Issue 197,  published February 26, 2019

A Curious Change on the Podtrac Ranker

A few readers wrote in to point out that Podtrac, the podcast measurement and analytics service (and conjoined sister company of ad sales network Authentic), appears to have stopped listing “Global Downloads” as a count metric on its public-facing ranker in its most recent industry ranking update. (Some of those readers also expressed vaguely conspiratorial frustration, which I’m neither here nor there about.) Previously, the company listed both “US Unique Monthly Audience,” which aims to count the number of unique individual listeners consuming a given publisher’s shows, and “Global Downloads,” which counts the number of times a publisher’s shows have been downloaded, alongside each other on the public ranker.

This removal is particularly interesting in context: There’s currently a healthy debate in the podcast community about the right timeline for shifting from selling ads based on “downloads” — thought to be crude, rudimentary, and imprecise — to sells based on “listens,” which would theoretically provide ad buyers more precision and confidence. The barriers holding up the shift — which many industry types think is necessary for increased revenue growth — tend to be some mix of the political and the ideological. Political, as in some publishers are wary of how far their own metrics might drop when the change kicks in. Ideological, as in some folks are generally wary of ad tracking and/or everything that’s happened just about everywhere else on the internet.

So there’s nothing exceptionally strange about a move like this, IMO. My sense is that everybody’s going to reach a listens-oriented framework at some point anyway. But at least one reader appears to be frustrated by the fact that the change was apparently implemented without much heads up, which I suppose could be troublesome to how a given publisher constructs its public reputation. (For what it’s worth, I’ve always been dubious about the Podtrac ranker as a representation of the industry. See here and here.)

When I reached out for comment, Velvet Beard, the company’s VP of product management, wrote back: “We are re-evaluating the information provided on the rankings. There is a link at the bottom of the post requesting feedback.” Here’s that post again. I was also reminded that the rankings are only published online for free; no Podtrac clients pay for either rankings data or for inclusion in the rankings.

Anyway, I’ve always found podcast measurement a little hard to effectively track and write about; “new analytics implementation” as a concept is far too dispersed across a large group of players to reliably track, and companies tend to like to keep mum about such internal affairs. But it nonetheless remains one of the industry’s more important stories.