Tracking metrics expected to improve as podcasts grow

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(Photo: Casey Fiesler/Wikimedia Commons)

Metrics for podcast listenership are notoriously difficult to track, but several industry leaders say a lack of solid metrics is no barrier to finding advertisers.

Participants in a panel about digital audio sponsorship at last week’s Public Media Development and Marketing Conference in Boston shared tips for making money from podcasts and expressed optimism that the industry will improve at tracking audience behavior.

An Edison Research/Triton Digital study found that half of consumers surveyed listened to some type of online radio, up from 44 percent in 2015. Fifty-seven percent of Americans are using online radio monthly. Weekly podcast listening increased from 10 percent to 13 percent, with weekly consumers of podcasts averaging about five podcasts per week.

Podcasts bring in the lion’s share of digital revenue at WNYC in New York, said Jim Lally, senior director of national sponsorship. The station targets advertisers interested in reaching the local audience, the tri-state area or listeners nationally.

Nearly a year ago, WNYC branded its division for national program production as WNYC Studios, which has helped reach a broader range of clients who may otherwise have seen WNYC as only a local station, according to Lally. More Fortune 500 and blue-chip companies are showing interest in digital advertising on WNYC, he said, and the station has been able to close larger deals, some approaching seven figures. WNYC’s lineup of programming helps to brand WNYC as “not your grandfather’s public media,” Lally said.

Still, getting in front of marketers is a challenge when most listeners download podcasts on platforms other than the station’s website. “We can tell a user downloaded [a] file, but we can’t tell a lot after that,” said Brett Robinson, director of ad operations for National Public Media, which sells on-air and digital underwriting and advertising for NPR, PBS and stations.

NPM is working with WNYC and other stations to develop guidelines and standards for what constitutes a podcast download, Robinson said.

Considering the brands that already promote themselves on podcasts helps with making pitches to marketers, Lally said, with clients such as Squarespace, Audible and Blue Apron providing validation as aggressive podcast advertisers.

“They’re not spending money on our shows because they get a warm and fuzzy for supporting public media,” Lally said. “In many cases, they’re huge fans of our show — buyers love Radiolab, they love Freakonomics — but that’s not why they keep coming back. They’re coming back because they’re selling product off of our shows.”

Public media’s value proposition is its unique form of storytelling, said Chris Barch, director of corporate marketing with WMFE in Orlando, Fla. While Pandora, Spotify and other services may dominate digital audio listening, they’re just repurposing other content, Barch said. The station has started a podcast focused on the space industry that is drawing a national audience.