Last week Apple announced they would be launching podcast analytics, their new reporting tool for podcast providers.
The news came at their Worldwide Developer Conference, where business and engineering managers announced improvements to the interface and user experience on the iOS11 update, along with a few best practice guidelines.
The great news is that it's what audience-focussed podcast creators have longed for since the dawn of the medium.
The announcement at the end of the session was met with applause which, frankly, felt understated given the implications this has for our fledgling industry.
PLUGGING A GAP
The new analytics tool, which is still in development, will allow providers to see how much podcast episodes are played, and for how long, when listened to on the Apple podcast platform. Apple's Global Head of Podcasts and Internet Radio, James O. Boggs, was mindful to note the reporting tool still aimed to respect the privacy of users, with analytics not tied to individual user IDs but based on aggregate data.
Privacy and security is a mainstay of Apple products and services. They claim never to "monetise the information you store on your iphone and icloud" and so perhaps this genuinely is the reason they've been reticent to release podcast usage data until now. Noble as this mission statement is, it's pretty crucial to the value of their brand too, so you can understand why they've not been in a rush to sell out.
Those of us working in commercial content however, are elated at the news that we will soon be able to report back properly to the clients who are already taking a leap of faith by investing in branded content. Apple still provides the most-listened to platform for podcasts, so being able to report on how much our audience is listening and which parts of the episode are most interesting is essential to the business model. Whilst the dearth of data thus far has inspired many hosting platforms to develop their own user data tools, the opportunity to contrast episode performance and specific content as well as territory and subscribers on Apple is an unrivalled boon. Moreover, as content creators, it is frankly irresponsible not to consider and explore the sorts of people who are consuming your product. So the chance to react to data from the world's primary podcast platform arrives not a minute too soon
On top of that, the news makes the basic pitch for commercially-funded content a whole lot more attractive! Whilst perhaps this isn't their motivation in releasing the data, Apple predict a 20% growth in their podcast business this year, and with a thousand new shows submitted each week, the medium is booming. The revisions to the app in iOS 11 will allow creators to categorise their programmes and series as standalone episodes or narrative storytelling categories; or group content into seasons so that new subscribers can download chunks to their library at a time.
Mr Boggs also mentioned the current business models for a financially successful podcast as including 3 tenets; ads and sponsorship being the primary and most common. He said: "host-read ads in particular are successful and profitable". In addition, Boggs didn't dismiss listener donations and community support as a means to funding this content. But the third model he noted was upsell. This is potentially where the podcast industry has the opportunity to seriously evolve, and is undoubtedly a strong driving force in the development of a reporting platform for Apple podcasters.
Simply put, upsell is the idea that the podcast audience can convert to customers in the sale of products related to the content they're listening to.
EASE OF USE
The announcement is furthermore exciting because of the podcast audience’s integrity. We know that podcast listeners are educated, intelligent, curious and affluent. They choose to engage with branded content if and when it is of a calibre they can find on broadcast radio, film or written editorial. Its advantage over these rival or complementary mediums is convenience and ease of use.
It's smart that Apple have put the work in to make the user experience more inviting for time-poor but discerning listeners. Asking people to interact with any media is all about minimising the steps they need to take to achieve this. By bringing the interface more in line with their existing Music app, Apple are going for a familiar, unified look to their listening material. Most people listen to podcasts whilst doing other things, so if they're able to just hit a button and follow a familiar mechanical process for part of that, such as easily accessing their recent downloads, then surely those are extra points for getting your content into more people's ears.
Boggs nodded to the independent podcast networks producing content in partnership with Apple and pointed out the household names and brands that were getting them "excited about episode content that entertains, informs and inspires". He returned during the speech to take guests through some best practise guidelines for producing podcast content, touching on everything from cover art to competition and metadata. Interestingly, he took a moment to acknowledge the importance of quality in audio productions. Whilst he acknowledged that not all podcasters had access to the world-class studios that set the pros apart, there was of course a little plug for the iPhone's in-built mics and custom tech.
We eagerly await more news on the next phase of development for Apple's reporting tools, and indeed will be racing to bring you our verdict the iOS11 application updates. If there's one thing that's clear, it's that Apple aren't rushing this stuff and perhaps having the confidence to prioritise quality over speed is a little example we content creators can take inspiration from as we approach an exciting new era.
You can watch the full speech here