Public radio outlets publish guidelines for measuring podcast audience

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Downloads, listens, listening time, iTunes chart rankings.

There are numerous ways to measure listener engagement with podcasts. But public radio’s biggest producers of podcasts are hoping to bring some consistency to the data.

Since last spring, 25 public radio staffers from 14 stations and networks have been working on guidelines for measuring podcast data. They laid out the guidelines in a document released Tuesday.

The document cites podcast sponsorship as one of the reasons for developing clearer standards:

… [I]nconsistent approaches to podcast measurement have hampered the ability of this medium to reach its full competitive potential as an alternative to broadcast and other sponsorship media with well-defined and widely adopted audience measurement and performance standards. Uniform and fully understood on-demand audio data is essential to fully realize the business opportunities of this medium for podcast producers, sponsors and other stakeholders. . . .

If public media stakeholders do not work together now to define standards for the measurement of on-demand audio, others outside of our industry will do so and may establish parameters that are incompatible with public media operating environments.

Among the topics the guidelines cover are defining podcasts versus on-demand audio and best practices for counting downloaders and unique downloads.

The collaborators hope to get podcasters and organizations to adopt the standards, with the ultimate goal that they become used throughout the industry. “Given the leading position of public radio podcasts as a source of podcast listening across the country, this group believes these public radio guidelines could become the foundation for a true industry standard for all podcast measurement,” the document said.

“We plan to walk through the details of the guidelines with the [Interactive Advertising Bureau] committee working on podcast measurement, with the hope that they will embrace and extend these guidelines into a full industry standard,” said Steve Mulder, senior director of audience insights at NPR and a co-creator of the guidelines, in an email to Current.

The organizations involved included NPR, WNYC, Southern California Public Radio, Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media, KPBS in San Diego, WBUR in Boston, Public Radio International, WBEZ in Chicago, WXPN in Philadelphia, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., National Public Media, KQED in San Francisco and WAMU in Washington, D.C. So far, NPR and some of the other participating organizations have adopted the standards, but not all of them, Mulder said.

The organizations that helped create the document are in “constant communications and working together,” according to Mulder, and plan to publish other best practices, including bots to exclude from measurement and tips for sales teams to educate sponsors on podcast measurement.

“We are all interested in bringing more rigor to how podcast audiences are measured,” he said.

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