NPR’s RAD measurement is released as open source; pushes for podcast listens as key metric

Remote Audio Data logo

In a milestone that potentially moves the podcast measurement needle away from downloads and toward listens, NPR has formally launched RAD (Remote Audio Data). In development for a year, and supported by a broad consortium of podcast hosting and content companies, RAD is ping-back technology that reports actual listening to a podcast file, as opposed to merely downloading that file.

Downloads and Listens

An accurate listening metric is widely acknowledged to support the advertising business of podcasting, which is where most of the money comes from. Advertisers seek a “common currency” in the fragmented analytics of podcasting — in other words, a standard. RAD certainly aspires to standard adoption. At the same time, it introduces a granularity that can measure the extent to which a pre-roll, midroll, or post-roll sponsorship message is actually heard.

In theory RAD solves a legacy problem on the business side of podcasting, where downloads have traditionally been the guiding metric of consumption. the problem there is that once downloaded (in most cases) a show becomes analytically invisible. It lives in a listener’s personal device, and communication with the host (the server from which it was downloaded) is cut off.

How it works

RAD solves this by allowing podcast producers to insert coded tags within each show. When a listener reaches one of those tags, that information is sent back to a collecting destination owned by the producer or hosting company. In order for this measurement circle to work, apps which play the podcast must be RAD-enabled. NPR has launched open-source SDKs (software developments kits) that any app can implement.

So, for example, if a podcast listener uses the Pocket Casts app to discover, collect, download, and listen to shows, Pocket Casts would need to update its product with RAD compatibility in order for podcast producers to get its metrics from Pocket Casts listening. Pocket Casts is a good example to use here, as it was purchased by a public radio group consisting of NPR, WBEZ, WNYC Studios, and This American Life — it seems natural that Pocket Casts might adopt RAD quickly.

The Launch

Time will tell on that, but what we know today is that RAD is being implemented first in NPR’s listening app NPR One. Over the last year, development of the technology has been undertaken with a far-flung array of podcast hosts, digital audio measurement firms, and content companies — 22 of them are listed in the official announcement. This effort has been constructed to foster quick and widespread adoption.

“Over the course of the past year, we have been refining these concepts and the technology in collaboration with some of the smartest people in podcasting from around the world,” said Joel Sucherman, Vice President, New Platform Partnerships at NPR. “We needed to take painstaking care to prove out our commitment to the privacy of listeners, while providing a standard that the industry could rally around in our collective efforts to continue to evolve the podcasting space.”


Brad Hill