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Today's episode is brought to you by the podcast app developers who'd like to remind you that we, the podcasters, are not their clients. Instead, we, the podcasters, and the shows we make are simply the product they offer to their customers.
As with all things in life, podcasters have a decision to make when it comes to metrics: Do you want accurate stats that count every single access made to your audio files? Or do you want actionable data that inform you how your audience is responding to your podcast and your podcasting outreach efforts?
You can only choose one, it seems.
When A Podcast App Overreaches
Overcast, a privacy-focused and quite popular iOS app that even I use on occasion, recently announced and implemented—and then quickly retracted, but the day is young— a change that would have prevented podcasters from making the second choice. At least where Overcast is concerned.
Quoting directly from the developer on the possible impact of this change to publishers like you and me, “Overcast is too small for anyone to notice” because “Overcast represents something like two to 4% of [the overall] audience.”
The now-retracted change wouldn’t have (shouldn’t have?) impacted the download metrics tracked by and displayed at the podcast hosting providers. But it would have—and for a while at least, did—block (or perhaps “hide” is better said) data intelligence services like Chartable and Podsights from seeing any activity from Overcast users. Reading the linked screenshots above, it sure seemed like Podtrac could be on the list.
A Quick Primer On WTF Is Going On Here
A smidge of geekiness is required to understand the impetus behind this move. Some antispam/ad-blocking measures taken by DNS providers were causing “prefixed” download requests to fail. That’s a problem that the podcasting data intelligence providers absolutely need to solve. Quickly. And then stay on top of so that developers don’t take matters into their own hands when they notice an uptick in support requests from their users mad that their podcast episodes aren’t playing.
Marco, Overcast’s developer, said, “it’s trivial and fairly harmless to remove some of those hops”, so he did, and directly sent requests to the hosting company where the audio file was hosted. In theory, the listener experience wouldn’t change and the audio file would still be download to the listener’s iOS device.
But that move effectively shut out the visibility of that download to the intelligence providers employed by the podcast publisher.
Welcome To The Arms Race Between Well-Meaning Privacy Advocates And Actionable Data Intelligence
As I said in the introductory paragraph of this article, we podcasters are caught in the crossfire and have shockingly little power.
Yes, we could follow lock-step with the privacy advocates and avoid using data intelligence services. After all, most podcast hosts are IAB-certified and provide accurate (?) download statistics. And if that’s all you need, then that’s all you need.
But it’s not all I need, candidly. I’ve seen the insights provided by data intelligence providers. My clients have come to depend on having deeper insights around the interplay between episodes, the knowledge of which social media tactics provide the best results, and how their paid media efforts are paying off with real results.
Neither I nor they want to go back to the one-trick-pony that is counting downloads.
Data intelligence services are labeled as being“creepy”. I’ve been in the adtech space long enough to know that sometimes that label is well-earned. But I wouldn’t use a service that felt was a bad actor. And while I can’t know everything that goes on with the data the mentioned data intelligence providers utilize, I can state that yes, I use both of those services across my and my clients’ shows.
I’m not looking forward to calling all of my clients and pre-emptively warning them that an app developer may decide to take well-meaning action that reduces the value they get from their data intelligence provider. I’m not happy with the prospect of having to check myriad hosting provider-provided stats against the data intelligence dashboard to detect similar actions by app providers.
But I guess I live here now. All part of the job, I suppose.
So, what are you going to do? Other than disconnect from the services, that is. This is probably worthy of a conversation amongst your podcasting peer group, so send them a link to this article and see what their reactions are. For now, the change has been rolled back. But for how long?
And if something like this is again enacted, how long will the trick to skip the hops work when the data intelligence providers change how they handle redirects, potentially causing download requests to completely fail? The podcast adtech space moves pretty fast, so that’s a distinct possibility.
Or do we lobby the analytics providers to work directly with privacy advocates like this to demonstrate their not-creepiness and get back in good graces? I quite like that notion, but also recognize it’s hard to change the minds of fundamentalists of any stripe. Still… one can dream.
Welcome to the world of uncertainty in podcasting. If there’s one thing I am certain about, it’s that if you love the content I provide to you on Podcast Pontifications, please go to BuyMeACoffee.com/evoterra and slide a virtual coffee my way.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.