Hernan Lopez was in his fifth year as the man in charge of Fox International Channels when he decided it was time to move on.
Instead of opting for an early retirement or taking a pay raise and lofty title at another global media company, Lopez left the suits and security of Fox for a different venture: a media company of his own.
A lover of podcasts, Lopez founded Wondery, a content production and distribution startup with more than 50 original podcasts and partner shows in its portfolio, at the beginning of 2016. Although a departure from the corporate world, Lopez said the decision to start up allowed him to align his business acumen with something he's actually passionate about.
“If you look at audio storytelling, it’s really the most immersive form of storytelling that requires you to pay attention," said Lopez. "I felt that there was going to be a big change in the market, and I saw an opportunity to lead a company in this style of storytelling.”
Over the last several years, the popularity of podcasting has risen steeply. Despite the perceived limitations of an audio-only medium, Lopez said, podcasts actually outshine audio-visual content in some ways because the lack of a visual can make the listener feel like they are a part of the story.
“A lot of people assume that listening to a story isn’t nearly as good as the experience of watching a television show or movie because they have sight, sounds and motion,” he said. “That’s not the case. Sound is perceived first by the brain, before sight, smell or touch, so we’ve seen that people are more emotionally moved by this medium because you’re essentially creating the best possible depiction in your head as opposed to being shown one.”
This response means more dedicated listeners, but it also means happier advertisers. In three separate case studies, Wondery found that podcast listeners experienced bumps in product awareness, brand awareness, purchase consideration and purchase intent after hearing sales pitches in an audio medium as opposed to digital media.
“John Philip Jones, who wrote a number of books on marketing and advertising, said that the best ads are the ones that include a rational argument inside an emotional envelope," said Lopez, who aimed to apply that same idea to podcasts. “In an audio format, you typically hear a rational pitch from the host, but you can’t see or feel their emotions. One of our hosts, as it happens, decided to record a podcast where he and his wife were cooking their Blue Apron meals while they gave the pitch. It was received so well that we’ve started to scale it.”
Heading into 2018, Lopez said the West Hollywood-based company plans to launch at least five new original programs to diversify the content in its portfolio. Though he’s optimistic about where podcasting as an industry is headed, Lopez admitted it’s still very much a developing arena.
“It's going to be a gradual process,” he said. “We can't forget that today only one in four people and one in three millennials listen to podcasts, so it's not yet seen as a reach medium. That being said, it is seen as a deep engagement medium, so there really is a lot to be excited about.”