Podcasts have become an important medium to consume content, but effective monetization is a challenge. The industry has been stuck in a bygone era, due to misaligned incentives, the distributed nature of podcasts, and most importantly, a lack of standards for data and metrics.
Even with millions of listeners and hundreds of millions of ad dollars being spent every year, understanding listener behavior today is nearly impossible. Podcast publishers have no way of knowing whether people are finishing an episode, listening to specific ads or skipping over content. Even basic information about listener demographics is almost nonexistent.
As a result, listeners are stuck hearing the same mattress company, meal delivery service, or website host over and over. Major advertisers simply won’t play in a space where they can’t quantify their ad spend to the same granular level they can with other modern ad mediums. This creates major barriers for the long-term growth of the podcast medium.
Like TV advertising in the 1950s, display ads in the 1990s and radio before Sirius XM, podcasts needs to evolve to thrive. Television, radio, and even banner ads started with inefficient methods of advertising — like product placement —because standardization didn’t yet exist for those mediums.
Over time, advertisers demanded more data to justify larger ad spends, leading to increased advertising and measurement capabilities and exponential growth.
One of the most outdated practices in podcasting is equating downloads with active listeners. It’s similar to correlating newsletter subscribers to readers or visits to clicks. People often subscribe to newsletters, but don’t end up reading them, or they’ll visit a website but don’t click on the content. The same is true for podcasts.
Creators, publishers, and advertisers know this, but still use the metric to determine reach. Today, there is no way to reliably quantify listenership or distinguish things like automatic downloads from active downloads. Ask two different publishers for their listener data — you’ll get wildly different methods of counting, formats of data and overall listenership numbers.
Marketers used to the basic data measurement standards set by industry leaders, understand this. According to an IAB and PwC study, podcast annual ad revenue totaled only $678.7 million of spend in 2019 for the entire ecosystem, despite a huge listener base: 90 million monthly podcast listeners in the U.S. alone.
Confidence through Clarity
What’s the solution? Standardization across all measurement, data and metrics. This will give the industry the ability to measure true engagement and allow advertisers of all budgets and goals to participate in the podcast marketplace with confidence.
Podcasts can evolve into a mature end-to-end ecosystem, but it will take a concentrated effort. To do so, the industry should:
Measuring true attention, engagement and retention in podcasting will help ensure ad dollars are being effectively allocated and the medium grows to its full potential. If you can prove your podcast ads repeatedly drive business, that’s good news for consumers, publishers, advertisers and the entire podcast ecosystem.