Internet users are already being tracked to death, with ads that follow us around, search histories that are collected and stored, emails that report back to senders when they’ve been read, websites that know where you scrolled and what you clicked and much more. So naturally, the growing podcast industry wanted to find a way to collect more data of its own, too.
Yes, that’s right. Podcasts will now track detailed user behavior, too.
Today, NPR announced RAD, a new, open-sourced podcast analytics technology that was developed in partnership with nearly 30 companies from the podcasting industry. The technology aims to help publishers collect more comprehensive and standardized listening metrics from across platforms.
Specifically, the technology gives publishers — and therefore their advertisers, as well — access to a wide range of listener metrics, including downloads, starts and stops, completed ad or credit listens, partial ad or credit listens, ad or credit skips and content quartiles, the RAD website explains.
However, the technology stops short of offering detailed user profiles, and cannot be used to re-target or track listeners, the site notes. It’s still anonymized, aggregated statistics.
It’s worth pointing out that RAD is not the first time podcasters have been able to track engagement. Major platforms, including Apple’s Podcast Analytics, today offer granular and anonymized data, including listens.But NPR says that data requires “a great deal of manual analysis” as the stats aren’t standardized nor as complete as they could be. RAD is an attempt to change that, by offering a tracking mechanism everyone can use.
Already, RAD has a lot of support. In addition to being integrated into NPR’s own NPR One app, it has commitments from several others that will introduce the technology into their own products in 2019, including Acast, AdsWizz, ART19, Awesound, Blubrry Podcasting, Panoply, Omny Studio, Podtrac, PRI/PRX, RadioPublic, Triton Digital and WideOrbit.
Other companies that supported RAD and participated in its development include Cadence13, Edison Research, ESPN, Google, iHeartMedia, Libsyn, The New York Times, New York Public Radio and Wondery.
NPR says the NPR One app on Android supports RAD as of now, and its iOS app will do the same in 2019.
“Over the course of the past year, we have been refining these concepts and the technology in collaboration with some of the smartest people in podcasting from around the world,” said Joel Sucherman, vice president, New Platform Partnerships at NPR, in an announcement. “We needed to take painstaking care to prove out our commitment to the privacy of listeners, while providing a standard that the industry could rally around in our collective efforts to continue to evolve the podcasting space,” he said.
To use RAD technology, publishers will mark within their audio files certain points — like quartiles or some time markers, interview spots, sponsorship messages or ads — with RAD tags and indicate an analytics URL. A mobile app is configured to read the RAD tags and then, when listeners hit that spot in the file, that information is sent to the URL in an anonymized format.
While there’s value in podcast data that goes beyond the download, not all are sold on technology.
Most notably, the developer behind the popular iOS podcast player app Overcast, Marco Arment, today publicly stated his app will not support any listener-tracking specs.
Yes. I understand why huge podcast companies want more listener data, but there are zero advantages for listeners or app-makers.
I won’t be supporting any listener-behavior tracking specs in Overcast. Podcasters get enough data from your IP address when you download episodes. https://t.co/mplhnrmCsc
— Marco Arment (@marcoarment) December 11, 2018
“I understand why huge podcast companies want more listener data, but there are zero advantages for listeners or app-makers,” Arment wrote in a tweet. “Podcasters get enough data from your IP address when you download episodes,” he said.
The developer also pointed out this sort of data collection required more work on the podcasters’ part and could become a GDPR liability, as well. (NPR tells us GDPR compliance is up to the mobile apps and analytics servers, as noted in the specs here.)
In addition to NPR’s use of RAD today, Podtrac has also now launched a beta program to show RAD data, which is open to interested publishers.
Stoop is looking to provide readers with what CEO Tim Raybould described as “a healthier information diet.”
To do that, it’s launched an iOS and Android app where you can browse through different newsletters based on category, and when you find one you like, it will direct you to the standard subscription page. If you provide your Stoop email address, you’ll then be able to read all your favorite newsletters in the app.
“The easiest way to describe it is: It’s like a podcast app but for newsletters,” Raybould said. “It’s a big directory of newsletters, and then there’s the side where you can consume them.”
Why newsletters? Well, he argued that they’re one of the key ways for publishers to develop a direct relationship with their audience. Podcasts are another, but he said newsletters are “an order of magnitude more important” because you can convey more information with the written word and there are lower production costs.
That direct relationship is obviously an important one for publishers, particularly as Facebook’s shifting priorities have made it clear that they need to “establish the right relationship [with] readers, as opposed to renting someone else’s audience.” But Raybould said it’s better for readers too, because you’ll spend your time on journalism that’s designed to provide value, not just attract clicks: “You will find you use the newsfeed less and consume more of your content directly from the source.”
“Most content [currently] is distributed through a third party, and that software is choosing what to surface next — not based on the quality of the content, but based on what’s going to keep people scrolling,” he added. “Trusting an algorithm with what you’re going to read next is like trusting a nutritionist who’s incentivized based on how many chips you eat.”
So Raybould is a fan of newsletters, but he said the current system is pretty cumbersome. There’s no one place where you can find new newsletters to read, and you may also hesitate to subscribe to another one because it “crowds out your personal inbox.” So Stoop is designed to reduce the friction, making it easy to subscribe to and read as many newsletters as your heart desires.
Raybould said the team has already curated a directory of around 650 newsletters (including TechCrunch’s own Daily Crunch) and the list continues to grow. Additional features include a “shuffle” option to discover new newsletters, plus the ability to share a newsletter with other Stoop users, or to forward it to your personal address.
The Stoop app is free, with Raybould hoping to eventually add a premium plan for features like full newsletter archives. He’s also hoping to collaborate with publishers — initially, most publishers will probably treat Stoop readers as just another set of subscribers, but Raybould said the company could provide access to additional analytics and also make signing up easier with the app’s instant subscribe option.
And the company’s ambitions go beyond newsletters. Raybould said Stoop is the first consumer product from a team with a larger mission to help publishers — they’re also working on OpenBundle, a bundled subscription initiative with a planned launch in 2019 or 2020.
“The overarching thing that is the same is the OpenBundle thesis and the Stoop thesis,” he said. “Getting publishers back in the role of delivering content directly to the audience is the antidote to the newsfeed.”
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