As a medium, podcasts are fundamentally different from today’s social platforms, where the various elements of the chain—from publishing to consumption—is not controlled by a single platform, compared to platforms like YouTube for video or Instagram for social photo sharing. Podcasts’ best corollary is blogging of the early 1990s since creators have the same flexibility to publish on platforms of their choice, while consumers can listen to episodes in the app of their choice, or multiple apps should they choose to—all made possible via the open RSS standard. While this platform independence is what makes the medium so appealing, it also makes data collection and understanding real trends a challenge.

This is another area of interest in 2020, as steps are currently underway to address these concerns. The Interactive Advertising Bureau rolled out the IAB Tech Lab Measurement Compliance Program in December 2017 to establish a common set of advertising metrics for podcasts and a base set of principles that any measurement system should support. However, high certification costs act as a deterrent to large-scale compliance, with 2019 seeing a few podcast hosts such as LibSyn and ART19 joining Blubrry, which was the first host to be certified in 2018.

The independent space has also seen some efforts such as the Open Podcast Analytics Working Group, a community-driven organization aiming to pool resources to create acceptable standards for measurement. In September 2019, the Group launched their first full list of podcast user-agents to help hosts correctly understand what apps and devices are downloading shows, and help determine legitimate download counts while ignoring bots.

The idea was to develop an open source, transparent set of guidelines and a way to test against them, to make sure each platform is implementing this in the same way. I wanted to work with a number of independent hosting providers on a standard for tracking episode downloads and hopefully to make that data portable between providers.”
Mark Steadman
Founder, Podiant
Founding member, Open Podcast Analytics Working Group

There has also been some movement towards creation of aggregation platforms that sit between the apps and providers to collate data better. Podtrac, an independent provider of podcast measurement and analytics, continues to supply statistics and monthly reports across publishers who use its service. Chartable, a podcast measurement company, announced in October 2019 that they are in process to seek IAB certification. Such services could provide a reasonable alternative where providers may be unwilling to seek compliance, which would be useful to local publishers as well.

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