We need to talk about IP addresses, podcasters. But don't worry! I’m going to do so in a very non-technical way, as I’m talking to podcasters, not developers. (Though if you are a developer and a podcaster, please forgive the tortured analogy I’m about to give because my development skills are woefully out of date.)
Meet IP, the Blind Dog Who Can Count?
Imagine for a moment that there’s a blind dog keeping watch at the entrance to a shop. Each time the door opens, the dog sniffs the air. If the scent of the door opener is one he hasn’t already smelled today, the dog barks once, and the shop owner makes a tick in their “customer counter” tabulator. The dog can hear each time the door opens as well as hearing the footsteps taken as customers walk through the door. But the dog only counts—by barking because this is my analogy, thank you very much—when his nose tells him the scent is unique. This keeps him from barking each time the same person walks in or out the door, which keeps the shop owner’s tabulator from making duplicate entries.
Sometimes, Ip the dog hears lots of footsteps, like when a family walks in, but they all smell the same. He’ll bark once, no matter how many of them come in to shop. Or maybe a big cross-country tour bus dropped off a bunch of people, but they all smell like the bus. He’ll only bark once in this case, even though dozens of “new” customers may be in that bunch.
Obviously, our blind barking dog gets his counts wrong. A lot. But his methodology is the same day in and day out, so the counts he provides are seen by the shop owner to be directionally right.
Losing IP Addresses Would Stink
Sticking with my metaphor for just another minute, imagine what would happen if a large portion or all of the people coming into the store suddenly had no discernable scent. Maybe they used the same deodorant or were wearing hermetically sealed encounter suites. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Ip the blind counting dog would have lost the one thing that allowed him to discern the differences among the humans making the sounds he’s hearing.
Something very similar will happen when we can no longer rely on IP addresses to discern the differences between users accessing our podcast episodes.
Your podcast media hosting company will still continue to count requests to your media files. They'll even know which apps are making the requests, be they podcast listening apps, web browsers, or something else.
But your hosting company will lose the ability to group, filter, or analyze all of those media file requests to tell you how many people were responsible for those file access requests.
And just like Ip the blind barking dog who can no longer smell the differences between people when the door is opened hundreds of times a day, your media hosting provider will no longer be able to tell the difference between people when their apps request your media files hundreds or thousands of times each day.
Naturally, the entire podcast ad industry is rather nervous about the apocalypse-inducing prospect of losing our reliance on IP addresses. The agreed-upon industry standard for accurate-ish measurement is the IAB. And their guidelines—that every relevant podcast media host follows—requires filtering of traffic by IP addresses to come up with an acceptable and mostly interchangeable “download” number.
I highly recommend reading the article Who Wins When IP Addresses Disappear? on Sounds Profitable for a less-than-rosy future painted for the podcast ad industry when, not if, this comes to pass.
But what about podcasters perhaps like you who do not sell ads on a per-impression basis? That's the vast majority of podcasters, by the way. Including me. What happens to us when IP addresses disappear?
Post-IP Address Realities
No IP addresses—or genericized IP addresses—means we won’t know how many people are downloading our episodes. That’s it. Full stop.
What happens when millions of podcasters have no idea how many people are downloading episodes of their podcasts?
After giving this much thought, I’ve come to a realization: I don't really think all that much will change for most podcasters.
Clearly, there will be much sturm und drang when this happens. Indeed, I predict the fallout will devastating for many podcasts. But I’m confident that podcasting will survive.
Hobbyist podcasters don't really care how “accurate” their statistics are. They just want to know that someone on the other end is listening. And in a perfect world, they’d see their show growing over time. Podcast hosting providers can still provide hobbyists podcasters with data that show both. Sure, those data are made less precise without a reliable IP address, but hosting providers can and will quickly adapt their analytics to provide metrics that approximate audience size and provide evidence of growth.
Influencers who use their podcast as a way to spread their influence are very, very good at amalgamating disparate metrics and signals from lots of different platforms. I have every confidence influencers will be able to spin an engagement story that will be acceptable to the brands they work with to demonstrate their efficacy. And they’ll do this without the need for the download metric.
Business podcasters care less about downloads and much more about measurable business outcomes. For them, it’s about how their podcast impacts their bottom line. I expect them to double-down on tracking KPIs that really matter to their business, like meetings scheduled or other business outcomes they can direct-line back to their podcasting efforts.
And you know what? I'm pretty confident the podcast advertising industry—on both sides—will survive this too.
If I learned one thing in my 20-ish years running digital advertising agencies and leading marketing teams, it's that the ad tech industry is extremely resilient. They’re already hard at work on something called PETs—privacy-enhancing technologies— that promise to allow for even more accurate tabulation minus (so the theory goes) the leaky privacy issues that are intrinsic to IP addresses.
There’s also the fact that the biggest spenders in podcast advertising are direct response advertisers. Their campaigns are proven effective only when someone uses a coupon code or discount code at checkout. Direct response advertisers may pay for ads on a CPM model, but they're tracking campaign success by examining ROAS (return on ad spend) or ROI (return on investment). Ad volume and impressions are just outputs, not business outcomes.
But let me be clear: when we lose IP addresses or when they become less reliable—a prospect becoming increasingly likely and on a long enough timescale, inevitable—the immediate result will be massive upheaval. Livelihoods for many podcasters will be seriously impacted. Many business models will prove unsustainable. And many will go belly-up. And yes, we’ll lose a lot of podcasts from creators who can’t adapt to the reality of having less clarity on download activity.
Yet I’m cautiously optimistic about what comes after such upheaval. More importantly, I believe podcasting will survive and will come out with better measurements and business models on the other side.
We’re already seeing evidence of this with the concept of value for value. It’s incredibly early in the evolution of 4v4 right now, but I find this directionally interesting. Apps like Podfriend, Fountain, Podverse, and many more are seeing an uptick in revenues flowing to creators from listeners who derive value from their work. Again, I know it’s early and the onboarding process is stupidly complicated right now. That can only get better. Right?
If my thoughts on the future of podcasting in a post-IP world gave you a sigh of relief and you managed to figure out how to add funds to your value for value enabled podcast listening app, hit the boost button and send me a note as well!
But if you, like the majority of podcasters and podcast listeners, are waiting for those new apps to be a little more robust and a lot more easy to use—I am hip to the complexity—you can approximate the value for value model at BuyMeACoffee.com/evoterra, where you can buy me a virtual coffee. Or 12.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.