A quick note for those playing the podcast drinking game where you do a shot every time someone proclaims “podcasting is an intimate medium”; you may want to take a time out for this episode. I’m taking a critical look at that oft-repeated cliché and will repeat it a lot. So unless you want to get really, really tipsy...
Is Intimacy Overhyped In Podcasting?
Big podcasters who’ve been able to earn or buy their way to tens of thousands or more downloads don't really care about intimacy. At that size, the focus shifts to maximizing reach and ad sell-thru rate to increase ad revenues for their podcasts. And CPM-based ad sales aren’t impacted by the level of intimacy between publisher and audience.
Though that may be too damning of a generalization. Indeed, there’s a collective need across the large-audiences podcasters and the service providers who work with them to keep CPMs high. And sticking with the “podcasting is an intimate medium” line certainly helps convince existing advertisers to spend more money in podcasting, as well as draw new advertisers to podcasting.
Is that working? Looking over Magellan.ai’s monthly reports, it’s pretty clear that podcast advertising revenue is increasing, both among existing advertisers increasing their spend and new advertisers entering the market. So yes, total podcasting ad revenue is up.
But what I haven’t seen is a slew of reports talking about how podcast advertising CPMs are increasing. AdvertiseCast is starting to track average CPM rates, but these seem rather familiar, with the standard podcast advertising rate staying rather stagnant at between $20–$30 CPM for what… the last decade or so?
Yes, in isolation, there certainly are podcasts that command much higher CPMs. But overall, it doesn’t look like the reported intimacy of podcasting is causing rates to increase.
How Do You Measure Intimacy in Podcasting?
It’s broadly assumed to be true that is that shows with more modest, niche audiences have a more intimate relationship with their audiences. But are we sure that’s the case? And if so, are we measuring it?
Spoiler: We’re not.
Don’t look for answers in the download statistics provided by your podcast hosting company. And keep in mind that roughly a third of downloads are automated and never listened to by human ears.
I don’t think the consumption rate provided by Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google Podcasts is a good measure of intimacy. There very well may be a correlation between how much of an episode someone consumed and the level of intimacy, but it’s far from proven. And anecdotally, I've noticed a significant uptick in people asking for recommendations of podcasts they can play in the background while they study, work, or do other brain-intensive activities. Or that they can listen to as they fall asleep! None of those activities engender confidence in an intimate experience.
So no, we don’t have any good proxies to measure the intimacy our listeners have with our podcast episodes.
No service will tell us how many repeat listener-initiated plays our content is earning.
You don’t have any idea what your “time to listen” rate is, which could measure how long it takes for someone to hit play after getting a notification that a new episode is available.
I’d love to know how many different episodes a unique user actually listened to over a period of time, showing me a sort of “loyalty tier” across my audience. But I don’t know what that number is because I can’t know what that number is.
We can’t know these things because our industry is not set up to know these things, thanks in large part to our current standards body, the IAB. They take the A in their name—advertising—quite seriously. And as previously mentioned, advertisers don’t buy podcasts because podcasts are intimate. They buy podcasts because podcasts perform and provide results. (And in lieu of results, advertisers care about benchmarking their spending activity so they're not spending too much or too little in certain mediums.)
Then there’s the fact that very real privacy concerns make every wishful intimacy metric I just put forth a serious challenge. While it’s true that I personally do not care who knows what episodes I listened to, what episodes I skipped, and how deeply I connected on an intimate level, I understand that how bad actors would almost certainly use that information in nefarious ways.
What Would You Do With An Intimacy Measurement?
This is not the first time I’ve lamented our lack of intimacy indicators. And I’m not the first person to opine for ways to better understand how people are actually feeling about content when they listen.
But I am genuinely curious what you would do if you could measure a sort of intimacy rating, either across your episodes or with your listeners themselves. Do you think that metric—or those metrics—would change how you produce your podcast? Or are you concerned, like I’m concerned, that you’d immediately look to compare your show’s intimacy rating to the average intimacy rating across all other podcasts, much the same way we benchmark our download numbers or CPM rates?
If you have thoughts, email them to me. Or better yet, share your notions with the Advancing Podcasting community. I’ll revisit this topic on a future episode, sharing some of the thoughts and ideas that bubble up to the top. Who knows? Maybe if the benefits of such information were surfaced, the infrastructure providers in podcasting would come up with clever ways to get us there?
And I need to once again thank Seth Goldstein, this time for buying me a virtual coffee to add to the nice review he left last week. Much thanks for your ongoing support, Seth!
If you received any value out of today's episode, please return some of that value, either as Brad or Seth did, or by using your new podcast listening app to stream some value to me, a few sats at a time, or by sending me a nice boost!
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.