On the Daily Talkshow podcast this week, Josh Janssen has criticised subscribers to the Australian Podcast Ranker for gaming the system.
After examining the way the ranker works, and criticising it for being limited to a select few broadcasters (see our earlier article about how it operates) Janssen says he has worked out how publishers are gaming the system to maximise their position in the ranking by releasing multiple versions of the same show
Some programs make one podcast per week, but keep releasing ‘best bits’ throughout the week because the ranker is based on weekly downloads. Janssen considers this to be lazy production, compared with shows like his that are published every day.
He also makes the point that highly successful daily podcasts that get huge audiences, such as Mamamia do not subscribe, so are not reported in the ranker, disputing the validity of naming it with the word ‘Australian.’
Janssen researched “all arguments” in his “due diligence” about how the ranker works and concluded “the podcast ranker is dumb.” He does not take issue with the standardised methodology, but he does criticise the way it is being presented to the market place.
“One of the things I hate about this is that the name ‘Australian Podcast Ranker’ implies that it represents all podcasts in Australia… you think it’s official… it’s got as much officialness as a bakery that says it makes the best vanilla slices in the world.
“A few independent podcasters, who are bigger than us, came to me saying we loved the article… CRA charges between $150-$200 per month to be in the ranker… Independent creators can’t absorb that cost, this is a shake down.
“The current ranker is flawed… of course it’s complex, but falling into the trap of ranking everyone against each other is… bad for the industry,” says Jennsen.
He says posting best bits and multiple versions of the same show may be a good “short term strategy” to get a ranking up, but is bad for the industry in the long term because it will decrease relevance of the content to the listeners.
“The people who support the ranker would say that there is now a solution to approach advertisers and show them the entire state of the industry at the moment,” says Janssen, discussing the fact that the ranker is used to present information to agencies who buy on a CPM basis (a set payment per thousand downloads). “We don’t play the CPM game, we’ve had some great successes recently that prove to us that you don’t just have to play the CPM game,” he says in his podcast.
The CPM argument has its equivalent in the normal broadcast radio sales paradigm. Top stations can sell to agencies based on their share raking, but other lower ranking stations need to work harder at direct sales because agencies may not buy on the basis of their rank. 2SM is an example of this. It pulled out of the ratings years ago because of consistently low rankings and now it sells most of its advertising via direct sales, which works for many of its specialist shows which have a small but highly targeted listenership.
When you call anything out you can expect push-back says Janssen. “Let’s just say there are people who need this to work to keep their jobs so I wouldn’t be surprised if we get criticism for [this point of view]… Josh Assange the Whistleblower… which embassy should I move to.”
“What kind of mood were you in when you wrote it?” asked his co-host Tommy Jacket.
“I was in a coffee shop, I’d had a coffee… I can’t say the location of the cafe where I wrote it because CRA will find out… I’m in witness protection,” he joked.
In the height of his coffee fuelled indignation Janssen bought the domain name www.australianpodcastranker.com and has redirected it to his article criticising the ranker. He says he bought the international (.com) domain name to avoid Australian trade mark and business name laws that he says would apply if he had bought the .com.au domain name.
So what does he want to happen as a result of his criticism.
“Don’t call it the Australian Podcast Ranker if it is not a representation of the whole industry, call it the ‘CRA very specific podcast ranker for a very limited number of radio shows’ ranker.”
He says the ranker “is too confusing for advertisers” and does not present them with enough information, “there are no demographics available to the advertisers.”
This is a philosophical issue according to Janssen, who thinks advertisers would not want incomplete information. However, the other side of the argument is that advertisers do not necessarily worry about whether the content is new or the information represents all podcast producers, what they are buying is the ears of the listener for their clients, just as they are on commercial radio, so the content or how it is presented to advertisers may not be the primary reason for buying decisions.
radioinfo put this argument to two advertising agencies, who said they do find the ranker useful and are increasingly using it to inform their podcast purchasing. Most are not buying because of content, they are buying ears.
Janssen asserts that the ranker is a blunt instrument that does not give enough detail for advertisers, but the agencies we spoke to said they looked beyond the top 100 raking into specific demographics and usage statistics which can be provided through the dashboard available to ranker clients. “I would never just buy only on a list of top programs, we always want to see more detail, which the companies can provide to us through the data they have in the system,” one advertiser, who did not wish to be named, told us.
Janssen says podcast producers have begun ‘gaming the system’ by beginning to pump out ‘best bits’ and other segments to ramp up numbers. While this argument has validity, it appears incorrect to say that it is a new phenomenon. Looking back at talk radio podcasts for the past decade there is evidence that talk stations have always presented two options to listeners – podcasts of the whole show, plus separate shorter segment podcasts for specialist interviews and other segments. One talk radio producer told radioinfo: “We have to do both, our listeners want different things. People who want to time-shift the Ray Hadley show and listen to it while they are working on night shift demand the full show, but others only want to listen back to something they half heard earlier or maybe one of their favourite people being interviewed, so they don’t want to search through the whole podcast to find the bit they want.”
Responding to Janssen’s comments, John Rosso, President of Market Development for Triton Digital has told radioinfo:
“The Australian Podcast Ranker lists the top shows based on average weekly downloads in Australia, as measured by Podcast Metrics. Additional data points will be released in future rankers. Any podcast is eligible to appear in the Ranker, assuming that the podcast is measured by Triton Digital and has enough downloads to make the Top 100. Like all media measurement services around the world, Triton Digital charges for its services. Podcasters pay Triton for the collection and processing of their data, and for access to Triton’s analysis tools. Podcasters do not pay to be listed in the report.”
“This is about CRA trying to keep the power they currently have,” says Janssen in his podcast.
CRA chief executive officer Joan Warner has told radioinfo the ranker was developed to bring an independent reporting system and transparency to a growing media platform. CRA does not receive any revenue from the ranker.
“Commercial radio established the ranker as there was a need to be able to report to agencies and advertisers what was happening in the Australian market in an independent and transparent manner and, importantly, to ensure verification. At the suggestion of agencies we opened up the ranker to all comers not just radio as radio, while a big part, is just one part of the podcast industry. In fact, six out of the top 10 podcasts in the most recent ranker were not radio podcasts. Publishers who so far have chosen to participate have done so with a clear aim of supporting the growth of the industry, and/or publicising and monetising their products.
“Podcasting is a fiercely competitive space, and it is up to publishers how they deliver their content. Ultimately, podcasters know their audiences and what they need to deliver to provide a great experience. We have always said the ranker will continue to grow and evolve with more publishers and data points. We continue to receive external input into its development from a broad range of stakeholders, including advertisers and once again welcome any and all publishers to participate.”
The podcast is below, discussion of the ranker begins about 3 minutes in.