Podcasting Metrics: Complete Downloads & More

Post ImagePodcasting consultant Jason Van Orden has been writing an interesting series of blog posts on podcasting metrics. In part 4 of the series, Jason tackles the issue of measuring complete downloads, and says that he doesn’t think measuring complete downloads is “absolutely necessary” and that something “more sophisticated and qualitative” is needed in addition to download numbers.

From part 4b of the series:

Scott Bourne and Tim Bourquin provided interesting and relevant responses. They both emphasize that podcasters have a responsibility not to let advertisers hold podcasting to a higher standard than other media (i.e. magazines and newspaper) that can’t measure complete content/ad consumption.

I have to respectfully disagree.

The way that magazines, television, radio, and other media sell advertising is flawed. Everything is based on assumptions (circulation numbers in the case of magazines, random sampling in the case of TV and radio). Don’t think for a second that advertisers are happy about this system – I’m sure they’d love to know exactly how many people watched or heard or read their advertisement. Why do you think everyone loves AdSense? Cold, hard numbers. The problem with magazines, TV, and radio is that the technology to accomplish this is prohibitively complex and expensive.

Podcasting doesn’t suffer from this problem. Measuring exactly how many people have downloaded an episode is relatively straightforward and inexpensive, and while not 100% accurate, it is fairly close. I think the strategy that Scott and Tim suggest would be bad for podcasting. As the saying goes – you’re only as strong as your weakest link. Podcasting needs to be stronger than other media.

A Better Strategy

I think podcasters who wish to generate advertising revenue should provide as much data as possible, even beyond complete downloads if such data is available (more on this in a second). There are a number of reasons for doing so:

  • There would be less waste, as advertisers could spend money only on podcasts that generate views or listens of their ad.
  • More data could also allow advertisers to more appropriately target their ad, making it more effective, enjoyable, and useful.
  • In the long run, advertisers would move more dollars away from media that uses flawed assumptions to media that provides useful data. That is, podcasting’s piece of the advertising pie will grow.
  • The valuation of a particular podcast will be much more realistic.

I am sure some podcasters are bristling at my suggestion. They think that if they have to provide actual numbers, they can’t make as much as if they sold ads based on assumptions like the other media do. This idea is wrong too. Providing more data will allow advertisers to spend targeted dollars. Unlike general advertisements, an advertiser will pay much more for the ability to target an ad. The podcaster may actually end up making more money!

Podcasting’s enemy (if we need to have one) is not the advertisers as Scott and Tim suggest, it’s the other media. Give the advertisers what they want, and podcasting will prevail.

Beyond Complete Downloads

I think complete downloads are quite important. We are putting the finishing touches on a big update to Podcast Spot, and one of the new features we have added is complete downloads. We parse the request logs for you automatically, so you’ll see the number of complete downloads for each episode, usually within two hours of the download. Right now these numbers are best effort, meaning that we aren’t yet at 100% accuracy. We’ll continue to work on it though.

As I mentioned above, podcasters should strive to provide as much data as possible to advertisers. There are the obvious things like complete downloads, page views, geolocation stats, demographics, etc. There are also the less obvious things. What if you could determine if someone actually listened to or watched your entire episode, or if they skipped parts of the episode? That kind of information would be extremely valuable.

These are the types of metrics that podcasters should strive to measure. Podcasters don’t have a responsibility to hold podcasting to the low standards of other media, they have a responsibility to set the bar higher and higher.

7 thoughts on “Podcasting Metrics: Complete Downloads & More

  1. Maq,

    Excellent post. You make great points.

    Let me clarify my view on a few things:

    *I don’t think podcasters should strive for mediocrity.

    *I’m always for more targeted marketing and the metrics that allow for that. As you quoted, I want podcasters to have more sophisticated and metrics to accompany the downloads stats.

    *I agree that podcasters should provide as much data as possible to advertisers.

    *There are numerous benefits that podcasting provides that should be emphasized, quantified and qualified for advertisers.

    *I would love for all podcasters to have as many metrics as possible including how many people actually listened to the content.

    However, not everyone has access to complete download stats. Further, right now there is no practical technology in place for tracking listens.

    Everyone talks about this fear that advertisers have of podcasting because of the lack of metrics. Well, they are already as good as (and better in some cases) than other media…as you have pointed out.

    Podcasters shouldn’t let that hold them back (nor should advertisers). Even with only a count of unique downloads, you can give an advertiser an "order of magnitude" figure for your audience. I don’t want to hide anything from anyone, I just don’t want anyone to hold out unnecessarily.

    If an advertiser is only paying you for complete downloads, they’re getting some of your listeners for free. Some of those partials are also people who heard and engaged with the content. If the ad is post-roll, that’s a different story.

    Give advertisers both sets of downloads stats. But don’t let them undervalue what you have to offer. What is even more important than the listens or downloads is measuring response/results that are generated. We’ll get better as an industry at communicating this as time goes on.

    I’m glad you brought this up. It really did need to be clarified. I’ll be sure to post something on my blog as well.

    I’m excited to see how your new complete download features works out.

    Jason Van Orden

  2. Thanks for the comment Jason, excellent points. I agree with you: don’t let advertisers undervalue what you have to offer! I guess what I was saying in this post is that one of the best ways to do that is to provide all the data you have.

    You also made a really important point – not everyone has access to complete download statistics, and that’s a shame. Hopefully more hosting providers and application developers will catch on.

    Looking forward to the rest of Podcasting Metrics series!

  3. Hi Mack,

    Thanks for the thoughtful post. I think you misinterpreted what I said, though I can see how it might be taken the way you mention.

    I’m not saying that, "hey the other guys can’t prove anything either so we should be able to provide the same bogus stats." Not at all. I’ve always said that podcasts are actually MORE trackable than other media. As podcasters we can tell advertisers more about who downloaded and how many times than almost every other media.

    Although I am seeing it start to change, some advertisers have said they won’t start a podcast or advertise on one because we can’t tell them if someone actually heard the ad. Yet they will happily sign a 12 month magazine ad buy without asking the publisher if they know if their readers will read their ad. And it’s not their fault – it’s ours – because if we want those dollars it’s up to us to educate our customers and the public about what podcasts truly can provide in terms of ROI.


  4. Tim, thanks for the comment. You might be right, I may have read your comments the wrong way. Fundamentally I think we agree – podcasters need to work hard to win the advertising dollars and prove just what podcasting can do.

  5. I think Mack is correct in saying that podcasters have to provide the best quantitative data that they can. Also, I agree that podcasters have immediate access (generally) to better data than other media. Jason brings to light some problems that are real problems that I think everyone is trying to addrees now (i.e., listens and complete downloads).

    I think there’s a more important point to consider in this discussion that I’m not seeing here. Podcasters can’t rely solely on numbers to attract advertisers. While there are a few general interest podcasts that draw (relatively) big numbers, the strength of podcasting is in attracting laser-targeted niche markets of common interest.

    By relying strictly on numbers, you’re just playing the CPM game, which frankly, at least at this point, podcasters can’t compete with the other forms of mass media. Advertising buyers have a big budget to spend and a larget target to hit. Is their time (and client’s money) better spent with an ad buy on Entertainment Tonight or on thousands of podcasts that they have to separately negotiate with?

    Generally speaking, the true value of podcasting is not in playing the CPM game. It’s in reaching a targeted audience of interest. It’s in saying to an electronics manufacturer, "My 10,000 listeners who are interested in high definition TVs and home theater equipment ARE your target market. Each impression is worth MORE than on the Entertainment Tonight buy, a percentage of whom are men, a percentage of whom are in a certain age range, a percentage of whom have a certain level of disposable income, a pecentage of whom have a big empty room in their homes, a percentage of whom are interested in building a home theater."

    Now you’ve truly stepped outside of the CPM model. Numbers still count — nobody’s going to buy a show with 9 listeners, but your relationship with your targeted audience, as a podcaster, becomes your biggest asset.

    Getting this kind of qualitative data — that shows in hard numbers the connection between advertising to a niche podcast audience and the translation of that into sales or brand awareness or whatever the advertiser is focusing the campaign on — is the hard part that I think the whole industry needs to be focusing on.

    To that end, there is a group that I’m involved with called the Open Metrics Initiative which aims to tackle these exact questions. You can read more about it at http://www.openmetrics.org. Lee Gibbons from Podango, another company involved in this initiative, was interviewed yesterday on http://podcasting.about.com about Open Metrics.

    Sorry if this plug is too blatant, however, Open Metrics is an open consortium of interested parties, this isn’t a commercial venture, and it seems to be relevant to the discussion.

    Dave Kawalec
    Porter Novelli

    *Cross-posting on JasonVanOrden.com

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