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Podcast Metrics: The Latest Guidelines for Measuring Advertising and Show Success

Audio content is continuing to flourish and podcasts are leading the charge for the medium in a revolutionary way.

According to Edison Research, monthly podcast listeners were projected to grow from 21 to 24 percent from 2016 to 2017. With highly engaged and growing audiences, podcasts are an enticing opportunity for brands to reach customers. However, there’s been one major limitation that’s made brand marketers cautious when it comes to investing in podcasts.


Though podcasting is a channel that’s existed even before the advent of the smartphone, there still is very little information collected that paints a clear picture for marketers regarding its value. However over the last few years, this has started to change. Trade organizations like the Interactive Advertising Bureau are spearheading the evolution.

At the end of last year, the IAB provided an update to its guidelines for podcast metrics. It’s the first major update to the document since the initial version was published in 2016.

To improve its recommended standards of analysis, the IAB made the first version available for public comment last summer and received feedback from a variety of members from its Tech Lab coalition. Condé Nast, Nielsen, and NPR are just some of the companies that offered insights for how the guidelines could improve.

The second version of guidelines focused on optimizing definitions for content metrics and offering a recommended process on refining metric accuracy and correctness.

What are performance metrics that marketers should track?

The four key performance indicators the IAB recommends advertisers as well as podcast publishers to measure are the following:

Downloads: A download is defined as a fully transferred podcast file. Partial files also count as downloads as long as they contain at least one minute of content.

Listeners: A listener is constituted as a single user who downloads a show. They are determined by a combined analysis of IP address and user agent data requests.

Ad Delivered: A successful ad delivery is defined by whether the entire podcast file was transferred or if the portion of content featuring the ad was downloaded. When ads are dynamically inserted into a podcast, 100 percent of the advertising content must be downloaded.

Client-Confirmed Ad Play: If the show is listened to on a client player that’s capable of tracking true-streaming data (think Spotify), then this metric can be measured. Client-side players however, currently represent just a minority of the podcast consumption market so measurement of this metric is still fairly limited.

The IAB’s Recommended Process for Tracking Metrics

While technology around podcast consumption continues to evolve, the IAB encourages podcast publishers and distributors to select the best options for analyzing data according to their circumstances. The following steps are the IAB’s best practices for tracking podcast data:

Apply filter logic: This includes ensuring that data doesn’t track preloaded and bogus requests as well as potential bots. The IAB also recommends guidelines on what kinds of download requests should be counted.

Identify and aggregate uniques: This is important for getting an accurate number of downloads for an episode as well as determining audience size.

Generate Metrics: These are described in the previous section above.

Audit the process: Examining and re-evaluating if the quality of metrics being tracked has at all diminished.

Why podcast metrics have thus far been limited

Unlike social media or streaming video, podcasts are consumed in a downloaded format. And relative to other internet media, podcasts are served on a completely different internet protocol that doesn’t track real-time engagement or interaction. Therefore, whether podcasts are listened to live or downloaded for later consumption, they’re logged the same way. This limits the capability for both digital marketers and podcasters to measure content success and ad delivery.

There are solutions to this issue being developed, however. Apple recently launched an analytics platform for podcast publishers and creators. Podcasts may also soon shift to true-streaming distribution as platforms like Spotify begin adding them to their content library.

What does the future hold for podcasting?

As data analysis improves, so should brand investment into the entire podcast industry. Podcast advertising dollars were forecasted to reach $220 million in 2017 according to the IAB. That projection is an 85 percent increase from the $119 million recorded in 2016.

There’s a growing incentive for brands to sponsor shows as podcast listenership has also steadily been on the rise. In the last 10 years, monthly podcasting listening has grown more than double, from nine percent in 2008 to 21 percent in 2016, according to data from Edison Research.

As technology surrounding audio content continues to evolve, the reach of podcasts should likely grow alongside them. That’s reasonable incentive for brands to dive into the world of podcast sponsorship.

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