Metrics, Consumer Data, and Industry Standards

Even though many platforms, such as SoundCloud and Acast (which both stream audio), have sophisticated analytics, the fact remains that the majority of podcasts are downloaded through iTunes (roughly 70 percent).64 Once a podcast is downloaded, there is no way of knowing what happens to the file, how long it was listened to, how many times, or when. Moreover, since the subscribers “belong” to iTunes, creators have little knowledge of their listener demographics.

There are two camps in the podcasting sphere: One maintains that the tools of radio (surveys, extrapolations, etc.) are sufficient for podcasting measurement. The other wishes to push podcasting technology far enough to exploit the medium’s full digital potential—to the point that everything is “point to point measured,” in the words of Sarah van Mosel.65

Unlike online journalists, who have a plethora of statistics at their fingertips that allow them to make informed decisions about how to format and publish their content, podcasters have almost no idea how their audiences interact with their work. PRX CEO Jake Shapiro believes this kind of information would create “a feedback loop for producers, so they know who their audience is, how they should craft their stories, what time of the day or the week they can release them.”66 Panoply’s Nick Quah agreed: “What did Chartbeat do for digital media? It ruined a lot of journalists’ lives, because it’s all they ever think about. We want to get to that level.”67

Of course, improving metrics and data on consumers would also prove invaluable to another group: advertisers. As podcasting advertising begins to expand to include not just direct response advertising but also brand advertising, this information becomes all the more vital. Van Mosel explained: “Branding people have a picture of the person they want to reach in their mind. You can get at it with surveys, but the Holy Grail, the next big step, is to figure out how to link back to the demographic and psychographic data that you can prove and then target to.”68

Mark DiCristina, marketing director for MailChimp, put it this way: “I would love to know all kinds of data: demographic data, age, gender, income, industry type, what they do for work, what percentage are in marketing or use email marketing. For now I’ve accepted that’s not available any time soon.”69

Although advertisers like DiCristina have come to terms with limited consumer data for downloaded podcasts, there is, at least, some progress around better understanding listeners who stream podcasts. At WNYC, van Mosel has already overseen the conversion of ads into dynamic, programmatic ads, which can be continually trafficked into shows’ back catalogues (where about 40 percent of listening occurs, vastly increasing ad impressions).70 These ads also include tracking pixels that advertisers can use to ensure ads are delivering; as van Mosel explained, it’s a “lifeline to say ‘legitimacy is happening here.’”71 Acast similarly injects trackable ads at point of play, and Panoply recently acquired the tech company Audiometric in order to offer a similar technology (for more on this, see the Panoply case study).

Another signal of podcasting’s imminent exit from the Wild West is the emergence in the last six months of two separate podcasting upfronts (intended to inspire advertisers to sponsor upcoming content). Also notable is the creation of a working group at the Interactive Advertising Bureau, which aims to establish advertising standards. Many of the podcasters I spoke with recognized the need for an objective standard for audience measurement, one which all podcasters could agree to follow. Matt Lieber, president of Gimlet Media, suggested a reliable third party that will audit podcasting data, much as the Nielsen Ratings do for television, as a vital next step in legitimizing the podcasting industry.72

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