November 23, 2016
The Problem with Podcast Analytics
“You can’t sell what you can’t measure.” It’s something I’ve been running up against in my quest to get people on-board with podcasting. More people are downloading podcasts than ever before. Podcast listening grew 23% since last year and Americans are listening to podcasts more than ever before.
But when you try to encourage someone to host their own show or advertise, the first question that pops-up is metrics. I totally get it though. Marketing directors and marketing managers need to explain ROI before the executives sign-off on a podcast marketing budget. So, of course, the first big question we get is analytics. How many subscribers can I expect? How many downloads on average?
The problem with podcasting analytics is that the technology simply does not exist today. That’s hard for a lot of people to fathom, however. How can it be in this day and age of digital technology that marketers can’t get visibility into the number of times a podcast was downloaded? That’s just crazy right? Crazy, but true.
Podcast Metrics Like the Wild West
According to a recent report by National Public Radio, Public Radio International, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and eight other stations and networks, “Measurement of podcast usage is, at best, the Wild West. There has been no standard or even informal consensus around how to count downloads, listeners, or time spent listening.”
If someone is giving you podcast statistics, they’re probably lying. The first big issue stems with Apple’s iTunes. Most podcasts are downloaded via iTunes (70% in our case) and iTunes does NOT provide analytics data. This makes it nearly impossible to provide reliable statistics for download data. This is the reason we do not provide this data. Any company that does is making an inference.
Also, what does download data really tell us? Not much. Just because somebody downloaded a file doesn’t mean they actually listened to it. Nor does it tell you how much of the episode was listened to.
Well what about subscriber data? Back in the day, if you wanted to listen to a podcast, you subscribed to the RSS feed and you’d have a pretty reliable metric for subscribers. Fast forward to 2016 and no one subscribes to podcasts anymore. Facebook, Twitter, website embedding, mobile, syndication, and direct linking to podcast websites is the way podcasts are distributed today. Therefore, if you're trying to determine subscribers to an RSS feed today you’ll see terribly inaccurate and depressingly low subscriber numbers.
Lack of Transparency Impacts Advertisers
The limitation of podcast statistics has had serious implications for advertisers, who need audience data to drive buying decisions. Like I mentioned earlier, “you can’t sell what you can’t measure.” This also has implications for hosts and producers who could potentially attract more advertisers and further grow their audience if there were more granular data on actual listenership. Advertisers want a reliable count of how many people will hear a show when they make an ad buy, but technology has made it complicated to get a reliable figure.
But there is a silver lining. Some pretty major players like Google, Apple and Nielsen have stepped up to hopefully offer a solution. Nielsen’s SDK has shown some potential in measuring digital audio consumption, but needs to figure out how to measure downloads on iTunes and podcatchers like Stitcher and PocketCasts. They would also need a way to measure downloads on embeddable web players, so there’s still much work to do there.
Apple filed for a patent on “technologies for inserting dynamic content into podcast episodes” earlier this year, so they’re obviously working on something. And, Google recently announced they will be embracing podcasting by incorporating podcasts into its Play Music app.
For the time being, I would have to agree that podcasting is currently like the Wild West. It’s a brand new frontier, filled with tons of opportunity. People are headed out West (i.e., to podcasts) in droves. My prediction is that once the analytics technology catches up and we’re able to provide hosts and advertisers with reliable audience metrics, the cost of entry will be too high and you’ll be too late to the game.
It’ll happen. I recommend you jump on the wagon now, before technology catches up and it gets too saturated.