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On IAB standards, publishers go their own way

Plus: Audioboom gets a lifeline, WWDC notes, and Audible makes a curious audiobook play

New funding for Audioboom. Just announced this morning, via London South East: “Audioboom Group plc (AIM:BOOM), the leading spoken word audio on-demand platform, is pleased to announce that it has conditionally raised a total of £4.5 million (before expenses) via a proposed placing and subscription (the “Placing”) of a total of 150,000,000 new ordinary shares (“Ordinary Shares”) of no par value (the “Placing Shares”).”

IAB Compliance: Go Your Own Way. From Digiday:

… nearly half a year after two leading organizations released competing measurement standards, the industry is slowly getting its act together. On July 1, Wondery, a top five podcaster that’s responsible for shows including “Dirty John” and “Accused,” will join HowStuffWorks in adopting the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s new standard for podcast measurement. Wondery hopes switching to the IAB standard will encourage its peers to do the same.

Doing so comes at a cost, though. Transitioning to the IAB’s standard has caused a “double-digit percentage” drop in downloads for many of its shows, Wondery said. That hit is slowing the transition that both producers and ad buyers say is necessary to attract more ad dollars…

… “I think now that there’s substance to the [IAB] spec, everybody’s moving in that direction, but at their own pace,” said Joel Withrow, Megaphone’s head of product.

Two things:

(1) Moving at their own pace is right — but I think it’s also a process that’s pretty undervalued in this piece. I poked around after the piece came out and found that more than a few major publishers are already in the midst of performing due diligence on adopting the standards (specifically, what’s being regarded as version 2 of the IAB standards).

When assessing this story, I think it’s important to remember two things: firstly, a publisher’s capacity to comply with the IAB standards fundamentally depends on the hosting platform they’re using — be it a third party vendor like Art19, LibSyn, or Megaphone or something developed in-house, as in the case of PodcastOne — and so there’s quite a bit more logistical factors involved in the compliance process, and secondly, different publishers necessarily have to move at different paces due to the different scales of risk and responsibility they carry. Companies that are significantly older, larger, and spread out across more publishing partners would presumably need more time for testing, partner education, and implementation than companies that have a little less historical weight.

For what it’s worth, HWS and Wondery aren’t the only V2 compliant publishers. PRX, with their Dovetail platform, is as well. I’m sure there are others, too; if you’re one of them, let me know, and I’ll make a public list.

(2) I have tremendous sympathy for the publisher in this scenario. While the short-term pain/long term gain framing is on point, what’s less emphasized is the practical severities of that short-term pain: it means you’d take a hit in revenue that may need to pay employees and keep the lights on, you’re bracing for a significant period of volatility as you calibrate to a new status quo of how your business looks like, and you’re brought into a process where you need to rebuild or reorient relationships with advertisers and partners. And not for nothing, you’d be doing this under an environment where a competitor might want you to go and get yourself bloodied first, so they may reap from your learnings. It’s a tough situation.

It’s also tough because it feels like much of the burden of compliance seems placed too much on the backs of publishers and networks. There is a place, I think, for other actors in this ecosystem — advertisers, parent companies, stakeholders — to help create a space that presents less unnerving costs for these publishers to pull the band-aid. Everyone is in the together, after all.

(3) If you need a reminder on the context: broadly speaking, there are two major components to the overarching podcast measurement problem. The first is specificity, in which sufficiently granular listening data is provided advertisers to make them feel more comfortable in understanding the performance of their hypothetical podcast advertising campaigns. The second is uniformity, in which advertisers can freely assume can enter the podcast ad product marketplace knowing that 10,000 downloads mean the same thing across all their buying options. It’s my position that the latter is much more significant than the former; uniformity is a necessary condition for an efficient and trustworthy marketplace, while the question of specificity is chiefly a matter of refinement.

(The lead item in this April issue of Hot Pod touched on this split, if you need another story to ground you.) (Also, I wonder how the Remote Audio Data initiative is doing?)

Speaking of Midroll… Here’s a nifty data point from a Cincinnati Magazine profile of parent company EW Scripps: Stitcher, Midroll’s premium subscription and listening service, currently has 8 million registered users. That’s for the entire service, including both free and paying subscribers. We still do not publicly know the split between the two user categories.

Apple Notes. WWDC wraps up today, and compared to last year’s big in-episode analytics announcement, things were comparatively muted in this conference. Last year was an introduction; this year was education.

Still, the “Introducing Podcast Analytics” session, held on Tuesday, contained a bunch of interesting little nuggets. You can view the presentation yourself here — it’s about 30 minutes long — but here are some bites:

  • Within Apple Podcast, once an episode is started, on average about 80% of that episode ends up being consumed. Which is to say, deep engagement remains the status quo.
  • The HomePod got a shout-out, in which Siri is described to have been “optimized for podcast playback.” Audio news briefs were also given mention.
  • Apple Podcasts now host over 550,000 shows.
  • Stuff You Should Know was also given a shout-out: it’s the first pod to cross 500 million downloads and streams. A testament to longevity and size.

Of course, the story of Apple and podcasting is only 50% about Apple Podcasts — the other 50% revolves around the greater Apple ecosystem as well as its positions with hardware. (Which, weirdly, didn’t get much play this WWDC). As usual, Nieman Lab’s analysis is terrific, and it placed useful emphasis on Apple’s upcoming initiative to make it possible for developers to easily convert their iOS apps to Mac apps.

Nieman Lab’s Josh Benton with the goods: “If Apple News can move from iPhone to Mac, why can’t the Podcasts app? Podcast listening is an intensely mobile activity, so it likely wouldn’t see the uptake I expect Apple News will on desktop — but it’d be a chance for the industry’s most important platform to further entrench itself while reaching new audiences.”

Related: “Study: Apple News’s human editors prefer a few major newsrooms.” (Columbia Journalism Review) Sounds familiar… or nah?

Damages. From the trade news site, Wrestling Observer: The jury in the case of Dr. Christopher Amann vs. Phil Brooks (CM Punk) and Scott Colton (Colt Cabana) ruled that neither man were liable for any damages against the WWE physician in the defamation lawsuit… Amann’s attorneys were asking for $3,989,000 in damages, claiming $1 for every listener of the Art of Wrestling podcast that the Punk show supposedly had. Deadspin has a really good piece providing the full context of this story. Two reasons why this is notable:

  • The Art of Wrestling is a pretty prominent podcast among that fan community; as Deadspin points out, it can be approximately thought of as the WTF for Wrestling.
  • The “$1 for every listening” construct to set up the damages amount is notable, and a little troubling.

Meanwhile, in Audiobooks. What happens there, impacts us here. Two pieces on this point to note:

(1) “Want to Read Michael Lewis’s Next Work? You’ll Be Able to Listen to It First.” (NY Times) The money: Mr. Lewis — arguably one of the most successful nonfiction writers working today, with book sales topping 10 million copies — is betting Audible will expand his audience and draw even more people to his work. Last month, he signed a multiyear contract with Audible for four audio original stories, with the first scheduled to come out in July. Mr. Lewis, who wouldn’t reveal further details about the story, plans to narrate it himself.

Mr. Lewis is part of a growing group of A-list authors bypassing print and releasing audiobook originals, hoping to take advantage of the exploding audiobook market. It’s the latest sign that audiobooks are no longer an appendage of print, but a creative medium in their own right…

… Audible executives say they are investing in original works in part to meet growing consumer demand, and also to generate stories that are designed to be listened to rather than read. In the last two years, the company has released 77 original audio works, and it has nearly 150 more in various stages of production. As part of its push for original stories, Audible is commissioning one- and two-person plays, and recently awarded grants to 15 emerging playwrights. In May, it announced a deal with the actress and producer Reese Witherspoon to develop audio originals. This, I think, complicates a trend that we’ve only begun to see in podcasting proper: the move to tap authors to develop podcast-first work — that can presumably be converted into book projects later. The most prominent cases of these are Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History, which I think, in hindsight, is one of the smarter innovations Panoply has pulled off over the past few years. (It’s perhaps also worth noting that, back in January, I was told that Michael Lewis is developing a podcast series for Panoply’s sister company Slate.)

This move also complicates the way think about Audible’s position in this broader on-demand audio space. How does this Lewis-esque deals affect Audible Originals? (Not for nothing: another project that feels similar to Revisionist History is Jon Ronson’s The Butterfly Effect, which exists as an Audible Original.) We’ll probably learn more about this as the summer goes on.

(2) Melville House with the fire: The expanding audiobook market feels a bit like the wild west. It shouldn’t, really — audiobooks have been around for a while, and I thought we had agreed that they were slightly inferior to regular books, but with a strong situational use value (like when you’re driving).

Then we got podcasts. And the podcasts got longer, and often more boring and specialized, until it seemed we’de all agreed that they’re kind of just audiobooks-by-other-means. And that we love audiobooks now…

… Audible’s subscription model threatens to have listeners paying for the privilege of continued suckling at the Amazon content teat, rather than spreading their money around to other forums, and receiving the milk of content providers who would rather nourish us than own us. That’s one position, I suppose.

Fatigue. “Almost seven-in-ten Americans have news fatigue, more among Republicans,” Pew Research finds. Equal parts problem and opportunity for those producing and developing daily news and political podcasts.

Bites

  • If you’ve been tracking Audioburst, the AI-powered audio search platform I covered back in November, the company just launched a set of free tools meant specifically for podcast creators. Check it out.
  • Speaking of creator-centric tools, Patreon has acquired a company dedicated to making it easier for creators to develop a merch business, called Kit. (Announcement Post)
  • “Free to access and fun to listen to: why football podcasts are on the rise.” (The Guardian) When reading this article, recall that its contextual points are UK-specific. I’d wager there’s a ton of untapped potential for US-specific soccer pods.
  • Not directly podcast-related, but relevant in its broader themes on platform centralization: “Gambling Channels Are the Latest Victims of YouTube’s Arbitrary Moderation Process.” (The Atlantic)