Inspired by the Success of Serial, iHeartMedia Will Unveil Its First Podcasts

'SoundFront' event will announce tie-ins with Jared Leto, Jaime Pressly and Snapchat

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Podcasting and audio-only programming doesn't quite fit the criteria for next week's video-focused Digital Content NewFronts show in New York, so iHeartMedia is holding a "SoundFront" event on Wednesday evening.

Buoyed by the 80 million downloads of the wildly successful podcast Serial and its surprise Peabody Award, iHeartMedia will announce its first 12 podcasts tonight. The company is also expected to introduce a general marketing partnership with Snapchat.

San Antonio, Texas-based iHeartMedia gave Adweek a sneak peek into five of its new programs.

  • Skybound Rundown: It's an indie gaming podcast developed by producers of AMC's The Walking Dead that offers, per iHeartMedia, "all the news you need to know about indie games by indie gamers." 
  • The Vent: Actor Jaime Pressly thinks celebrity moms are out of touch with normal lives and giving iffy advice through mainstream media. So on this podcast, she's sharing personal anecdotes and parenting tips, along with conversations with "real moms." Pressley's show is designed to be laid-back and humorous. "It's impossible not to laugh when you spend any time at all with Jaime," said Eric Day, managing partner at Trium Entertainment, which helped develop The Vent.
  • Heart of the Beat: IHeartMedia is heralding this program as "an auditory seminar with the most successful artists of our time, such as Jared Leto, deconstructing 'why' or 'how' their music was made."
  • Get Mic'd: Well-known radio personalities and social media stars will search for the "next great iHeartMedia DJ." Yes, it's a reality-TV-style talent contest.
  • Who Is Marty Hirsch?: A mockumentary, this podcast will employ the voices of real rock 'n' roll survivors to create a fictional image of "the man, the myth, the legend—Marty Hirsch."

The launch dates, length and frequency of the programs hasn't been disclosed, and distribution details are still coming together. But the podcasts will run on iHeartRadio's app, iHeartMedia websites and possibly some of the media giant's countless radio stations.

Mindshare Entertainment is on board with Who Is Marty Hirsch?—though which brands will be featured in the audio ads are unknown. Mindshare president David Lang described Who Is Marty Hirsch? as being "in the vain of This is Spinal Tap and Almost Famous." In an email, he said that "pop stars and rock legends will sit down with our celebrity host to explore the incredible and dubious exploits of this amazing character."

Gayle Troberman, CMO of iHeartMedia, said there will be accompanying ad units for brands to appear in addition to the radio-style spots during the podcasts.

"We believe the advertising industry is dramatically under-invested in [digital] sound and audio storytelling," she said. "What's your brand's sound strategy? How does your brand tell stories with sound? That's what we want to address at the SoundFront."

She may want to send out a last-minute invite to Kevin Lavelle, CEO of men's fashion startup Mizzen+Main.

"My experience with advertising on [blogger] Tim Ferriss' podcast showed me an incredible new avenue of promotion overlooked by most," he said.

Lavelle added, "With a media giant [like iHeartMedia] moving into podcast advertising, it's a strong recognition of the power of podcasts. Podcast listeners are significantly more engaged—you can't just stumble across a podcast—and so advertisements can have a far greater impact. Most podcast advertisements are on a [cost-per-thousand] basis, but those impressions are far more likely to lead to purchases and are inherently more valuable given the audience's faith in the podcaster and their engagement level in a far too disillusioned consumer and distracted world. … It's an old format in a new package, so it's largely misunderstood."

Indeed, podcasts are still an emerging area, and many brand marketers haven't caught up yet. So should the NewFronts expand beyond video into audio content next year?

"Absolutely," answered Troberman. "We're excited to be a part of this conversation because there's so much creative potential that hasn't been tapped."

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.