Better Together: Simplecast’s New Analytics + IAB v2.0 Standards

The heartbeat of your show is your analytics — your listeners’ habits in how they listen, where they listen, and even when they stop listening.

As part of the all-new Simplecast, a major passion (while also a major hurdle) was to create one of the most powerful, granular, and accurate open analytics platforms for podcasters. And I think we’ve nailed it.

As we’re polishing things up for launch, this is the perfect time to begin sharing the biggest changes and improvements you can expect when your new analytics reports begin rolling out. We’ll start a conversation around the major upsides and the one downside of IAB standards, and why you may see a decrease in your reported downloads. At the same time, I’ll touch on the attention and engineering we’re investing to ensure legit downloads stay legit downloads and numbers don’t drop unnecessarily. And, yes, we’re still on track to begin upgrading accounts to the new Dashboard in late September.

Meet Your Audience

First off, Stats is getting a new name. We call it Audience. We could have stuck with calling it Stats and Analytics in your Dashboard, but let’s call it what it is: a tool for better understanding your audience.

In addition to dozens of new reports, comparison filters, and audio metrics you didn’t know were possible, you’ll also finally have access to your Spotify listens in your Audience reports thanks to Spotify’s new API.

On top of that, we’re developing a benchmarking tool for a later release. It’s called Gauges. Gauges will offer you impressive insights into your show like never before. How does your show stack up to other shows of the same size, age, length, etc? How does your show’s growth rate measure up? Good question — we’ll show you. Let us worry about charting the advanced mathematics. I’m excited to continue development and get it in your Dashboard as quickly as possible, but, first, back to September.

Of course your Audience reports will be IAB compliant. What’s more is that they will meet the all new IAB v2.0 standards right out of the box. This is a huge step forward for you, your show, and Simplecast. Compliance ensures that when you share your metrics with a potential advertiser, you not only know the data is sound, but you can speak confidently knowing it’s held to a higher standard. When you speak with creators or producers of other shows who are IAB compliant, you’ll rest easy knowing that your metrics match up one to one, play to play.

There are some perceived downsides to IAB compliancy too, which we’ll cover today. We’ve engineered our new Audience API with transparency in mind, so let’s continue the transparency trend.

What is the IAB and why are we complying?

The IAB is the Interactive Advertising Bureau, which includes the IAB Tech Lab, an independent, nonprofit research and development association charged with producing, and helping companies implement, global industry technical standards. Together, they work with companies all across digital media: publishers, technology companies, agencies, and marketers. The IAB has certified multiple companies from Facebook and Google to Hulu and Time Warner Cable Media. You’ll soon be in the club, too.

Why does the IAB matter?

The IAB is working to standardize statistics in podcasting. Some podcast analytics platforms use listens, others use downloads, others try to track streaming and byte-range requests. Some count partial streams as downloads in different lengths. Apple Podcasts downloads shows in chunks, other apps download before you even hit play. It’s just, yeah… It’s a mess out there, and Simplecast’s compliance ensures you stay clear of it.

As a result, you’ll know how many people are actually listening to your episodes — not bots, not multiple downloads by one person, but individual humans experiencing your show.

When we — and other platforms — adopt this method, it eliminates inflation and levels the playing field. Advertisers will know they’re getting the same dollar value for one podcast as they are for another. This creates real numbers that mean real things.

So how will this impact my numbers?

And here lies the one and only downside of transitioning to IAB compliancy — you may see your numbers of downloads drop.

This has all happened before. Back in the day, it was hard to tell a unique website visit from the same person coming right back. Website visitor analytics were inflated; then technology improved so we could differentiate between these visits. The outcome: the unique site visitor became the important metric. The same thing is happening in the podcasting universe. Better technology and better measurement standards are giving us more accurate analytics.

So how’s the technology changing? Similar download requests are now only counted once in a 24-hour period. This means you’ll see a more realistic representation of the people listening to your shows. It might come as a headache at first, but we promise it’s a short-term pain-point impacting the whole podcasting industry. With industry standardization, the value to advertisers and sponsors won’t drop. We’ve spent months ensuring you don’t lose a listen that was a legit listen.

IAB-compliant standards mean your numbers are more accurate. It’s a metric you and your sponsors can rely on, and will give you a more accurate representation of listens. Rather than hurting you, it will help you secure sponsorships and advertisers. Your IAB compliant metrics will be a badge you can wear with pride. HowStuffWorks and Wondery have already adopted the new IAB guidelines. Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal will switch by the end of 2018.

Some shows could see a change of as little of 5%, while popular, higher traffic shows could see a larger degree of change. I’m sure you’ve heard horror stories of other hosting platforms going IAB and some shows seeing drops of 30–50%, and although this has happened, we’ve taken additional steps to ensure it doesn’t happen here.

A peek at one of a dozen new reports coming soon. See more at new.simplecast.com

Measure Twice, Cut Once

When Simplecast’s engineering and infrastructure teams began mapping out our analytics harvester, we could have done it the easy way, or the long and annoying way. We chose the latter.

The difficult path meant more work, more comparisons, more testing, and more frequent bursts of profanity, but it ensures we won’t ever throw the baby out with the bathwater. If a play looks like it should be tossed out for compliancy’s sake, we don’t toss it out right away like most. Our algorithm digs deeper, making damn certain it should go, and that it’s not a legit play. Not to get too technical, but here’s just a few examples of how we’re doing this.

We’ve developed a unique filtering and comparison system to identify what network provider a listen came from. Is this a trusted network, or one which is known for scraping RSS feeds? We now know, and we then log these “questionable” networks, so filtering will only improve as our harvester gets smarter.
We’ve developed a completely anonymous fingerprinting mechanism, so the harvester can determine if a user hits “stop” and “play” during an episode. This allows us to track a single listening session which is making multiple requests back to our servers, preventing inflated statistics from scrubbing or stop/play actions.
We’re able to better discern the difference between a “metadata download”, when a podcast player downloads only a portion of an episode, to simply determine things like audio bitrate and such.
We’re now able to better determine if a podcast is being downloaded by a bot for indexing purposes. This ensures each registered play is from a legitimate pod-catcher with a human being on the other end.

As with all things Simplecast, we promise to always apply this layer of diligence to everything we build and release.

Where do we go from here?

Industry standardization means it’ll soon be much more obvious which platforms are not complying. When a podcast turns up with inflated numbers, advertisers will know they’re not up to par. But your numbers will be. Buyers and sellers will finally be using the same language. Audio content creators will be more in tune with their audience than ever.

Our new analytics harvester has been up and running silently in the background for the past 8 months, aggregating and processing this new data on how listeners interact with your show. We’re even tracking listeners’ drop-off and skip points in your embed players, which is a brand new report. This means when you gain access to your new Dashboard, you’ll have many new metrics, which are all IAB compliant, all the way back to January, not just from the day you upgrade.

In early September our team will be sharing even more on your new Audience reports, but until then, your Simplecast team (and me too 👋) are all here to answer your questions and comfort your concerns. Hop into your Dashboard and fire up the chat — we’ll be there to help.

The entire team is crazy-excited to finally begin releasing what we’ve been building for you. The meticulous high standards we’ve held to the handling of your metrics gathering and Audience reports carries through to every aspect we’re preparing to release, you have my guarantee. Simplecast exists to empower you, the creator, and our job is never done.

-@Brad

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