to drive that and that we will adopt it and see the growth in use and by listeners and consumers, as well as I think from the marketing community.

AD: Right. So the access and the ways in which you access may change, but the medium and the content and the stories and the music will remain the same.

DS: Mm-hmm.

AD: Well, David, thank you so much for joining us today. It was really a pleasure to talk to you to learn a little bit more about your experience in the world of audio. So I just want to say thank you and appreciate you joining us.

DS: Thank you. Great to meet you. And I've really enjoyed our conversation. So thanks again.

AD: Same, thank you.

View Full Transcript