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Tech Memo: Triton Digital’s Podcast Reports

Shortly after we published the last newsletter of 2019, Triton Digital — the digital audio technology and services provider now owned by EW Scripps — announced that it will soon be launching public podcast reports in the United States. Powered by the company’s Podcast Metrics measurement service, those reports will provide rankings of participating US networks and podcasts based on Average Weekly Downloads and in accordance with the IAB’s technical guidelines.

According to the associated press release, the company submits that the reports will seek to “eliminate inconsistent measurement practices and self-reported data, providing content creators, marketers, media buyers, and the audio industry at large with validated and transparent podcast metrics for the first time.” (In the United States, that is. Triton has already been publishing similar reports in Australia and Latin America, and plans to do so for the Netherlands sometime this year.)

Participating publishers at the time of announcements include NPR, Stitcher (also owned by EW Scripps, by the way), Entercom, and Cumulus Media. At least a few others are expected to join as the reports begin publication. The first edition is scheduled to roll out in March.

Let me begin by saying that Triton’s upcoming ranker is a welcome addition to the wildly limited pool of public resources that shape the way observers and insiders weave narratives about the podcast industry. We’ve long had the Apple Podcast Charts, of course, whose “hotness” ranking system has often been problematically mistaken as a relative measure of bigness or dominance. And yes, Podtrac has been publishing podcast rankers since 2016, but as long-time readers might recall, I’ve never been able to get past the myriad methodological and presentational caveats that I’ve long found extremely troublesome (see here and here). Furthermore, my frustrations have only exacerbated over time as various publications ended up using the ranker, unqualified, as means to indicate a given show’s or network’s popularity in their respective pieces. Podtrac is far from a Nielsen-like solution, and it has been frustrating to see it treated as such in the past.

Certainly, the introduction of the Triton ranker won’t completely solve podcasting’s knowability problem. It will have its own caveats to grapple with; some of which will be familiar, like how it will only be able to be a reliably representation of participating publishers and therefore should not be taken as a comprehensive reading of the space.

But its very existence — as a second public ranker, one that derives credibility from Triton’s recognized authority in other formats like streaming audio — is already significant. It means that Podtrac will no longer be the default text on relative show size, and that further triangulation is possible now, which means our ability to tell better stories about various podcasts and networks can make a meaningful leap forward. That’s not nothing.

A few other specific points on the ranker, gleaned from a conversation I recently had with John Rosso, Triton Digital’s President of Market Development:

(1) Rosso tells me that the underlying goal of the Podcast Metric measurement service, which powers the rankers, is to solve two problems. The first is to “increase transparency and trustworthiness” in the analytics that inform podcast buys, and the second is to help streamline that buying process. “Advertisers still complain that podcast buying is still too fragmented,” he said.

(2) That first goal is expressed through the handling of the measurement service’s technical aspects, which assesses and validates listening data on the hosting-server side. Participating publishers would need to sign an agreement with Triton that would allow the company to implement its tracking solution directly on the platform. (It is thought that publishers would feel less wary about letting Triton into their analytics because Triton, unlike Podtrac, doesn’t have an associated direct advertising sales business.)

The big pitch for advertisers is that the tracking process happens completely “untouched by publisher’s hands,” thus eliminating the skepticism that comes when the audience data is self-reported. Triton describes its data collection approach as “census-based,” using four week cycle-based “Average Weekly Approach,” over a calendar month approach meant to phase out timing-based variances.

(3) The second goal is expressed through a partnership that funnels the data from Triton’s podcast reports into Strata, a media planning and buying platform managed by FreeWheel (owned by Comcast). With that integration, agencies and advertisers using Strata — of which there are apparently over a thousand, according to this Broadcasting+Cable write-up — will be instantly exposed to podcasting as another available sales channel, in addition to their usual options like television, print, outdoor, and several other digital channels.

(4) As mentioned, Triton’s rankers won’t display non-participating publishers, and for inclusion into the ranker, publishers have to subscribe to the Podcast Metric measurement service for a fee. This, of course, is Triton’s business model around this product, though Rosso tells me he doesn’t expect it to be a big moneymaker. “However, we all have a vested interest in seeing the podcast space grow,” he said, before mentioning that he does expect additional derivative products to roll out in the future that may end up being big revenue drivers for the company.

Again, the first report is scheduled to roll out in March.