The Kerfuffle About Podcast Charts

There has been a minor kerfuffle in the last few days about podcast charts. Podnews reported on a company that purportedly can get your podcast into the Apple podcast charts.

Charts are always going to be gamed. Anything that is essentially free publicity is going to attract those who want to exploit that for their own benefit. Publicists and journalists are often eager for any corroborating evidence to pad out their pitches and articles. Of course, for podcasts there is no central source for this kind of data. Apple has long been the dominant player and the Apple’s podcast charts have pretty much been the only stats in town that anyone can point to. (As an aside, I was pondering why they chose ‘hotness’ over just pure downloads for their chart? My guess is that they want to avoid the top of the chart being stale and to surface shows that have just launched but might not have huge download numbers yet. Keep things interesting y’know?)

Podtrac has tried to create its own charts but it also has its own problems. Firstly, remember that Podtrac have an ad sales business so they have their own agenda. They also lost much of their credibility when they were shown to be counting preloaded audio files as a download across all of iHeartMedia’a web properties. As Bill Simmons tweeted, Podtrac is an opt-in system that requires a publisher to alter how they deliver their content and many publishers, including The Ringer, don’t chose to do so.

It feels like there is an opportunity for someone to make a new chart based on downloads and then something like a ‘viral 50’ too. Spotify or Pandora or Google could provide an independent (-ish) chart easily. In fact, they could do it based on actual listening rather than downloads! But of course they don’t have very large podcast catalogs right now. And while being a part of the conversation around new shows and how they perform could be important, there might not be a clear correlation with making a podcast chart and increasing listeners that would warrant the expense of building out a chart system.

Something else I’ve been mulling over, what about episode-level charts? Forget podcasts, what are the most downloaded episodes this week? Would that be interesting for creators and listeners? What do you think the most downloaded episode of all time would be?