Why Better Podcast Metrics Matter

At last week’s RAIN streaming audio and podcasting advertising summit in New York, Spotify and other streaming audio suppliers boasted of mining endless torrents of data with “mood booster” playlists and addressable moments for advertisers. 

It is a level of consumer understanding way beyond anything a legacy broadcaster has ever seen.  They know who is listening, what is being listened to, when it is being heard  and can profile personal habits to enable "precision" targeting of ads to runners who are running and background energy music for people in the workplace

At the Summit, I moderated a session on podcast metrics.  On that panel, there was little discussion of rich data to profile listeners and fine-tune content.  There was a certain resignation to the paucity of data from Apple, which is the platform from which most podcasts are consumed. With limited download information, there is no reliable means to even prove a podcast was heard, never mind any of the great analytics of the audio streamers. 

The panelists, Lex Freidman from Midroll and Mark McCrery of Podtrac are smart, knowledgeable and optimistic.  Indeed, the business of podcasting is growing even with Apple providing minimal data to creators and aggregators.

Some legacy podcasters fear change to the current system as it will likely reveal small audiences for many shows.  Regardless, public radio and the IAB have made great strides to establish standards, yet rich measurement remains elusive. 

That was last week.

Fast forward to this week where I attended the Borrell Local Media conference in New York. It is a large gathering where legacy media, including newspapers, TV and a few radio broadcasters combine uneasily with various data suppliers and digital firms to bang around terms like omni-platform and customer profiling. 

A few years ago, the conference was dominated by talk about whether to develop a digital sales staff.  That seems quaint. Now the conversation centers on the need to unify buys and draw traffic across websites, apps, Facebook and other platforms. 

Companies like Facebook and Google are collecting big data and have rapidly ascended to domination of the local digital ad market to the chagrin of local media companies. More buys are going digital and so the legacy companies must rapidly develop new solutions and integrate terms like platform-messaging instead of “we’ll run your ad at 8pm in Grey’s anatomy.”   

Facebook was on hand. Watching them is both remarkable and intimidating.  They know so much about their 210 million mobile users and have quickly become the Goliath of the growing local ad spend. 20% of all smartphone time is spent on their apps.  

Who will keep track and measure across platforms and devices?  Nielsen is feverishly responding with “total audience” metrics being rolled out now.  Others will certainly pursue.  

Which leads me all the way back to podcasting.

Nielsen does not yet measure podcast listening (nor does anyone else).  That’s a big issue. 
In a local, and national eco-system relentlessly focused on cross-platform metrics, can podcasting remain an outlier and still grow and capture the escalating shift to mobile phones which are quickly becoming audio entertainment hubs? 

As with all media, sales dollars chase rating points and traffic.  Podcast measurement will need to become more robust to attract the big bucks and to learn more about their listener's desires and habits.  

Or maybe the metric thing is overblown and all of this is really a lot simpler.  As Lex Friedman said on the panel, “if they would just start measuring ears, we would instantly double our audience.”