Podtrac revises podcast ranker and removes a publisher, citing IAB guidelines

Podcast measurement firm Podtrac has revised two of its Podcast Industry Ranking charts for November audience size, citing IAB podcast measurement guidelines. The action removed iHeartMedia from the Top 10 Podcast Publishers chart, and the Top 10 Snackable Podcasts chart (formerly Top 15 Snackable Podcasts).

The decision to revise  the charts came shortly after podnews.net, James Cridland’s daily newsletter of podcast news items, disclosed its investigation of the underlying website code at iHeartMedia radio station websites where a “snackable” (under 10 minutes, in Podtrac’s definition) program called Trending Songs: Pop was featured on the pages. That show landed in the #1 spot of Podtrac’s inaugural Snackable Podcasts chart. James Cridland’s article explained that visiting the web page caused the one-minute show to auto-download (not auto-play), ready to stream when visitors pressed the Play button.

That auto-download was being captured by Podtrac’s measurement methodology, probably inflating the show’s audience numbers (assuming not every visitor to all iHeartMedia websites featuring that show pressed Play to listen). Podtrac sent the following notice and acknowledgment to podnews.net:

“Thank you for your well researched blog post of earlier today, and for the time and attention you’ve given our Podtrac rankings. We wanted to let you know that we have a variety of processes to proactively look for anomalous download behavior, but in this case, we missed iHeart’s preload behavior via its affiliate websites.”

On its web page which displays the most recent month’s reports, Podtrac explained the revision:

“Podtrac Rankings for October and November 2017 are revised (see below) to correct for a publisher’s use of preload in its website players, which is inconsistent with IAB podcast measurement guidelines. Podtrac has implemented additional processes to prevent this in the future.”

Summary of the main changes:

  • Seven iHeartMedia shows occupied slots in the November Snackable Podcasts list; are all removed.
  • iHeartMedia occupied the #2 spot in October and November’s Top Podcast Publishers list, and has been removed.
  • The Top 15 Snackable Podcasts report has been renamed Top 10 Snackable Podcasts, but contains only eight shows for November.

This development spun out of curiosity and comment around iHeartMedia’s blast onto the Podtrac charts in October and November. Some observers thought the Trending Songs: Pop was not really a podcast, and voiced that opinion in a LinkedIn discussion — though there is no official length that a podcast must be, and nothing which says a podcast cannot be a countdown of music hits. Podtrac CEO Mark McCrery asserted that the program fulfilled the technical specifications for measurement in the Podtrac rankers.

That was before James Cridland’s investigation and Podtrac’s affirmation that the auto-download on iHeartMedia websites went against IAB podcast measurement guidelines. That IAB document (PDF here) does assert that all podcast requests which should not be counted in IAB-sanctioned audience measurement must be filtered out, and “Eliminate Pre-Load Requests” is the #1 requirement: “Pre-loading of podcasts directly results in podcast downloads being counted when they should not.” The reason is that a pre-load does not necessarily represent a listen, or intent to listen, or even listener awareness that a podcast has been loaded for listening.

It is worth noting that the decision to pre-load an audio program on a web page is a sensible user-experience decision, especially for short programs. It makes the stream performance instantaneous, as we discovered on iHeartMedia station pages. In our opinion the program contains useful and concise music discovery, and the listening experience on an iHeartMedia web page is splendid. It is easy to imagine that pre-loading decision to have happened independent of iHeart’s affiliation with Podtrac. Likewise easy to imagine that iHeart has a tough choice now.

At the same time, it is obviously important for Podtrac to ensure consistency across its entire measurement sphere, and the IAB guidelines make a good measuring stick.


Brad Hill

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