The burgeoning podcast category is enjoying growing audience, investment, and revenue. At the same time, success and potential are compromised by confusion and disagreement about how to measure consumption and listening. Today sees the release of a proposed standard of podcast measurement, created by a working group of public radio station representatives, and intended to unify data collection and analysis of public radio’s on-demand audio.
“These guidelines are not intended to operate as a full technical standard per se, but rather overall principles and public radio’s technical guidelines for measuring podcast usage,” according to a document which was made public this morning. (See Public Radio Podcast Measurement Guidelines.)
Many regional stations contributed to this effort, led by a steering committee representing National Public Radio, American Public Media, WNYC, Minnesota Public Radio, and Southern California Public Radio. FCC regulation of over-the-air sponsorship of public radio programs does not transfer to online distribution, so advertising in public radio podcasts can resemble (in style and technical implementation) Internet-only podcasts. The purpose of the guidelines released today is to advance the advertising-based business of public radio podcasts.
“Without a common measurement approach, there is simply no way to accurately compare podcasts from different organizations or explore industry trends,” the document reads in the Goals section, neatly summarizing a problem which vexes all podcast networks. Ideally, the standardized guidelines provide sponsors and advertisers with smart, consistent, and credible information about how programs are heard.
The guidelines apply to both podcasts and on-demand media — defining the former as a subset of the latter. The measurement specifications (which require a fair degree of technical knowledge to understand) are based on server-side download logs. As such, the “download” is defined as the key measurement action, whether the user behavior is a deliberate local storage of a show, or a progressive download when a show is streamed in the moment. Steering Committee member Dan Jeselsohn of New York Public Radio told RAIN News that when it comes to the server log, there isn’t much difference.
The next step after issuing a set of specifications with hope of developing a standard is to drive awareness and adoption. In this case, the committee of public radio stakeholders has a double aspiration: get public radio producers aligned, and expand adoption through the podcast ecosystem generally.
“This group intends to work together to raise awareness of these guidelines by other podcast producers, third-party tools, vendors, agencies, and standards bodies. Given the leading position of public radio podcasts as a source of podcast listening across the country, this group believes these public radio guidelines could become the foundation for a true industry standard for all podcast measurement.”