We have a podcast “two-fer” today. First are the latest rankings of podcast publishers, followed by analysis by Gabe Bullard, Senior Producer of WAMU’s program 1A. Bullard asks whether the increased availability of listener usage data will cause some podcast producers to craft their content for higher ratings, not quality.
THE "FOOTPRINTS" OF A HIT PODCAST
On the left is the most recent Podtrac Industry Audience Rankings. Podtrac provides monthly estimates of the audience reached by major podcast publishers. We have been sharing Podtrac’s data for about a year. Podtrac seems to present the most accurate snapshot of actual podcast market penetration available in the general public.
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The chart on the left compares the estimated size of the Unique Monthly Audience in the US for May and June 2017. Month to month, the information for most of the producers is about the same.
NPR is the nation’s leading podcast publisher. WNYC, PRX/Radiotopia and American Public media are steady performers.
Big commercial operators like ESPN, The New York Times and CBS have a growing presence. Rising commercial company Wondery [link] is one of several companies that are trying to bring public radio sensibilities to commercial podcast.
Wondery is the home of Mark Ramsey’s podcast Inside Psycho which we featured last March [link].
Now let’s look at a publisher with dramatic recent changes. The This American Life cluster includes Serial and S-Town. While a 22% decline in Unique Audience from May to June looks awful, put it in a larger context.
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The chart on the right shows Podtrac’s estimated Unique Audience for the This American Life cluster since the beginning of 2017.
In March and April they received the S-Town Bump. S-Town was released in late March and, obviously, people responded in droves.
This is what a podcast hit looks like: A change in behavior by roughly 3 million people.
IS PODCASTING ABOUT TO BECOME MORE LIKE RADIO?
|Gabe Bullard (pic by Linda Golden)|
That is the question Gabe Bullard discusses in his A+ essay published last week by Nieman Lab [link].
Bullard tells the story of how radio broadcast ratings services evolved from the Diary system used by Arbitron to the PPM system now used in the top 48 markets by Nielsen Audio.
Bullard seems to like the Diary method because it better demonstrates the respondent's intent.
Bullard asks whether the evolution in technology has caused a devolution in quality of content. And, will the same thing happen to podcasts in the new age of Apple Analytics and Podtrac.
Gabe Bullard [link] knows his stuff and has a clear writing style. He includes quotes from folks I know and trust such as Fred Jacobs, Tamar Charney, Mark Ramsey and Corey Lewis.
I will include a few short excerpts from Bullard’s story and add a few of my own thoughts.
GABE BULLARD: Then, starting ten years ago, Arbitron changed its methods. Instead of diaries, sample listeners in the largest radio markets were sent Portable People Meters (PPMs) — pager-sized devices that picked up inaudible frequencies in radio broadcasts and kept a log of everything a person listened to throughout the day.
KEN MILLS: PPM doesn’t measure what people want to listen to, rather it measures what people hear. (At least what the PPM meter hears.)
BULLARD: Not everyone will be responsible with the [new podcast analytics], though. The more apt comparison to what’s about to happen with podcasting could end up being like what happened with the browser-based web when tools like Google Analytics and Chartbeat came along, or when Facebook became the primary source of traffic. Some people used the knowledge of visitors’ habits to make their writing more compelling and their sites more user-friendly. Others gamed their headlines, led their stories with slideshows and autoplay videos, and moved more ads above the fold.
Maybe some podcasters will find out listeners drop off after 10 minutes and cram all their ads into the beginning of the show. Or maybe new producers will come in and game the system some other way. It’s not clear what a clickbait podcast might sound like, but if there’s money to be had in making it, we’ll probably find out soon.
MILLS: This is where public radio’s “halo effect” may be helpful. Public radio listeners support programming and stations because, as Bill Siemerring said, they can trust that the water is pure to drink. Podcasters must uphold this advantage.
BULLARD: The listeners don’t change, they’ll just be measured differently.
MILLS: Keep in mind that ratings and ranking mean different things to public media than commercial media. Commercial companies are looking for bulk audience delivery. Public media counts its listeners and visitors one by one. The intent is the difference.