We spent last week on the ground in Austin to meet with established and up-and-coming entrepreneurs, innovators, and creators during the SXSW Interactive Conference. Across panel discussions, we couldn’t help but notice the power audio is playing across industries and loved hearing the different ways companies and branding are leaning into the space further. Read on for key takeaways during SXSW.

Platform is irrelevant. Storytelling comes first.

On SXSW’s ‘Hollywood & Podcasting Panel” Chris Giliberti (Gimlet Media) said Hollywood’s interest in podcasting hasn’t changed what Gimlet is creating. He believes that powerful storytelling comes first for each platform. Adapting audio to TV/film could be another opportunity for powerful storytelling, but it’s not the end goal.

Fans are looking for connection on the other side of the mic.

Jason Hoch (Imperative Entertainment) sees podcasting as a form of escapism. People want to be entertained during the mundane commute to work, while cooking, mowing the lawn or running errands and audio is the perfect on-demand vehicle. As our CEO, Marshall Williams put it, while speaking at SXSW, “Earbuds changed everything. Now you have a direct narrator right on your mobile device. There really is power behind the connective tissue between a listener and host.”

According to the Infinite Dial’s most recent report, podcasting reaches over half of Americans 12+ have listened to a podcast with over 90 million monthly listeners. Not only is the medium growing, the engagement is through the roof. In a world where our attention span lasts only seconds, 80 percent of consumers listen to the entire podcast episode, and they listen to an average of 7 shows per week. Jacob Weisberg (Pushkin Industries) said "podcast advertising is amazing because listeners actually like the ads and look forward to the content…sometimes more than the show. It's a continuous experience and the hosts and listeners really do have fun with it” while speaking on the Recode panel.

Audio is embracing disruption.

On Fast Company’s ‘New Stories, New Platforms’ panel, Curtis Hickman (Cofounder and Chief Creative Officer for The Void) described the power of storytelling and how audio is playing a part in ever-evolving augmented and virtual reality tech. Creators are able to deliver stories in a three-dimensional way. For Chris, “Sound is super critical, especially location-based sound in a VR experience. We’re proud to have hosted blind participants at The Void – they loved the experience because of the location of sound and how that alone can bring entire worlds to life.” Also, on the panel, David Modigliani (Director and Producer of Running with Beto, 61 Bullets, and Crawford) says sounds itself provides an opportunity to incorporate little moments of storytelling in an experience and capture the audience’s attention in ways they might not even recognize.

Fans are driving quality and exclusive content.

The next trend in podcasting will be higher production budgets and getting podcasts hosts out of studios and out into the real world, talking to real people, says Jason Hoch on SXSW’s ‘Hollywood & Podcasting” panel. Fans are driving more complex, high quality content and want broad, entertaining, compelling stories. With new platforms emerging, like Spotify, content will drive even more consumption and potentially host exclusive content.

Hollywood wants in.

The Hollywood Reporter’s Bryn Sandberg said it seems podcasting might be the next frontier as major celebs start to break into the business on SXSW’s “Hollywood & Podcasting” panel. Chris Giliberti says it’s a compelling venture without the hassle of make-up and wardrobe, plus it’s a different muscle for actors to stretch and fairly easy to coordinate with other projects talent might be working on. Chris also teased a new podcast show staring recent Oscar winner, Rami Malek, proving the kind of caliber entering the medium. Gimlet is investing in state-of-the-art audio production to elevate the podcast medium with premium television-style production quality and talent.

On Demand is booming.

On SXSW’s “Marketing to Bingers’ panel, a recent report found that 74 percent of U.S. youth believe there is so much entertainment that they cannot keep up when it’s at the tip of their fingertips. In this state of on-demand content, marketers must pay attention to this instant gratification generation and publish content that keeps consumers engaged. Kadrian Alvarenga (FX Networks) says their team leans heavily on quality of content, diversity of stories, and utilizing creative talent to keep these audiences engaged overtime. Amy Shelby (The CW) has seen this delayed binge-watching phenomenon with classic shows like “Friends” and “The Office” recirculate almost decades later, which we’ve seen first-hand with “Serial” in podcasting. According to the same study, 51 percent of 14-34-year-olds would rather watch/listen to a show where all episodes are released at once. Amy feels best practices don’t even exist when marketing to this audience because strategy is constantly changing to reach this demographic.