Last Friday we featured Podtrac’s PODCAST PUBLISHERS AUDIENCE RANKINGS, one of two monthly charts of top podcasts provided by the company. In that post we talked about Podtrac’s goal of becoming the go-to provider for podcast metrics, something the industry needs. Podtrac founder and CEO Mark Mccrey replied to our questions but his response left some SPARK! readers wondered about the veracity of the Podtrac data.
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We heard from several producers and a couple of distributors who were surprised when Mccrey told us that counts can change up or down by 20% from month to month.
“That's a helluva margin of error!” one observer said.
(The January 2017 Podtrac top 20 podcasts, ranked by US Unique Monthly Audience, is on the right.)
It turns out we aren’t the only observer to bring up questions about Podtrac’s data.
For instance the top podcast chart contains no metrics. It is just a list of podcasts without any stats to back it up.
Podtrac doesn’t provide any proof about how the Unique Monthly Audience sizes compare with each other.
We repeatedly asked for more information from Mccery but he never responded to our questions.
The specific criticism of Podtrac seems to be in three key areas:
1.) Podtrac’s lack of transparency;
2.) The fact that Podtrac red lines podcasts and publishers who don’t subscribe to Podtrac rankings, and,
3.) Questions about Podtrac’s methodology, particularly their sample sizes.
One observer told me: “Podtrac’s rankings are specious at best. Their charts look good but they are filled with aspirational notions, not factual data.”
So, are any of the other top podcast charts that are more reliable?
To get the lay of the land we compared the most recent Podtrac Top 10 with the most recent rankings by iTunes, Stitcher and Podcast One. To say there is a lot of variation from company to company is an understatement.
None of the four chart publishers reveal their actual numbers to explain why podcast #1 has a larger audience than podcast #2. Each company uses its own proprietary analytics and qualification criteria.
No single podcast appears on all four of the lists. This American Life, Radiolab, Freakonomics Radio and The Joe Rogan Experience appear on three of the four Top 10 charts. Beyond these programs there is very little consensus about which podcasts truly are in the Top 10. I guess you can say that measuring podcast audiences is still in development. For now, buyer beware.