The Ringer's Bill Simmons Talks Podcast Advertising, Outlet's Future
Bill Simmons has "found a groove" with The Ringer as it celebrates its third anniversary this month, with the sports and pop culture outlet now boasting a "whopping 30 podcasts" which had 53.5 million downloads in May, according to a Q&A with Jason Lynch of ADWEEK. Podcast ad sales for The Ringer surpassed $15M in '18, a number that is "significantly higher this year." Simmons recently discussed his thoughts on why podcast advertising is "about to become a billion-dollar-plus industry" and future plans for his outlet. Below are excerpts from the Q&A, some of which have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: You said early on that you were going to lean very heavily into podcasts, but I don’t think that anyone, yourself included, imagined you would have 30 of them three years in.
Simmons: I thought this would happen. This is the biggest reason why I was battling with ESPN behind the scenes those last 18 months, because I saw what was happening with podcasts. With the podcasts, some things worked in our favor, like the industry has really grown. Sponsors are coming around, but we could feel that in 2014 and 2015, because that was the first time I felt like A-list sponsors were starting to at least stiff around with podcasts. We always believed that there was going to be more available ad money. Now as we're heading to this end of the decade, you're definitely seeing a shift.
Q: How have you been able to monetize those Ringer podcasts in a way that ESPN could not?
Simmons: It was a boutique business for them, and it should have been, because they made the lion’s share of their money from the stuff they could sell on their biggest properties like "MNF" and "SportsCenter" and all that stuff. So I don’t really blame them for that. I think they could have been more creative with how they outsourced it.
Q: With HBO being an investor in The Ringer and WarnerMedia trying to get that new streaming site off the ground, is that an opportunity for you guys?
Simmons: It’s not just WarnerMedia. We can do that with whoever we want. The biggest thing I’ve been spending my time on the last eight months is how to grow: at Ringer Films, how we can grow nonscripted and scripted, how we can do 10-minute shows, 15-minute shows, narrative podcasts, all kind of the next level of creative stuff for those kinds of things. Because there are so many opportunities with that now. If you’re making content and it’s pretty good to really good, there’s more opportunities than ever.
Q: What’s an example of a recent partnership that has been successful?
Simmons: We have a really good relationship with State Farm. I sound like a Kool-Aid drinker, but they’re just smart. We were doing this NBA Draft guide. We explained it to them, and they get it. They’re like, "What if we also did a couple of videos?" Ryen Russillo did a lottery special, and we did a couple of State Farm "What if?" things in the middle. It was like a natural integration, and that was pretty cool (ADWEEK.com, 6/11).