In many ways podcasting remains the scrappy startup media format that’s attracted creative types and early adopters for more than a decade. But with larger companies now operating in the space, and towing along some of the best-known brands in America with them, a frequent theme at this week’s RAIN Podcast Business Summit was the growing need to button-up some of the measurement metrics that hundreds of millions of dollars of ad buys are being bought and sold on.
A number of podcasters have looked at NPR’s Remote Audio Data or RAD listening measurement tool as one way to potentially solve some of the measurement questions that the industry faces. RAD is able to place tags inside a podcast, allowing podcasters to mark certain points within an audio file such as specific time markers, interview spots, sponsorships or advertising messages. A mobile app is configured to read the RAD tags and when listeners hit those locations in the file, they bundle and send anonymized information to that analytics URL. The publisher can then use that data, from all devices, to get holistic listening statistics that it can share with advertisers.
Joel Sucherman, VP of new platform partnerships at NPR, said privacy concerns are overblown since RAD collects no more personal information than just the act of downloading a podcast such as an IP address or what device the show is listened to on. “We do not track personal behavior,” he said, insisting it follows all international laws related to online privacy.
Thanks to its open source release, more than a dozen companies have so far committed to implementing RAD in 2019 and the list continues to grow. Sharon Taylor, CEO at Omny Studio which counts such broadcast companies as Entercom and Cumulus Media among its U.S. clients, announced her company would also embrace RAD. “Our clients want it, so we serve at the pleasure of our clients,” Taylor said.
NPR is said to have had conversations with Apple about RAD, but so far the tech giant – where 60% of all podcast listening originates – hasn’t embraced the software. Sucherman doesn’t think it’s an all-or-nothing proposition for RAD. “If we can get 50% of listening coming from apps that have adopted RAD it will be wildly successful and benefit the industry,” he said, adding, “From there, the dominoes fall.”
The Need For Improved Metrics
Technology may be only part of the industry’s solution when it comes to making podcasting more advertiser-friendly. There’s also no resolution to the ongoing debate over whether offering clients download data is sufficient or whether a measure of unique listeners is a better way to judge an ad buy. “We have all built a significant business on the backs of downloads,” Sucherman said. But he conceded that when NPR released its NPR One app five years ago it allowed the broadcaster to get second-by-second analytics that showed what was actually happening. That data was used to not only attract advertisers, but also help NPR develop content.
Kerri Hoffman, CEO of PRX/PRI, said there are a lot more data points than just downloads to consider such as how much in donations a show brings in, whether live events are sold-out, and the volume of listener emails they receive. “Downloads are the foundational information but we need to build up from that,” Hoffman said. She predicted within three to five years podcasters may look at podcast listening more in terms of short listening sessions rather than full-show downloads. “The industry won’t mature without some standardization of metrics, that’s a given. Buyers need to know what they’re getting,” Hoffman said. “Standardization needs to be there as a confidence booster,” she said.
In reality, there is actually a lot of data in podcasting, mostly coming from publishers, said Conal Byrne, president of the iHeartPodcast Network. But as the medium grows and there’s a great emphasis on blue chip marketers, he agrees it’s likely to put increased pressure on ad sellers. “We grew up as a medium that didn’t have a lot of data. That’s why the medium grew up direct results-driven because DR brands don’t really need data, they just need performance. They need their campaign to work,” Byrne said. “But the industry needs a little more data and more detailed data because I think that’s when you get big brands truly comfortable.”
NPR president Jarl Mohn also thinks that as podcasting’s client list expands beyond DR and the core list of marketers who embraced the business during the past several years, there will be more of a focus on the sort of data that corporate teams have come to expect from media vendors. “More money means more competition and that means we all need to do our jobs better,” he said. “Measurement is one area that matters to a lot of brand advertisers. If you’re a DR advertiser you are doing your own measurement—it works for you or it doesn’t—but for the major brands, it really matters.”
The Interactive Advertising Bureau projects podcast revenue will reach $659 million by 2020 and Mohn thinks it’s only a matter of time before it tops one segment of the broadcast radio business. “In the next five years I think the entire sector will be as big as network radio,” he predicted. “The reason for it is the people who are using it early as a medium are getting results. So if you haven’t waded into the pool yet, you should.”