The Wild, Wild West of Podcasting

We recently finished a pretty big podcast buy for one of our clients and we’re here to tell you, podcasting is the Wild, Wild West of media buying. We’re used to the spots and dots (for all you non-media buyer geeks, that’s a term we use to evaluate buys through research such as Cost per Point-CPP, Cost per Thousand-CPM, Gross Rating Point –GRP, etc.) of ad measurement for radio, TV and digital, but it seems like no one’s told the podcasters how to evaluate or even sell their product yet.

We were excited to tap this audience who actively engages with the podcast show and host. They’re not a passive, “I’ll watch whatever’s on the TV” type of audience. These people have to go GET the broadcast and actively download/listen. To engage this group is the holy grail of media buying. These hosts have the power to influence and make their audience act. More than radio jocks did in the day. Podcast host read spots are the key to success and both branding and direct response campaigns are appropriate for podcast sponsorship.

There’s definitely no consistency with either how publishers sell their podcasts or even how they evaluate their own product/show. Different publishers/outlets/Rep firms, etc. sell using different forms of evaluation and there doesn’t seem to be a sole clearing house of reporting so that you can be sure what they’re telling you is true, much less compare between podcasts. Until this happens, it’s difficult to put a solid buy together using multiple publishers, but here’s what we’ve learned and how we overcame the obstacles.


What is Podcasting?

Podcasting according to Webster’s is: An episodic series of digital media files which a user can set up so that new episodes are automatically downloaded via web syndication to the user’s own local computer or portable media player.


Podcasts have been around since 2004/2005, but it wasn’t until Serial launched in 2014 that podcasts seemed to become more “main stream.” Serial has consistently been ranked as the #1 podcast and currently sits at the top on the Podtrac rankings (but you can access this podcast from several publishers which just makes things crazy confusing!)

We all knew what podcasts were, but only a small portion of the population was regularly using them or downloading them to their computer or phone. For all you podcast enthusiasts out there you may find this hard to believe, but not too long ago, you were almost considered a cult following. You were ahead of your time we now know!


What’s the difference between Podcasting and Netcasting?

Sometimes Netcasting is used to refer to the digital portion of the podcast such as the show’s website or screen during the audio podcast. This is an adopted term by some, but the real term for a “net cast” is just a generic term that doesn’t give Apple the “pod” nod. It’s intended as a vendor-neutral term without reference to the Apple iPod/iPhone. The name is used by shows on the network.


Who listens/downloads Podcasts?

This is the million dollar question! And further more, who’s measuring this behavior!?

After speaking with about 10 of the publishers during this client’s media buy, it seems that each publisher has their own way of evaluating their podcasts. And why wouldn’t they?

It’s not just the measurement that’s at stake here. Some podcast hosts have an immeasurable relationship with their audience and instant validation of any product or service they endorse. For example, when Tim Ferris published his Tools of Titans book, it was an immediate NY Times best seller. It literally debuted at #1. His popular podcast is approaching the 100 million-download mark so we know he’s a very popular host with a loyal audience. That’s incredible in the world of podcasting and he’s clearly made the jump to mainstream. He was even on The Tonight Show the other night! When he talks, people listen….and act!

Podtrac has tried to pull it all together and become the self appointed “Nielsen of podcasting”, if you will, but they haven’t been completely successful yet. Some of the large guys still want to control their own measurement or don’t agree with Podtrac’s process and the small guys don’t want to admit their true traffic/download numbers until they gain more audience. They’d rather sell their own way and try to sell off of GRPs, CPP or another traditional electronic media buying value system. The publisher who claims to be the largest podcast seller in the U.S. does not report to Podtrac so, as you can imagine, that leaves out a massive amount of podcasts from Podtrac’s reporting and rankings.

To answer the question more directly, there is no consistent measurement system set up to know who listens to what podcasts or how many people are in a podcast audience. The content and common sense can tell you some of what’s going on. For example if your podcast is about car repair, you can assume their audience is predominantly male 18+, but of course there are exceptions. If your podcast is about Ham radios, you can probably assume a little bit older male audience, but it’s just guessing at this point.

There are a ton of publishers trying to gain traction with this emerging audience. See a very partial list here: These are media dollars just waiting to be captured so new publishers are coming into the market all the time.


How do agencies evaluate podcasts—CPM, CPP, GRPs, Unique Downloads, Total Downloads, Impressions, raw hits, iTunes rankings, etc?

It’s all very confusing (intentionally in some cases), but in the end, we decided to compare impressions. Impressions = listeners, so there’s no other way to value a broadcast in our minds. How many people will hear our client’s ad? Downloads don’t guarantee that the podcast was listened to, especially not in a timely basis. I’m sure we all have, or know people who have, tons of podcasts downloaded, but haven’t had a “chance” to listen to them yet. We’ll get to them…someday, maybe….probably…who knows?


As we’ve experienced, the wild, wild West can be thrilling, but also confusing. For a media buyer or marketing executive who generally has measurements in place to value/devalue a client’s media spend, it’s both fun and disconcerting to work on a podcast media buy. All we can do is continue to educate ourselves and talk to as many podcast publishers as possible. As we discover new info, we’ll post here or feel free to give us a call.