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The UK Needs Better Data

There isn’t yet an Infinite Dial style report that regularly tracks these things, and those numbers that are already out there are frequently quoted but are offer only a partial, and sometimes contradictory picture.

A regular pain point for me when trying to cover podcasting in the UK is the lack of accurate data about consumption and spending. There isn’t yet an Infinite Dial style report that regularly tracks these things, and those numbers that are already out there, such as the radio-orientated RAJARs and Acast’s Audio Intelligence Report, are frequently quoted but are offer only a partial, and sometimes contradictory picture.

Accurate listenership data is obviously a big deal for podcasters themselves, who need demographic, geographic and income information about their listenership in order to maximise their sponsorship revenue. In a way, an emerging podcast market like the UK has the same need on a macro level as individual shows do — in order to convince new and bigger advertisers to turn up and spend their cash on audio here, those trying to make deals need data to make their case.

It’s in that context that I view the arrival of a new annual report about UK podcast advertiser behaviour. “The Rise of Digital Audio Advertising” was put together by the research and strategy consultancy MTM for DAX, the digital advertising platform created by the commercial radio conglomerate Global. The data is based on a survey of “215 manager-level or above employees at media agencies and advertisers in the UK” conducted in March and April 2019, plus interviews with “11 directors/heads of department from leading media agencies and major brand advertisers in the UK”.

The headline figures that DAX are pushing from this research are as follows:

  • 85 percent of advertisers surveyed say they will increase investment in digital audio in the next year
  • 86 percent of agencies and 66% of advertisers surveyed say they now see digital audio as an important part of most media strategies
  • 81 percent of survey respondents said that digital audio means advertisers can be “really contextually relevant”

The vested interest in creating this research is pretty obvious — Dax is a sales platform wanting to attract more business, so they put together a piece of work showing that their market is bullish and growing rapidly. Which is not to say that the responses aren’t without validity, just that it’s a small sample and comes with a particular industry context.

Although a lot of the metrics to be found in the report are like those that I’ve quoted above, i.e. 80 percent or more of respondents agreeing with the proposition put to them, there is one much lower stat that I find very telling. Just over half, or 53 percent, “think that streaming audio enables them to target the right people at the right time,” which, as the report notes, means that plenty of decision makers still have doubts about the measurement and attribution tech involved in placing ads or sponsorships in digital audio.

The report glosses over this by saying “further industry education is required,” but I think this brings us back to the data problem I mentioned at the start. Commercial radio has become accustomed to the consumption and demographic data available to the industry, but podcasting (and to some extent music streaming) in the UK doesn’t have an equivalent set of metrics yet. Different platforms will of course provide their clients with their own information, but I can imagine that a new brand getting involved in digital audio is going to want a fuller picture before committing funds.

In a market still dominated by a free-to-air public broadcaster, the BBC, that doesn’t yet have the sheer volume of podcast listeners that the US has, converting commercial radio clients to podcasting and bringing in international brands already familiar with the medium from work elsewhere is often more profitable than starting from scratch with companies yet to dip a toe into this space.

I get asked a lot these days what it is that the UK really needs to “level up” as a podcasting space, and I increasingly think that it might be good, widely available data for potential advertisers, obtuse as that sounds, rather than “a Serial-style hit”, as the more popular answer goes. I don’t know what that would look like precisely — a radio-style listener measurement index, a homegrown Podtrac, a franchise chart from an existing international platform, work by the broadcast industry regulator, Ofcom? But whatever it is, I think it needs to stand separate to the actual sales platforms to have the desired impact.