Podcasting has become a major topic of conversation at Jacobs Media since Seth Resler joined the company more than two years ago. And a big story about podcasting that broke late last week is a great reason for Seth – our resident Digital Dot Connector – to bring you up-to-speed with what's new out at Apple and how it might impact radio. – FJ
Arguably, one of the biggest things holding the monetization of podcasts back has been the lack of usable metrics. Podcasters know how many downloads their episodes generate, but beyond that, data has been sparse. Do consumers actually listen to the podcasts they download or subscribe to? All the way through? When do they tune out? And why? No one really has the answers, leading to ongoing industry arguments and debates.
At the root of the problem has been Apple's lack of transparency.
In 2016, Apple served up over 10 billion podcast episode downloads and streaming plays across its platforms (iOS, macOS, and tvOS). That's up from 8 billion the year before, and they're on track for 20% growth in 2017. Apple is responsible for the vast majority of podcast downloads — so much so that Rob Walch, VP of Podcaster Relations at Libsyn is fond of saying, “If your podcast is not in Apple Podcasts, you're not podcasting.”
As a result, Apple has tons of data on podcasts; but it has not made that data available to podcasters. It's hard to calculate how much this lack of user metrics has hurt podcasting's ability to monetize. While there are some sponsors that have supported the medium based on a podcast's host-provided download numbers alone, and others that have used direct response ads to get around the lack of metrics, it's likely that the lack of actionable metrics has cost the medium significant revenue.
2017 Worldwide Development Conference
Last week, Apple hosted its annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose. On Friday, it hosted a session that focused exclusively on new OS11 features for podcast fans and publishers. As someone who has created podcasts for years, and now consults Jacobs Media's clients on podcast strategies, this session was a big deal.
What did Apple announce?
For podcast listeners, they gave their native Podcasts app a cosmetic overhaul, but no major new features. If you have an iPhone or an iPad, the Podcasts app that came pre-installed on your device features some new tabs.
For podcasters, Apple introduced new specs to allow content creators to have more control over how their podcast is displayed in the app. For example, podcasters can now indicate whether a particular upload is a teaser, a full episode, or bonus content.
Apple also embraced the distinction between podcasts that are produced in seasons and should be consumed in chronological order (such as Serial or S-Town, which are hard to get into mid-season, much like Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead), versus episodic podcasts where listeners are more likely to want the most recent episode (think of WTF or The Weeds, which are like The Tonight Show). Podcasters can now group episodes together in seasons and choose the order in which their episodes are displayed in the app.
Apple is introducing a handful of other new tags, such as episode summary, as well.
But here's where it gets really interesting…
Introducing Podcast Analytics
Perhaps the most exciting announcement is that Apple will now allow podcasters to see data about their shows using Podcast Analytics. Until now, Apple has been a black box when it comes to podcast data. Podcasters could only see the number of times an episode was downloaded through the hosting company where their audio files reside, but they couldn't determine if that audio files was played — and if it was, how much of it was actually played.
To give you that information, the podcast hosting company would need to receive data back from the app that the podcast was played on. Because Apple's ecosystem is far and away the source of most podcast plays, there has been no way for podcasters to measure their “Time Spent Listening.” As I noted, the only metric available has been “downloads.”
(One podcast hosting company, Omny Studio, claims to have figured out a way to extrapolate TSL data.)
Some people believe the lack of a TSL equivalent in the world of podcasting has discouraged potential advertisers. After all, if my midroll ad doesn't play until 30 minutes into a 60-minute episode, how can I be sure that people who downloaded the episode actually heard it? For this reason, Apple's new Podcast Analytics should help podcasters attract new advertisers, while retaining existing ones.
So far, we've only seen a sneak peek of Podcast Analytics, but James Boggs, Business Manager for Apple's Podcasts Team, says podcasters will be able to see “how much of your episodes are played and when, …compare the performance of your episodes and podcasts over time, and see which part of your episodes are more interesting than others. Are people skipping over your extended music intro or your second midroll?”
Podcast analytics will launch “later this year.” The move isn't surprising. Several players in the podcasting space had told me they expected Apple to do this soon, partly in response to pressure from other companies (including some in the radio industry) that hope to give Apple's Podcasts app a run for its money by offering podcasters more data, and thereby giving them a reason to promote alternative podcatchers. By offering these analytics now, Apple may hope to head this competition off at the pass.
At last year's Podcast Movement conference, a panelist pointed out the problem with podcast metrics isn't that they are less accurate than radio's ratings; it's simply that advertisers and broadcasters have all agreed we can collectively live with the shortcomings of radio's ratings system, while we don't have a similar consensus in the podcasting space yet. To that end, Apple's new Podcast Analytics could go a long way towards encouraging advertisers to get on board, opening up new revenue opportunities.
We will most certainly be discussing this metrics breakthrough with our clients, as well as at the Podcast Movement conference in August. Speaking of which…
Podcast Movement 2017: A Track for Radio Broadcasters
Jacobs Media is teaming up with the organizers of Podcast Movement, the largest podcasting conference in North America, to create a full day of sessions exclusively for radio broadcasters. Whether you're a radio programmer, on-air talent, or part of your station's digital team, you should join us for “Broadcasters Meet Podcasters” at Podcast Movement in Anaheim on August 23-24-25.