Apple reportedly offered feedback on NPR's 'RAD' podcast analytics system

in General Discussion edited December 2018
According to a report on Thursday, Apple employees had a hand in the development of National Public Radio's recently launched Remote Audio Data system (RAD), an analytics platform that enables content creators to gauge listener statistics. Importantly, RAD provides engagement information on money-making advertisements.


A major player in the podcasting world, NPR has much to gain from metrics provided by RAD. Beyond content polling, the system provides valuable data on whether users are listening to embedded ads on which NPR, and many other podcasters, rely as a source of revenue.

Currently, ad sales are generally calculated by gross download numbers, a decidedly crude process that stands in stark contrast to data quantification and sharing techniques championed by Facebook and Google. By providing granular data on listener habits, RAD aims to shed light on the intrinsic value of podcasts both for podcasters and advertisers.

As noted by The Verge, however, the success of RAD depends largely on Apple, which maintains the world's premiere podcasting outlet in Apple Podcasts. Citing numbers from Anchor, a podcasting creation tool, the report says Apple's platform hosts more than half of all podcast listens, while Spotify is the second-largest single repository with 19 percent of all listens. The remainder is cobbled together from smaller outlets.

Neither Apple nor Spotify have announced support for RAD, though NPR told The Verge that Apple employees "offered their feedback" on the system. What feedback Apple provided, and whether NPR took action on the input, is unknown.

As it stands, RAD inserts tags into podcasts, enabling an analytics engine to track when a listener hits a specific point in the show. Presumably, tags can be used to monitor when a user reaches an ad and, more importantly, whether said ad is played in full or skipped. RAD sends this information to the podcaster, who can use it to market their show to advertisers.

Whether Apple intends to support RAD is unknown. User privacy will likely be a major sticking point for the company, though NPR says the system does not send identifiable information to podcasters and advertisers. Still, Apple device users are accustomed to a high degree of anonymity afforded by the tech giant's consumer-first ethos, and a third-party system that tracks listening habits runs counter to expected protections.

In addition, Apple is testing its own podcast analytics service that provides granular data like when users stop listening to a given episode. Other metrics tracked include number of downloads, total hours listened, time per device, average consumption, devices subscribed and top countries.


  • Reply 1 of 5
    cgWerkscgWerks Posts: 2,952member
    This is RAD thing is just silly. The only people who care about this, are the people at NPR (who don't seem to get the medium).

    And, while they have a few popular podcasts, I'm not sure they qualify as "major players" in the grand-scheme (ie: if we're talking about listenership and downloads, they are tiny fraction of the podcasting world).

    There is no incentive for anyone to join their little party, as the only one to gain would be those wanting to implement an outdated advertising system. For those who do, the metrics in podcasting are already better than traditional media. Invasive metrics aren't going to fly in the podcasting world.

    Best case, they implement in their player and talk a few other players into incorporating it. In that case, we're talking a few percent of listers at best.

    If you want to hear a good commentary on this from a true industry expert, Rob Walch (of Libsyn) talked about it on the their last episode:
    (1:07:40 in)

    Also, FYI... Libsyn has better metrics than Anchor (seriously, Anchor???).
    Apple's podcast app accounts for over 60%.
    Spotify is slowly heading towards 10%.
    Overcast (which Marco said wasn't going do to this) is 3.3%.
    NPRs app doesn't make the over 1% category to get listed, and I'm guessing it's hundredths of a percent, if that.

    Also, here's Marco's take on it:

    And, yes, Apple offers some form of analytics like this for podcasts that are played with their Podcast app, though I'm pretty sure properly anonymized. While you only get a segment of the audience, it gives the kind of feedback metrics a podcast creator might need to fine-tune things in their podcast. So, this is really all about advertising, which as I said above, is a broken model to most podcasters anyway. Mechanisms for funding that actually work, include value-for-value, donation, sponsorship, influencer marketing, etc.
  • Reply 2 of 5
    The audio files include a list of timestamps and tracking URLs, and the app is supposed to report to those tracking URLs whenever you play the file to certain timestamps.

    Bloody hell.  So I have to turn off my internet while listening to podcasts using RAD?  Seriously, if I'm understanding this correctly, it's just like those single pixel "images" that web pages used to use (and still do on occasion) for tracking.

    This sounds like it could be abused in the same way.
  • Reply 3 of 5
    Honestly, the only way this gets traction is if advertisers shift to requiring it in order to pay for ad reads.

  • Reply 4 of 5
    cgWerkscgWerks Posts: 2,952member
    vmarks said:
    Honestly, the only way this gets traction is if advertisers shift to requiring it in order to pay for ad reads.
    I'm not sure the majority of podcasters even deal with that kind of advertising anymore, and if they do, maybe reconsider and find better sponsors/advertisers. A good advertiser is going to recognize the value w/o the need for that kind of info, and the ones that think they need it probably shouldn't be marketing via podcasts.

    For example, if a hard drive maker took out an ad in Computer World, they knew it was valuable and never had any kind of knowledge which readers looked at page 37 and for how long. TV or radio commercials have no clue who listened/watched an ad, other than VERY generic audience sizes and demographics.

    This is just extremely one-sided overreach dreaming by a bunch of clueless old-media types, without the common sense to think of the negative impact (or care).

    (And... I thought NPR was supposedly sponsor based, not ad based, right? I suppose everyone knows that isn't actually the case, but one would think they would at least pretend a bit better.)
    edited December 2018
  • Reply 5 of 5
    Angelo MandatoAngelo Mandato Posts: 1unconfirmed, member
    This article is rather dubious, Apple attended RAD meetings, but so did everyone NPR invited. RAD spec was not drafted or even partially-drafted by Apple as this article is implying. I also attended some of the RAD meetings. Concerns about privacy and GDPR as well as batching requests when networks go offline came up when NPR pitched their RAD spec. They addressed the batching issue but RAD does not deal with the privacy issues, at least not currently.

    Until the privacy concerned are addressed in the spec we will not see any major podcast directory app adopt RAD. The problem is the RAD urls can go anywhere without the user's or application's knowledge. Without a centralized safe list to manage the RAD URLs to determine which sources are safe and will not impact the performance of applications, it will be a hard sell for Google or Apple to just bake-in call home to the mother-ship code when no one knows who or where the mother-ship is for each episode. To make matters confusing, RAD allows multiple RAD URLs, the thinking is that maybe NPR wants a ping back for ever 5 seconds of playback but maybe P&G wants a ping back when their ad for Ivory soap runs at 3:45. For a 30 minute podcast, this would result in 2 different mother-ships getting RAD pings, 1 to P&G and 360 to NPR.. Apple cannot simply allow the tracking back to random places, particularly when the pings could identify a user with a unique mp3 + providing the RAD server their IP address. The RAD spec needs to include a way for apps such as Apple podcasts to ask each user if they are ok with being tracked and to disclose whom gets the data. RAD currently does not address that.

    RAD has an immediate future with large enterprises who have their own apps. For example, NPR's NPR One podcast app can adopt RAD (if it hasn't already), it can easily present a terms of service and privacy policy in its app indicating that they are collecting this data and with which partners. With a network app they can control the mother-ship situation and also not violate GDPR and other laws.

    Someone should have Marco Arment‏, the creator of Overcast podcast app, weigh in on this thread. He's discussed this as a Podcast app developer last month on Twitter.

    Full disclosure, I am the CIO of Blubrry Podcasting.

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