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Bad reviews have been a tool, some say even a weapon, in the battle between rival podcasts. In some cases the use of automated bots has been deployed, with the Apple Podcast review system easy to game. The impact may lower a show’s ranking on the Apple rankers, but does it matter to advertisers and ad agency buyers who are spending millions of dollars on the medium? Podcast News Daily caught up with Sean King, Executive VP at the audio ad agency Veritone One, to get his take. An edited transcript follows.


Podcast News Daily: Does it matter toadvertisers if a show has lots of one-star or five-star reviews?

Sean King: It really doesn’t. It’s a nice way to show engagement potentially between a host and its audience if there’s a lot of comments. But at the end of the day all the advertisers really want is a consistent audience and to make sure that the content is contextually relevant to the brand alignment of the advertisers.

PND: But they don’t ignore it either, right?

King: It’s a data point but it’s not a determining factor. It’s akin to looking at Howard Stern during his earlier [broadcast radio] days. The guy had just as many people hate him as loved him. But people kept coming back and as [Stern syndicator] CBS always said, the people who disliked him were engaging just as much in his content as the people who liked him. So we look at these reviews that are being given to podcasts as something that’s great to be aware of, but at the end of the day it’s the contextual assets of the podcast itself and how it aligns with the brand that overrules the comments.

PND: So advertisers don’t even bring it up?

King: It’s come up in conversations at times. It’s up to an agency or the advertiser themselves to do their due diligence. We live in a very polarized society. But if it aligns with the values of your brand, then you should always expect that you are going to have someone who is going to have a disapproving opinion on something one way or another. If a podcast’s audience aligns with a brand and where it wants to be, then that should be the goal.

PND: So advertisers aren’t as skittish as everyone may think they are?

King: If the content itself and what they’re talking about in the content comes across and it does not align with the brand or the host goes on some pretty drastic limbs—and that’s in the content—then absolutely we’ve had brands and will have brands that will continue to say “thank you, but no thank you, I don’t want to be in that content.” The content is king. 

PND: Do download numbers matter more?

King: Downloads are an extremely important number. Of the hundreds of thousands of podcasts out there, a very small percentage of those have extremely meaningful downloads week in and week out. It doesn’t mean the content of those other programs is less valuable, it just may be more niche. But that niche may be very meaningful to your brand.

PND: Beyond reviews, how big an issue is not having all the ad metrics buyers want?

King: Since so much of the industry up to this point has been driven by direct response marketers, they’re bringing their own metrics to the media. Their primary metrics are their customer acquisitions. But now as we’re starting to see more maturity come to podcasts, we’re seeing some bigger brands take value of it. And the industry is going to have to move toward more traditional metrics, digital and linear. The IAB is doing a good job of trying to standardize the definition of a download. But before there can be really achievable scale in this, there’s going to have to be some uniformity into how an advertiser or agency is going to be able to look at this media and how that media is recorded, stacked and measured against all the other media that they’re doing.

PND: How much time do podcasters have for that grace period?

King: Obviously, the sooner the better for the industry. Beyond that, I don’t know because there are still a meaningful percentage of direct response advertisers.

PND: Any advice for podcasters who are dealing with those reviews?

King: Podcasters should continue to focus on making meaningful content. They shouldn’t let anything dissuade them from doing that.