Measuring Downloads in the Age of Streaming

This week the industry has been revisiting that perennial topic: measuring your audience. Inside Radio has a report from a NAB panel:

“The good news for podcasters and buyers is measurement challenges are 97% solved,” Midroll Media CRO Lex Friedman said on a podcast panel at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show last week. “What we can report now is more specific than we could before.”

Nick Quah, in his excellent HotPod newsletter, followed up with Mr Friedman about it:

Today in podcasting, the measurement problem is solved; the remaining 3% is getting everyone standardized. It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while Midroll loses a show to a competitor. When we sell a show at 450,000 downloads, and the next day the same show and same feed is being sold at 700,000 downloads, that’s a problem.

If you’re thinking in terms of downloads, this is good news. If you’re thinking in terms of downloads. Keep that in mind as I look at another report from NAB, this time from RAINNews:

Spotify is now a firm #2 in terms of podcast downloads on the Libsyn platform which includes some 44,000 podcasts (though not all on Spotify).

Ah, here is the rub: Google Play Music, Pandora, Spotify and all other streaming services don’t have the concept of a download. A user either started playing an episode, listened to some of an episode, or listened to all of an episode. Even if the download measurement is “97% fixed”, it sure feels like the industry is moving to streams. Which raises the question: how do you reconcile a download with a stream?

This reminds me of the state of album charts in mid 2010’s: the entire music industry was counting the number of album sales (and of course you never knew if the purchaser ever listened to it!), then streaming came along and the industry tried to figure out how to reconcile streams with purchases. Billboard came up with Album-Equivalent Units where 1500 streams would equal one album sale. The IAB Podcast Measurement Guidelines are currently the closest thing we have to an agreement on what a download is, but they are vague on how to measure a ‘listen’ on a streaming service. So let’s say a user listens to 60 seconds or more of a podcast to count as a ‘stream’.

How many podcast episode downloads equal a stream (i.e. an actual listen)? I’ve heard estimates in the region of 20-40% of downloads are actually listened to. So five downloads equals 2 streams?

All of this talk of downloads and streams is just a proxy for being able to guess how many people heard an advertisement. What ad agencies really want is to be able to tell their clients how many times an ad was heard, not how many times an episode was downloaded. The stream is a far more accurate metric but it is certainly going to be lower than the download number - which, I get it, is a blow to the ego and potentially a problem when trying to sell to advertisers who have been used to a certain download number.

The one thing to remember though, is that no matter how you measure your audience, it doesn’t actually change reality. The same number of people are listening and enjoying your episodes whether you count them once or five times.

Anchor Can Now Find You a Cohost. But Why?

Late last week Anchor launched a new feature: Cohosts, which will match you with another Anchor user who wants to talk about the same topic as you.

My first reaction was… “WAT?” I couldn’t make sense of this feature and why Anchor would dedicate the considerable time and effort into building out a feature like this. Who would want, what was amusingly described to me as, “speed dating for cohosts?” Was there really a demand for this? Is this a problem that people are having?

After a few days of reflection maybe I’m perhaps coming around on the idea and I reminded myself that Chatroulette was huge in 2010. Let’s dig in!

As someone who spends hours making a 30 minute podcast each week, I really care about quality. And I struggle to understand the idea of putting out a conversation with a stranger that I’ve recorded on my iPhone. (Of course, Chris Gethard already does a podcast with that exact premise: Beautiful/Anonymous). What really got me thinking was when someone pointed out that Anchor are not going after quality content. They want any content. Which is obvious in hindsight; they aren’t focusing on the likes of us who already spend hours on making an episode, they want users who don’t know if they even want a podcast. Anchor’s aim is to build a User-Generated Content platform for all podcast content, a Reddit for audio. They don’t necessarily care about quality content, they want to empower anyone to start creating. Maybe this is the angle that Anchor is going for: a highly produced podcast about something I don’t care about is less interesting to me than a phone call between two people talking about something that I really care about.

But why does a cohost matching feature make any sense? And note that they are matching users to existing Anchor users. So this isn’t a feature that is directly driving growth. It must be something else… an engagement play? Can we drive users to create more engaging content? Or drive up consumption time? My uneducated guess: they looked at their stats and saw that the vast majority of episodes are made using a single host; users essentially recording a monologue which I suspect don’t perform that well. So they want to increase engagement and listen-time of their existing users. And having someone to talk to is a quick way to make better content.

Of course I’m probably over-analyzing this and it was just a cool thing that someone hacked together and they decided to ship.

While we’re on the subject of Anchor, a little note on their monetization plans, or lack thereof, from their CEO’s recent AMA:

Regarding monetizing the Anchor platform itself, that’s not something we’re working on at this point. As you called out there are several potential models for a company like Anchor and that could be something we look into in the future, but right now it’s really important to us that Anchor is 100% free. We’re supported by great investors, so right now we have the ability to put our efforts into just making the best product we can.

Entale Brings Its 'Enhanced Podcasts' to iOS

Entale is another (see The Guardian and Spotify) company aiming to develop a new format for podcasts. You might recall that late in 2017, GQ and Universal Music in the UK tried out some enhanced audio podcasts? Well that was powered by Entale’s publishing platform.

Now they have their own iOS app which adds synced chapter visuals and links during playback.

I tried it out and Entale feels like the most polished version of this concept that I’ve seen. It has slick chapter navigation and allows you to scroll past the current keyframe to see what other photos and links are coming up. Inevitably it works much better for factual shows rather than the more loose roundtable conversation-type podcasts. Slate’s recent Slow Burn, for example, becomes more powerful by having photos of the people in each episode (also nice that Entale has mobile and web versions).

However, my previous questions from my earlier post, Does Podcast Need a New Format?, still remain (along with a couple more specifically for Entale):

  • While The Guardian and Spotify have large existing audiences, building a new social network is hard and asking people to a) download a new app and b) move their consumption away from their existing podcast app is a difficult ask for Entale
  • There is the chicken and the egg problem: are publishers going to spend effort to make these enhanced episodes when there is a small audience, but then the audience won’t grow without the publisher’s content
  • Podcasting is a joy because it fits around you when you are doing other things. “Podcasts: for when your eyes are busy” as one of the McElroys declared on a recent episode of My Brother, My Brother and Me. How can you convince your listener to reach into their pocket and look at their phone?
  • And on that note, is it worth the effort of building a new platform and social network just for the listener to reach for their phone to occasionally look at an image? What is the business model here? (My guess: bring display ads to podcasting)
  • At what point does ‘enhanced audio’ become a video? And now you’re competing with YouTube and Netflix which doesn’t seem like a place you want to be.

Blubrry Announces Music Licensing, but Does It Offer Anything New?

Blubrry got some coverage yesterday for its announcement that it was parternering with SourceAudio to offer music licensing to podcasters. Anna Washenko writing for RAIN News:

Podcasting company and RawVoice subsidiary Blubrry announced a deal with SourceAudio, a B2B music licensing specialist, that will allow podcasters to use music in their shows. Blubrry’s customers will have access to the library of licensed music for their podcasts at a discount.

Of course the big caveat here is that you can’t license any music. So if you had dreams of opening each episode with that Beyoncé track then you are going to be disappointed.

Positioning this ‘music licensing for podcasts’ is a smart piece of marketing from Blubrry, yet this doesn’t appear to offer anything more than any other music library (such as Audioblocks or AudioJungle). Digging deeper, this is SourceAudio’s business model; white-labeling library music search portals. From SourceAudio’s FAQs:

SourceAudio is a cloud based sync licensing white label platform for music publishers and administrators to manage, search, distribute and monetize their audio assets. SourceAudio is also a network and marketplace for music licensing buyer and sellers. With SourceAudio you get the best of both worlds: a powerful, premium music website PLUS the opportunity to be included in many exciting sales and distribution programs we make available to members on our network. Music sellers can reach new buyers and music buyers can have access to the best new music, features, and tools in the business

That said, licensing popular music is difficult and expensive. Broadcast Law Blog has a good overview of some of the problems if you really do want to use that Beyoncé track.

Clipisode, a Social Video Creation App, Launches

When I read about Clipisode launching, I thought “aha, its Anchor for videos!”. Which is just how TechCrunch describes it:

Similar to how Anchor now allows anyone to build a professional podcast using simple mobile and web tools, Clipisode does this for video content.

Except that description is too simplistic. Clipisode provides a collection and aggregation tool on top of the existing social networks. In broad strokes: a creator makes a video in Clipisode and shares it with their followers on Twitter/Facebook. Their followers can respond with their own videos on those social networks and the creator can use Clipisode to collect and edit those replies into a single video for sharing on any social network.

What is smart is that Clipsode isn’t trying to solve both creation and distribution at the same time. Instead of trying to build another social network and all the difficulties that entails, it integrates with all the existing networks. And by being platform-neutral, Clipisode creators can reach their fans where they already are, which isn’t an area that the established companies would enter: Instagram isn’t going to let you collect replies from Snapchat. Hell, Twitter won’t even show your Instagram photos in its timeline.

The app is free currently, but the plan is to generate revenue by later selling subscription access to the authoring suite where users can create the animated overlays and branding components that give the video the professional look-and-feel.

Another thing that stood out to me is that Clipsode is not going doing the traditional ad-supported route. Going back to the Anchor comparison, Anchor will insert a post-roll ad on all episodes hosted for free on its service and adds its own branding to Anchor Clips. Since Clipsode is positioning itself as a creator tool rather than a consumer app, selling access to better/faster creator tools means that Clipisode is not reliant on mass adoption to make money.

Further reading: Clipisode on Product Hunt

Could Mikme, a Portable Bluetooth Mic, Be The Missing Puzzle Piece for Anchor?

Brian Solis, writing on LinkedIn:

Mikme is a palm-sized studio-quality bluetooth microphone and audio recorder that’s equipped with a 1” gold-plated cardioid condenser capsule. It is phantom-powered (48V) and supported by a built-in spider suspension that blocks handling noise. It features a 2 x 168 MHz Cortex M4 processor and has a rechargeable LiPo battery that can last up to 3.5 hours in standalone recording mode. Mikeme has start-of-the art 24bit (up to 96kHz ADC) analog to digital conversion built-in.

So far so good, its a portable mic. But here’s where things get interesting:

…Mikme becomes an extension of your smartphone, bluetooth camera or DSLR, and through the Mikme app, audio automatically syncs with the video. You can then instantly share the integrated output via your social channel of choice or save it for later reference or editing

Brian focuses on Mikeme’s potential for videos – his interview with co-founder Thomas Wachauer, where the audio was recorded using a single Mikeme on a table, is impressive. As is Mikeme’s other promo video which really highlights Mikeme’s ability to remove ambient noise from a recording.

This got me thinking: a portable bluetooth mic than can capture great audio with very little setup? That seems like something Anchor could be very interested in. Anchor is pushing hard to make creating a podcast as easy as possible but as a listener my biggest complaint is that the audio quality captured by an iPhone is noticeably poor. Note that I said ‘noticeably’ – its not terrible, but it is unpleasant when coming from other podcasts. What if Anchor could offer budding podcasters a great mic, with very little setup, that could capture great audio?

One problem is price. Right now Mikeme costs around $399 which puts it out of range of the ‘podcast-curious’. But imagine if Anchor could offer a mic like this at a $99 price point that hooks seamlessly into their mobile app…

Another problem: does Anchor really want to be a hardware company? Being a software service company is whole world away from hardware with all the challenges that design, production, inventory management and shipping actual things entails.

There has been something else in the back of my mind, and now seems about as good a time as any to shoehorn it in to a post: we call them ‘Smart Speakers’ but projecting sound waves is only 50% of what they do. They also have a bunch of very good microphones to capture audio. Now people suddenly have a great mic sitting on their kitchen countertop… Doesn’t that seems like something we (as podcast enthusiasts) could use?

Pandora Buys AdsWizz to Move into Podcast Advertising

From Variety:

Pandora is acquiring San Mateo, Calif.-based digital audio ad tech startup Adswizz for $145 million in cash and stock, the company announced Wednesday. After the acquisition, Adswizz will continue to operate independently, but also power Pandora’s digital audio ad sales.

I’ve seen a bunch of coverage on this large tech news sites but I’ve not seen anyone write about the potential impact of this deal has on podcasting.

Adswizz offers a whole bunch of things for Pandora to better sell ads that appear between music tracks, but they also have a Dynamic Ad Insertion platform called ‘Ad Insertion Suite’.

Roger Lynch, Pandora CEO, has talked about pushing into podcasting earlier this year to create a genome project for podcasts and are the ‘exclusive’ streaming partner for Serial (which is why you won’t find Serial on Google Play or Spotify) and now they can offer an ad serving platform to their podcast partners. They can now power midroll podcast ads not just ‘inter-track’ ads. Why does Pandora care about podcasting? The same reason we’re seeing other music streaming services move into podcasting: the content is cheaper and drives longer listening sessions.

This deal can’t just be about podcasting though, as $145M is more than half of the $220M that the IAB projected the podcast ad industry to be worth in 2017. Paying 50% of the entire market value for a company isn’t great, so this would explain it is reported that Adswizz operate independently as a subsidiary of Pandora and continue to work with its existing partners. Adswizz advertises that it works with Spotify, Acast and iHeart so in a fun twist, Pandora could end up collecting revenue from their biggest competitors.

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