At the end of 2016, there were literally just 200 podcasts in Hungary and not all of them were active. The same was true for almost the whole Central and Eastern European (CEE) market.

In the beginning of 2017, The Daily by The New York Times started and kick-started a global interest in interview and news podcasts. Before that, for emerging markets such as CEE, to start with a Serial-like or Radiolab-like production was unthinkable. At the time no one believed podcasting is for other than a few lonely geeks.

The Daily paved the way for many news podcasts also in the CEE region. I led the team creating the first daily news podcast in Slovakia in autumn of 2017, which was also the first daily news podcast in the region.

As podcasting grew in the country, neighbouring countries started noticing if it can be done in tiny Slovakia, there surely must be an audience for podcasting elsewhere in the region.

I was always curious how some of those stories started. Then, a few weeks ago I met with the founders of the BeTone podcast network in Budapest. They managed to build a network of 32 podcasts reaching half a million Hungarians (some 5% of the whole population) every month.

The Hungarian podcast landscape and the story of BeTone

Richárd Hampuk and Balázs Román are the two men behind the BeTone brand that has a twofold business model. BeTone Studio produces podcasts for clients, gives podcast trainings and develops podcast ads. BeTone Network is a podcast network consisting of otherwise independent podcasts.

The Network’s proposal to podcasters is simple: You deal with what you understand best, meaning the content, and we make money for you. The podcaster still has control and decides where, how many and what advertisements they want.

Both men have been working in the advertising and media industry for more than 15 years. Richárd owns a PR agency and Balázs was the editor-in-chief of Kreativ Magazin, which is the biggest Hungarian communication magazine.

Balázs is also the head of IAB Hungary’s audio working group and helped create the first podcast insight report in the country in June 2021. 40% of Hungarians ever listened to a podcast and 12% said they listened weekly. 

According to the report, social media and YouTube are places where listeners discover new podcasts. The main reason Hungarians listen to podcasts are: to learn something new, for entertainment or music.

In 2018, when there were 300 (!) overall podcasts in Hungary, maybe 200 active ones, possibly less (based on Listen Notes data). Richárd reached out to Balázs to help him make a professional podcast. The duo got so hooked on the medium, they established the BeTone Studio in March 2019 and started producing the first podcasts.

“The market looked like a Sahara, there were not more than 200 shows in Hungarian, and most of them were made by amateurs and even though there were a few very funny or interesting ones, they did not earn any money on that,” Balázs told me.

BeTone Studio has recently produced a scripted non-fiction storytelling podcast (Egyszer lent) and creates a lot of business interview shows for different clients.

The BeTone Network now has 32 shows but is still growing, and the plan is to reach 1 million monthly downloads by the end of 2022. The company has five full-time employees and about two dozen part-time workers.

The most popular podcast in the network is Hihetetlen történelem (“Incredible history” in English). It gets up to 100,000 downloads a month and is often trending in top podcasting charts.

The top two podcasts in the country are actually not podcasts even though one is called a podcast.

The first is Friderikusz Podcast hosted by Friderikusz Sándor, a longtime TV personality who started a YouTube channel and does interviews with famous people. The show is also turned into a podcast but has much bigger reach as a video.

The second is Balázsék, a radio daily morning show. The podcast version is hosted on SoundCloud and averages 20,000 plays per episode. 

How dynamic ad insertion (DAI) helped BeTone grow their podcast ad business

The U.S. Podcast Advertising Revenue Study by IAB published in May, said that in 2021, 84% of all podcast ads were dynamically inserted via DAI as opposed to edited-in or baked-in ads. There was a dramatic shift in the US, as in 2019 the proportion of DAI ads was only 48%.

Captivate podcast host has a good and simple definition of what dynamic ad insertion in podcasting means: it is the process of recording your audio and publishing your podcast episode as normal, then marking areas within that episode where advertising will be inserted by a piece of software after the episode has been published – often with ever-changing parameters, which constitutes the “dynamic” part of the acronym.

There are many possibilities you can use DAI. It doesn’t have to be ads only, as an experiment by the Sounds Profitable newsletter and podcast showed. (For example, you can remind listeners to make a cup of coffee if they download the episode in the morning and advise them to go for an evening walk if the episode is downloaded in the evening).

Why am I talking here about DAI? Despite it being a big trend in the US podcasting, I did some research in the CEE region and counted less than three podcast networks that are using the technology. The first is the Czech online news website Seznam Zprávy which uses Transistor. The second is BeTone Network in Budapest.

“We started to use DAI around March 2020, when Simplecast launched this solution. We started to experiment with Megaphone’s system in April 2022,” Balázs Román explained.

“DAI is the only technology podcasts can serve different types of marketing campaigns. In this way there are possibilities to buy ad spaces by reach or by time frame. You can use all your episodes so your past inventory is also in the game. The baked-in model means you can monetize all the episodes just once. We think DAI is the main accelerator of the whole podcast business. That is good for the publishers and for the listeners as well.”

He makes a great point. There are podcast networks in the CEE region reaching bigger audiences, but none of them use the technology. Some of the reasons I heard were that it’s too expensive or too complicated to navigate.

It’s true the technology was not as affordable a few years ago as it is today. Only a handful of podcast hosts offered it. Also, when running multiple campaigns you will find out you need an extra person to keep an eye on it and manage them.

The main point is that if you are not using DAI for managing your ads within a podcast network, you are losing money every time a listener plays an older episode. For news publishers I talked to, the listening longtail is around 20% to 25%, meaning one quarter of all plays or downloads in a given month are older episodes.

With some podcast producers, the longtail I have seen is up to 50%, which means you are not monetizing half of your inventory.

When I asked Balázs whether they would consider letting in a programmatic vendor like Google serving a mix of ads, he told me “there is no place for stupid ads because nobody will listen to those shows” and that they would be very careful. BeTone also produces many of the ads they air in the network.

I wanted to know whether they are also considering a paid model with listeners paying for ad-free experience, extra episodes or earlier access.

“We would like to reach 1 million downloads this year, and continue to educate the market as much as needed. We also believe in the paid model and if the ecosystem lets us make it easy for the listeners to choose between a subscription and the ad-supported content, we will start to use that as well,” Balázs Román told me.

In June 2022, there are about 3,000 podcasts in Hungary, more than 5,0000 are in Czechia, a country the same size and there are 2,500 Slovak podcasts, a country half the size of Hungary.

Photo by insung yoon on Unsplash