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The Download on Podcasts: The quest for universal measurement is not universal

The Download on Podcasts is a weekly feature sponsored by PodcastOne.


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Audience measurement in podcasting is the most notorious issue that producers and network distributors face. But, infamous though podcast analytics are, not everybody is unhappy.

At RAIN Summit West in April, PodcastOne Founder and CEO Norm Pattiz denied the issue straightforwardly, saying that his company’s analytics were superb, determined in a twofold process involving server-side metrics and detailed consumer research performed three times a year by Edison Research. (PodcastOne is the sponsor of this column.) Likewise, Todd Cochrane who runs Blubrry, a large, high-volume hosting platform, has told us explicitly that audience measurement is not a problem in his business, which offers a detailed analytics dashboard to creators. In fact, any platform that sells advertising against podcast inventory is performing audience analysis and telling a story to advertisers about listenership and marketing value.

If there is a division between Haves and Have-Nots when it comes to audience intelligence, it runs along the line of data strength in major platforms. The big networks which are resourced for sales are also resourced for data. They can conduct a revenue generating business based on scale — scaled number of shows, scaled amount of aggregated inventory, scaled audience reach, and scaled data which describes that reach. It’s not as cozy for independent creators who are reliant on personal marketing, one program website, and relatively dumb analytics that might count downloads, but don’t observe the starts, stops, repeats, completions, incompletions, and ad plays that can shape a consumption story.

On the other side of the revenue equation, advertisers suffer from the lack of standardized, third-party measurement. Sound familiar? In all of radio-based audio, the lack of a single bridge which unites terrestrial, radio webcasts, and pureplay streaming makes life difficult for marketers. Advertisers just want listeners. They just want audio. they want the headphones, the smartphones, the desktop listening, the AM/FM, the in-car commutes — to advertisers, it is all ideally just AUDIO.

The idea of podcasting folded into all that isn’t even on the table yet. The first mountain for marketers is unified ratings that tie together the island business of major podcast networks. Even without buying platforms which stitch them all together (which might eventually come to pass), advertisers need a common metrics language to align the many audience engagement stories they hear.

And what about iTunes? At the center of the storm, due to its distribution clout (60-70% of podcast listening happens in iTunes and the Apple Podcasts app) Apple has played a neutral role, offering the world’s largest directory of shows, but not disclosing (or even perhaps collecting) usage metrics. Podcasts were named after the Apple iPod, and the company is portrayed in a recent New York Times article as a proud guardian of podcasting. At the same time, the company makes no money from it, and has not shown motivation to participate on the business side by developing or disclosing usage metrics in its immense audience.

That detachment might be changing; we have heard anecdotal, off-the-record reports that Apple’s hands-off attitude might be shifting (the NYTimes article hints at this as well), possibly, according to one source, motivated by Google’s entrance into podcasting via Google Play Music, its subscription service.

One thing for sure: Data drives digital audio forward, and advertisers in all categories demand data-driven metrics of increasing sophistication. That is the pressure, as podcasting in its entirety enters the big leagues.

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