For the last decade, after creating podcasts, Apple has largely been a benign presence in the industry. As of iOS 11, the giant has awakened.
In iOS 11, Apple will provide details of how listeners are engaging with episodes to podcast creators. There will be plenty of hot takes and hand wringing about this means for the podcast advertising, but there are a couple of other side-effects that I’ve been thinking about.
Two things spring to mind:
How will this affect independent podcast players?
I can imagine that the larger podcasters will now encourage people listen on Apple Podcasts so that they get better metrics, will indy apps now have to provide metrics (and build the infrastructure required) too? Marco Arment (maker of Overcast) has always been adamant about not giving stats or tracking to creators but now maybe Apple has forced his hand to give out that data?
How do the walled-garden services respond to this?
Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play Music have lost one of their unique features that they can offer creators: providing accurate skip and seek rates (since these companies own the whole playback stack). With reportedly low usage on these platforms (Apple Podcasts is used by 82% of listeners according to research by Clammer in 2015), what can these platforms offer creators now to promote and adopt them? Apple have been smart to neutralize the one thing these walled-garden services could offer that might eventually affect Apple’s dominance in podcasting.
NPR’s Audience Insights group has published findings from its experiments in social audio on Facebook over the last few months.
There are lots of figures but the conclusion is sobering. Daniel Frohlich writing on Medium:
The root issue remains: getting people to play audio in the social space is incredibly difficult. Social users tend to be mobile users and many of them may not be in a situation where they can listen. Their physical context often precludes the use of audio. It’s important we keep the environment of our users in mind as we continue to experiment with audio in the social space. We must temper our expectations.
I don’t think audio is ever going to engage as well as text or video in the limited-attention context of browsing a social network. Humans just cannot skim-listen as well as they skim-read. I would like to see simpler ways to save audio for later - think Instapaper for podcast episodes. You would browse Facebook at work, see an Audiogram for an NPR show and save it to listen to on your commute home.
Clients using the analytics will be able to track and report consumption data from streamed plays of podcast episodes listened to on the Apple Podcasts app. The data reflects where the audience tuned in, and where they skipped or stopped, within 30 seconds accuracy.
Here are some clues from the report:
1) “roughly 30% of all Apple Podcast plays can be tracked”
2) “…within 30 seconds accuracy.”
Here is how I think they can do it: they can only track 30% of plays because an episode needs to be streamed (rather than downloaded first for later listening) and that, I guess, is the percentage of plays from the Apple Podcast app that are streamed.
Why only streaming? When streaming the server sends small pieces (or chunks) of the whole episode to the client and I would guess that Omny Studio can track how much data of an episode has been sent from the server. The Apple Podcast app (probably using HLS) receives ~30 second chunks of audio data from the server and that is why they can only track skips and stops with a 30 second accuracy.
RadioPublic’s CEO, Jake Shapiro and CPO, Matt MacDonald are interviewed by Adam Ragusea for on the latest episode of The Pub and an edited transcript is available on Current.
It’s a in-depth interview worthy of a proper read but I’ll handpick some of the things that jumped out at me.
MacDonald on trying to make an app that appeals to all podcast listeners:
For me the thing that I really wanted to try to create is something that could work for both the power podcast listener who knows exactly what they want to listen to and when they want to listen to it — they manage a feed of subscriptions — but also balance that with something that would work really well for someone who is coming into it cold and really doesn’t understand, or want to understand, the concept of subscribing to a feed and managing a series of episodes that come into an inbox.
Shapiro on the development roadmap for RadioPublic:
…discover, engage and reward — are core to our strategy. They’re also our road map. This is how we’re thinking about the next several phases of development of RadioPublic. We’re right now in the discovery phase, so a lot of our efforts on the user experience and the app design is around encouraging discovery along the lines [of what] Matt was just saying. Coming up next after that is, we layer in engagement on top of discovery.
Engagement is lot more around things like sharing, being able to take some actions and transactions around podcasts. Some of what we’ve prototyped is annotations, where you might surface the photo that Malcolm Gladwell references in his podcast episode. Instead of having to pause the episode and switch over to Safari and find it, you’d actually have it surface in a timed way as an annotation along with the podcast. So there’s lots around engagement ultimately leading to what we believe is the rewarding monetization piece of this.
Shaprio also talks about future monetization plans outside of the traditional sponsorship model:
Some of that, as you know, is in sponsorship, and we’ve been testing things like enhanced sponsorship, where instead of that coupon code you have to remember and write down on a piece of paper to get a discount on your MailChimp account, if you’re listening to an episode that has promoted that, it could surface within the experience of the app. We would know that you listen to it; if you are interested in that, it could surface back in an email at the end of the week or something that you could actually take action on, and that becomes a more valuable ad. And then RadioPublic — for proving that that’s more valuable to the publisher and producer — would ask for a percentage of those kinds of advertising opportunities.
But that also works for other business models, like lead generation for membership or for crowdfunding or for events. If you’re listening to The Moth, and we know you listened three times in a row and you’re in Detroit and there’s a Moth slam on Friday night, it might be a good idea to give you an opportunity to buy a ticket to go to The Moth. That’s very valuable to The Moth. That’s very interesting and valuable to the listener, and it’s a service that RadioPublic connects the dots around and would also charge some sort of a transaction fee for doing it successfully.
You can see the influence of Castro on the redesigned Overcast, especially with the new queue management. Happily, Overcast avoids the single biggest problem I had with Castro: not downloading episodes before you decide whether to queue them or play them.
Something else to note is that Overcast is now running its own ad exchange for podcast display ads in the free version of the app. It offers one-tap (well, maybe two taps) subscribe ability for ads. It will be interesting to see how the demand for this unfolds and it could potentially be a great discovery system for listeners. I almost want to stop paying so I can try it out ;)
RadioPublic’s mission as a Public Benefit Corporation is to “help listeners discover, engage with, and reward the creators of podcasts and other audio.”
This is also our strategy, and our roadmap. We are starting with discovery, and will be layering in engagement next, followed by rewards — both for producers and listeners themselves.
Lots of interesting stuff from the press release: no account creation requirements (hallelujah!), it unbundles episodes into cross-show genre playlists and it has both human and machine based recommendations.