All posts in “Podcasts”

Podcast industry aims to better track listeners through new analytics tech called RAD

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 who 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.

The end result is that podcasters know just what parts of the audio file their listeners heard, and is able to track this at scale across platforms. (RAD is offering both Android and iOS SDKs.)

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.

“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.

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.

Pandora’s Podcast Genome Project goes live for all

Last month, Pandora announced it would soon be bringing its “Genome” technology to a new space outside of music: it would leverage a similar classification system to make podcast recommendations, too. Initially, the feature was only available to select users on mobile devices, ahead of a broader public launch. Today, Pandora says its Podcast Genome Project has gone live for all users.

Like Pandora’s Music Genome – its music information database capable of classifying songs across 450 different attributes — Pandora’s Podcast Genome Project is a cataloging system designed to evaluate content. But its focus is on audio programs instead of music.

The Podcast Genome Project can currently evaluate content across over 1,500 attributes, including MPAA ratings, production style, content type, host profile, and more, alongside other listener signals, like thumbs, skips, replays and others. It uses a combination of machine learning algorithms, natural language processing and collaborative filtering methods to help determine listener preferences, the company says.

Pandora then combines this data with human curation to make its podcast recommendations.

These recommendations are live now in the Pandora app’s “Browse” section, under the banner “Recommended Podcasts For You.” Podcasts will also be discoverable throughout the app in the Now Playing screen, search bar, in the podcast backstage passes, and in the episode backstage passes.

At launch, the app is aggregating over 100,000 podcast episodes in genres like News, True Crime, Sports, Comedy, Music, Business, Technology, Entertainment, Kids, Health and Science, the company adds.

Podcasters can also now ask to be included in Pandora’s app by filling out a form here.

Longer-term, a better recommendation system for podcasts could help Pandora as it becomes more integrated with its acquirer SiriusXM. The deal will likely bring SiriusXM’s exclusive programming to Pandora’s subscribers, which would greatly increase the number of audio programs available on its service. Putting the right programs in front of the most interested customers could then drive more people to upgrade to a paid subscription, impacting Pandora’s bottom line.

Acast raises $35M to help podcasters make money

Podcasting has grown tremendously in recent years, and a Stockholm-based company called Acast is looking to help all those podcasters make money.

Acast is announcing today that it has raised $35 million in Series C funding, bringing its total funding to more than $67 million. Investors in the round include AP1 (which manages some of the capital in Sweden’s national income pension system), as well as Swedbank Robur funds Ny Teknik and Microcap.

Ross Adams, who became Acast’s CEO last fall, told me that the money will allow Acast to expand, both in terms of its product offerings and the geographies where it operates.

The company has focused on bringing technology to the surprisingly old-fashioned world of podcast advertising. In fact, it pioneered the practice of dynamically inserting ads into podcasts — as opposed to the model where (as Adams put it), “When you listen to a five-year-old podcast, you’ll hear the host read a five-year-old ad.”

Earlier this year, it announced a partnership with the BBC, allowing the BBC’s podcasts to remain ad-free in the United Kingdom while inserting ads everywhere else.

“We don’t mind if your show is absolutely huge or absolutely tiny,” Adams said. “The model we have allows a serious mainstream publisher like the BBC to monetize — or a bedroom podcast hobbyist.”

Ross Adams, Acast

Ross Adams

At the same time, Adams wants Acast to support other business models. It’s already experimenting with paid, premium content through its Acast+ app, but it sounds like there are more paid podcast products in the works: “We want to be that central point of monetization, [whether] they make money through advertising or they’re looking at premium offerings.”

As for geographic expansion, Acast says it launched in Ireland, New Zealand and Denmark this year. It also plans to grow in the United States, which currently represents 25 percent of all listens on the platform.

Acast is also looking to bring podcast monetization into new hardware — Adams said the company has spent much of the past year focused on the smart speaker market. Those speakers present new opportunities for content (Adams said it’s less about “longer-form storytelling” and more “short-form shows for your daily consumption in the morning”), and new challenges for advertising.

Adams is hoping that if Acast can solve those challenges, it won’t just be monetizing the smart home market, but also moving into cars and anywhere else you might find “voice-enabled technology.”

Koo! is a social network for short-form podcasts

Alexandre Meregan says that music, and audio in general, has always been core to his life. But one day on his five-minute commute to work, trying to listen to a podcast for the first time, he realized that by the time he arrived at work he had only heard an introduction and a commercial jingle.

He immediately went to work on Koo!, a short-form podcast app aimed at young people. Koo! lets users record up to one minute of audio, add “sound stickers” like a drum roll or a poop sound, and share the “Koo” in a feed with their friends and followers.

Meregan believes that some young people are hesitant to share their thoughts on social media, which is mostly picture or video-based, because of the quantification of their self-worth through Like counters. With Koo! users can simply speak their thoughts without having to share a picture or video.

“At Koo! we believe a lot of great content is being held back by teenagers due to insecurities that comes with photo and video,” said Meregan onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin on the Startup Battlefield. “We feel that what you say should be more important than how you look.”

Like most social networks, Koo! is primarily focused on acquiring new users before focusing on a revenue model. Ad-supported revenue is the most obvious option to make money, but Meregan says that the team has been floating around a few other ideas, as well.

One user-acquisition tactic, according to Meregan, is to target YouTube content creators and give them a complimentary service to share their thoughts and voice.

A handful of startups have tried their hand at audio-based social networks, but few have managed to gain much traction.

Koo! is backed by Sweet Studio, though Meregan declined to share the amount of funding the company has received to date.

Audioburst turns the best part of podcasts into personalized news briefs

Tel Aviv-based Audioburst has been developing a search engine for audio news, which allows users to locate audio content within podcast and other talk radio programs. Today, the company is capitalizing on its technology to launch personalized playlists that deliver custom newsbriefs that get better over time the more you use the product.

The feature has been built using deep A.I. learning, the company says.

The content itself is drawn from top podcasts and the radio stations in Audioburst’s index, and will alert you to new information based on your chosen keywords and topics.

To use the feature, you first sign up on the Audioburst website, then select from a set of interests or add your own. When you’re finished with the selection process, you just hit the “I’m done” button to be taken to your personalized playlist of audio clips.

The end result is being about to listen to the parts of the podcasts or other audio programs you would actually care about, rather than slogging through half an hour or more of chatter, for the one tidbit of news you were interested in.

For example, when testing the feature this morning, I chose a variety of topics like “tech news,” “movies,” “entertainment,” “tech news,” “science,” “parenting,” and more, and was delivered a set of audio clips that included a discussion of Disney’s “Star Wars” spinoff series starring Diego Luna; a chat about the 2018 MacBook Air overhaul; an assessment the smog in L.A.; and a lot of other clips I chose to skip (but will hopefully train the A.I. further.)

You can try the feature yourself at search.audioburst.com by clicking on “Personalized Playlist” in the top left.

The results were hit or miss, which is expected – to some extent –  fresh out of the gate. But there were also times when the clips didn’t actually serve up too much information. That is, you’d still need to turn to the podcast itself for the full story.

However, the feature itself isn’t necessarily going to be used by consumers directly on Audioburst’s website.

Instead, its development came about thanks to requests from partners using its API.

The company says you can expect to see the personalized playlists integrated into its partners’ products in the smart speaker, mobile, in-car infotainment, and wearable tech space in 2019.

Audioburst currently has partnerships with Bytedance, Nippon, Bose, Harman, Samsung and more.

“Our mission is to deliver the most interesting news and audio content to our users wherever they are and personalization is the key ingredient. Through this feature, Audioburst is changing the way people consume audio in the same way that users consume music on Spotify,” said Assaf Gad, VP Marketing and Strategic Partnerships at Audioburst. “Expanding this experience through our partnerships with top OEMs, media companies and content creators means this has the power to reach users wherever they are,” he added.