Reality Check of RAD or Podcast Pingback Adoption

Let me state from the beginning that I am an avid supporter of the RAD initiative by NPR. Many of you may not be familiar with RAD, but to break it down in the simplest form it’s the measurement of client-side aka app playback data of podcast. RAD provides the ability for podcast measurement platforms to get info like when a listener starts, stops, scrubs ahead or back, and most importantly did an ad get played within the content.

The high majority of playback globally happens on a variety of apps of which most are well under 1% global listening marketing share on both Apple and Android. The exception is the Apple Podcasts App which dominates a huge percentage of the global consumption.

Since podcasts inception in 2004, podcast downloads are measured/filtered with server log data. Over the past several years, the IAB Podcast Measurement committee has worked with 30 plus podcasting companies to ratify podcast measurement guidelines that the podcast measurement industry uses today in reporting podcast downloads. While podcast metrics have been measured since 2005 with initial standards put in place in 2008 through the now-defunct Association for Downloadable Media, companies like Blubrry, Libsyn & Podtrac set those early standards of which many are rolled into the current guidelines.

Many of the companies in the podcasting space are not yet satisfied with the data provided with the current IAB guidelines and think that more advertisers will enter the podcast advertising space if this client-side data can be obtained through RAD.

Based on conversations I have personally had with an Apple team member when posed the question on a scale of 1-10 would Apple participate in RAD I was asked why zero was not an option. Based on that conversation and the fact that Apple is already providing podcasters with valuable statistics on their own, I do not see Apple participating in RAD or any other initiative that exposes listener listening habits. With privacy concerns raging across the digital space plus the forthcoming GDPR regulations I see no way that some of the other big bigger players will be willing to participate in RAD even if the IP data is tokenized (anonymized).

I am all about data, and as a true data junky/podcaster, the more data we have to help podcasting as an industry move forward I’m behind. I will always support getting more information for podcasters to make informed decisions on their content to include information that they can use to monetize their shows. The lingering question I have is when do we have enough info, when do we go to far. Anonymizing the listeners is critical in any of these efforts.

So let’s assume based on the info that I have been told that Apple is not going to play ball with RAD. Then that leaves us with 30-35% of the remaining global consumption across apps, websites and third-party sites that could be measured by RAD. This is assuming that 30+ podcast apps on iOS and Android add the RAD protocol to their apps. Which will take considerable development time on each app, plus testing with no financial benefit for the app developer. This will add overhead to their app, add data traffic load to their users. Plus each app will have to develop new TOS to inform users of this collection of play data, plus GDPR compliance for EU listeners. I cannot imagine them not giving a listener the option to opt out of this data collection.

I am not even addressing if Google, Pandora, and Spotify decide to play ball. Spotify, Pandora & Google Play are streaming platforms versus on demand.  Spotify has some of these play metrics already which helps but the data from them is unique in it’s own way and does not fit the download narrative or fit nicely into billing for advertising. Google based on recent interviews may not even have a mechanism to add RAD until they develop their own app as it appears Google Plays days are numbered.

One thing for sure the download is still and will remain king for a long time, and if we are lucky we will get a 10-15% participation rate in RAD which is still great information as it comes to data sampling and helps build the sales story confirming what we actually already know through other analysis methods. Any podcast measurement company worth its salt already can already trend how many subscribed listeners are listening and staying subscribed.

Add to this discussion a new entrant in the space has just introduced a competing protocol to RAD so while I applaud efforts of the Podcast Pingback group, in my opinion, they would have been better served to have added their voice to the RAD committee as all of their ideas are already on the table and have been for some time with the coalition of companies already working on the RAD spec.

I will say it again, I am a RAD supporter but do not want to sugar coat the hard work ahead to get us to the 10, 20, 30% adoption rate. 30% adoption would be a major win. I remain focused on improving the listener’s experience, that will drive listener volume. I would love to hear your thoughts on RAD in the comments below.

Todd Cochrane

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

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