The download, podcasting’s metric king, gets dethroned

“Measuring podcast success and setting advertising rates on a faulty CPM formula built on an inflated unit of measure could lead to serious consequences — maybe even an analytics bubble.”

My two boys and I regularly play chess at our kitchen island while I make breakfast on weekends. We’re not the best, but we always have fun. And I occasionally pull life lessons out of the metaphors embedded in the game.

One day this summer, during one of Lantigua Williams & Co.’s monthly Podcasting, Seriously webinars, I heard myself improvise this thought: “It’s like this: In podcasting, the download is the King on the chessboard — a useless figurehead and status symbol that must be protected at all costs, because he can only move one square at a time. Useless in battle. The Queen, on the other hand, is the most powerful piece on the board, has complete dominion over the field, and becomes more strategic the closer she gets to the other edge of the board.”

I paused, looked up to the left like I was doing math in my head, and then back at the webcam on my laptop: “That’s the whole problem with podcast metrics — the entire ecosystem is built on a false premise,” I declared, with a hint of doubt hanging from that sentence. The podcasters looking back at me on Zoom were either smiling and nodding, looking back at me with pensive eyes, or typing furiously into the group chat.

As I continued, the explanation went something like this:

A download is equivalent to one minute of listening per IAB — usually the first 60 seconds if there are no dynamically inserted ads in the preroll. The CPM for standard integrated or “baked-in” ads is based on the average number of downloads per episode over a four-week period. And most advertisers and publishers consider the midroll (the middle of the episode) prime audio real estate.

So how does it make sense to base CPM on the first 60-seconds — especially considering that, on average, individual episodes lose 30 percent of listeners in the first five minutes?

It seems that measuring podcast success and setting advertising rates on a faulty CPM formula built on an inflated unit of measure could lead to serious consequences — maybe even an analytics bubble, to borrow a term from economics. It seems the King, like the infamous emperor, has no clothes.

On the other hand, the listen-through rate is a true and mighty figurehead whose worth can be strengthened, measured, and influenced over time by creators and business owners. And it is the Queen to whom I pledge my fealty and courage.

Edison Research tells us that 58 percent of podcast consumers listen to between 76 and 100 percent of podcasts they download, so let’s just round up to a 60 percent listen-through rate for the sake of this exercise. Strong performers can presumably reach into the 80s, with some shows even breaking into the top 10 percent. (Shout out to my fellow credits-listening peeps.)

So I’m thinking we may want to adopt a CPM formula that truly reflects how much people actually listen, and that also allows creators the chance to improve performance in the choices they make about content and style.

Here’s a thought: Let’s make the base for the CPM a 60 percent listen-through rate. Then add to the cost based on percentage points above or below that. So maybe we set the starting price at $20 for a 60 percent listen-through rate, for example. Next, we could add or deduct 10 percent ($2) per every 5 percent up or down from 60 percent. So a show with a 70 percent listen-through rate would have a minimum CPM of $24, while one with a 50 percent listen-through rate would start at $16. (The numbers in the formula only matter as much as their relationship to the stickiness reflected in the average listen-through rate.)

From there, other factors are added in, as they are currently, such as the show’s frequency, the U.S. vs. international listenership, the age spread, household income, the percentage of subscribers, and a host of other characteristics we intuitively use to negotiate advertising terms.

I’ve been thinking about this for months and sharing the idea with others to ascertain its merit. In most cases, my fellow podcasters haven’t stopped working and hustling long enough to question the merits of allowing a false regent to rule. But they quickly, and happily, share their own robust listen-through rates as true indicators of their efforts to make shows that stick with audiences.

My two boys and I regularly play chess at our kitchen island while I make breakfast on weekends. We’re not the best, but we always have fun. And I occasionally pull life lessons out of the metaphors embedded in the game.

One day this summer, during one of Lantigua Williams & Co.’s monthly Podcasting, Seriously webinars, I heard myself improvise this thought: “It’s like this: In podcasting, the download is the King on the chessboard — a useless figurehead and status symbol that must be protected at all costs, because he can only move one square at a time. Useless in battle. The Queen, on the other hand, is the most powerful piece on the board, has complete dominion over the field, and becomes more strategic the closer she gets to the other edge of the board.”

I paused, looked up to the left like I was doing math in my head, and then back at the webcam on my laptop: “That’s the whole problem with podcast metrics — the entire ecosystem is built on a false premise,” I declared, with a hint of doubt hanging from that sentence. The podcasters looking back at me on Zoom were either smiling and nodding, looking back at me with pensive eyes, or typing furiously into the group chat.

As I continued, the explanation went something like this:

A download is equivalent to one minute of listening per IAB — usually the first 60 seconds if there are no dynamically inserted ads in the preroll. The CPM for standard integrated or “baked-in” ads is based on the average number of downloads per episode over a four-week period. And most advertisers and publishers consider the midroll (the middle of the episode) prime audio real estate.

So how does it make sense to base CPM on the first 60-seconds — especially considering that, on average, individual episodes lose 30 percent of listeners in the first five minutes?

It seems that measuring podcast success and setting advertising rates on a faulty CPM formula built on an inflated unit of measure could lead to serious consequences — maybe even an analytics bubble, to borrow a term from economics. It seems the King, like the infamous emperor, has no clothes.

On the other hand, the listen-through rate is a true and mighty figurehead whose worth can be strengthened, measured, and influenced over time by creators and business owners. And it is the Queen to whom I pledge my fealty and courage.

Edison Research tells us that 58 percent of podcast consumers listen to between 76 and 100 percent of podcasts they download, so let’s just round up to a 60 percent listen-through rate for the sake of this exercise. Strong performers can presumably reach into the 80s, with some shows even breaking into the top 10 percent. (Shout out to my fellow credits-listening peeps.)

So I’m thinking we may want to adopt a CPM formula that truly reflects how much people actually listen, and that also allows creators the chance to improve performance in the choices they make about content and style.

Here’s a thought: Let’s make the base for the CPM a 60 percent listen-through rate. Then add to the cost based on percentage points above or below that. So maybe we set the starting price at $20 for a 60 percent listen-through rate, for example. Next, we could add or deduct 10 percent ($2) per every 5 percent up or down from 60 percent. So a show with a 70 percent listen-through rate would have a minimum CPM of $24, while one with a 50 percent listen-through rate would start at $16. (The numbers in the formula only matter as much as their relationship to the stickiness reflected in the average listen-through rate.)

From there, other factors are added in, as they are currently, such as the show’s frequency, the U.S. vs. international listenership, the age spread, household income, the percentage of subscribers, and a host of other characteristics we intuitively use to negotiate advertising terms.

I’ve been thinking about this for months and sharing the idea with others to ascertain its merit. In most cases, my fellow podcasters haven’t stopped working and hustling long enough to question the merits of allowing a false regent to rule. But they quickly, and happily, share their own robust listen-through rates as true indicators of their efforts to make shows that stick with audiences.

Ray Soto   The news gets spatial

Charo Henríquez   A new path to leadership

Michael W. Wagner   Fractured democracy, fractured journalism

Chase Davis   The year we look beyond The Story

Richard J. Tofel   Less on politics, more on how government works (or doesn’t)

Annie Rudd   Newsrooms grow less comfortable with the “view from above”

Alyssa Zeisler   Holistic medicine for journalism

Nonny de la Pena   News reaches the third dimension

Marcus Mabry   News orgs adapt to a post-Trump world (with Trump still in it)

Tanya Cordrey   Declining trust forces publishers to claim (or disclaim) values

Andrew Ramsammy   Stop being polite and start getting real

Ståle Grut   Network analysis enters the journalism toolbox

Sue Cross   A global consensus around the kind of news we need to save

Taylor Lorenz   Journalists will learn influencing isn’t easy

Shaydanay Urbani and Nancy Watzman   Local collaboration is key to slowing misinformation

An Xiao Mina   2020 isn’t a black swan — it’s a yellow canary

John Ketchum   More journalists of color become newsroom founders

Parker Molloy   The press will risk elevating a Shadow President Trump

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   The download, podcasting’s metric king, gets dethroned

Raney Aronson-Rath   To get past information divides, we need to understand them first

Joni Deutsch   Local arts and music make journalism more joyous

Ben Collins   We need to learn how to talk to (and about) accidental conspiracists

Julia B. Chan and Kim Bui   Millennials are ready to run things

Cherian George   Enter the lamb warriors

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting dodged a bullet in 2020, but 2021 will be harder

Kerri Hoffman   Protecting podcasting’s open ecosystem

John Davidow   Reflect and repent

Jennifer Choi   What have we done for you lately?

Rodney Gibbs   Zooming beyond talking heads

Heidi Tworek   A year of news mocktails

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   Stop pretending publishers are a united front

Celeste Headlee   The rise of radical newsroom transparency

Ariel Zirulnick   Local newsrooms question their paywalls

Ben Werdmuller   The web blooms again

Matt DeRienzo   Citizen truth brigades steer us back toward reality

Marie Shanahan   Journalism schools stop perpetuating the status quo

Nabiha Syed   Newsrooms quit their toxic relationships

Pia Frey   Building growth through tastemakers and their communities

Nicholas Jackson   Blogging is back, but better

Colleen Shalby   The definition of good journalism shifts

Beena Raghavendran   Journalism gets fused with art

Imaeyen Ibanga   Journalism gets unmasked

Cory Bergman   The year after a thousand earthquakes

Nikki Usher   Don’t expect an antitrust dividend for the media

María Sánchez Díez   Traffic will plummet — and it’ll be ok

Edward Roussel   Tech companies get aggressive in local

Alicia Bell and Simon Galperin   Media reparations now

Francesca Tripodi   Don’t expect breaking up Google and Facebook to solve our information woes

David Skok   A pandemic-prompted wave of consolidation

Christoph Mergerson   Black Americans will demand more from journalism

Doris Truong   Indigenous issues get long-overdue mainstream coverage

Jeremy Gilbert   Human-centered journalism

Jesse Holcomb   Genre erosion in nonprofit journalism

Ryan Kellett   The bundle gets bundled

james Wahutu   Journalists still wrongly think the U.S. is different

Jean Friedman-Rudovsky and Cassie Haynes   A shift from conversation to action

Tauhid Chappell and Mike Rispoli   Defund the crime beat

Ariane Bernard   Going solo is still only a path for the few

Moreno Cruz Osório   In Brazil, a push for pluralism

Zainab Khan   From understanding to feeling

Whitney Phillips   Facts are an insufficient response to falsehoods

Rachel Schallom   The rise of nonprofit journalism continues

Megan McCarthy   Readers embrace a low-information diet

Julia Angwin   Show your (computational) work

Candis Callison   Calling it a crisis isn’t enough (if it ever was)

Jessica Clark   News becomes plural

Hadjar Benmiloud   Get representative, or die trying

Mark S. Luckie   Newsrooms and streaming services get cozy

Mark Stenberg   The rise of the journalist-influencer

Stefanie Murray and Anthony Advincula   Expect to see more translations and non-English content

Matt Skibinski   Misinformation won’t stop unless we stop it

Zizi Papacharissi   The year we rebuild the infrastructure of truth

Jer Thorp   Fewer pixels, more cardboard

Joshua Darr   Legislatures will tackle the local news crisis

Marissa Evans   Putting community trauma into context

Hossein Derakhshan   Mass personalization of truth

Kristen Muller   Engaged journalism scales

Aaron Foley   Diversity gains haven’t shown up in local news

Errin Haines   Let’s normalize women’s leadership

Nico Gendron   Ask your readers to help build your products

José Zamora   Walking the talk on diversity

Mariano Blejman   It’s time to challenge autocompleted journalism

Brian Moritz   The year sports journalism changes for good

Mike Ananny   Toward better tech journalism

Loretta Chao   Open up the profession

Rachel Glickhouse   Journalists will be kinder to each other — and to themselves

Brandy Zadrozny   Misinformation fatigue sets in

Sarah Stonbely   Videoconferencing brings more geographic diversity

Natalie Meade   Journalism enters rehab

Kawandeep Virdee   Goodbye, doomscroll

C.W. Anderson   Journalism changed under Trump — will it keep changing under Biden?

A.J. Bauer   The year of MAGAcal thinking

Rick Berke   Virtual events are here to stay

Ashton Lattimore   Remote work helps level the playing field in an insular industry

Garance Franke-Ruta   Rebundling content, rebuilding connections

Patrick Butler   Covid-19 reporting has prepared us for cross-border collaboration

Joanne McNeil   Newsrooms push back against Ivy League cronyism

Masuma Ahuja   We’ll remember how interconnected our world is

Jennifer Brandel   A sneak peak at power mapping, 2073’s top innovation

Talmon Joseph Smith   The media rejects deficit hawkery

Andrew Donohue   The rise of the democracy beat

Benjamin Toff   Beltway reporting gets normal again, for better and for worse

Steve Henn   Has independent podcasting peaked?

Rishad Patel   From direct-to-consumer to direct-to-believers

Sarah Marshall   The year audiences need extra cheer

Delia Cai   Subscriptions start working for the middle

Sara M. Watson   Return of the RSS reader

Francesco Zaffarano   The year we ask the audience what it needs

Bo Hee Kim   Newsrooms create an intentional and collaborative culture

Anna Nirmala   Local news orgs grasp the urgency of community roots

Laura E. Davis   The focus turns to newsroom leaders for lasting change

Robert Hernandez   Data and shame

Samantha Ragland   The year of journalists taking initiative

Don Day   Business first, journalism second

Alfred Hermida and Oscar Westlund   The virus ups data journalism’s game

Pablo Boczkowski   Audiences have revolted. Will newsrooms adapt?

Tim Carmody   Spotify will make big waves in video

John Saroff   Covid sparks the growth of independent local news sites

Sam Ford   We’ll find better ways to archive our work

Basile Simon   Graphics, unite

Mike Caulfield   2021’s misinformation will look a lot like 2020’s (and 2019’s, and…)

L. Gordon Crovitz   Common law will finally apply to the Internet

Linda Solomon Wood   Canada steps up for journalism

Nisha Chittal   The year we stop pivoting

Gonzalo del Peon   Collaborations expand from newsrooms to the business side

Tshepo Tshabalala   Go niche

Jacqué Palmer   The rise of the plain-text email newsletter

David Chavern   Local video finally gets momentum

Chicas Poderosas   More voices mean better information

Jonas Kaiser   Toward a wehrhafte journalism

Sonali Prasad   Making disaster journalism that cuts through the noise

Danielle C. Belton   A decimated media rededicates itself to truth

Janet Haven and Sam Hinds   Is this an AI newsroom?

Gabe Schneider   Another year of empty promises on diversity

Bill Adair   The future of fact-checking is all about structured data

Ernie Smith   Entrepreneurship on rails

Amara Aguilar   Journalism schools emphasize listening

Astead W. Herndon   The Trump-sized window of the media caring about race closes again

M. Scott Havens   Traditional pay TV will embrace the disruption

Jim Friedlich   A newspaper renaissance reached by stopping the presses

Tonya Mosley   True equity means ownership

Burt Herman   Journalists build post-Facebook digital communities

Meredith D. Clark   The year journalism starts paying reparations

Mandy Jenkins   You build trust by helping your readers

Jody Brannon   People won’t renew

Catalina Albeanu   Publish less, listen more

Renée Kaplan   Falling in love with your subscription

Victor Pickard   The commercial era for local journalism is over

Sumi Aggarwal   News literacy programs aren’t child’s play

Logan Jaffe   History as a reporting tool

John Garrett   A surprisingly good year

Kate Myers   My son will join every Zoom call in our industry

Tamar Charney   Public radio has a midlife crisis

Anthony Nadler   Journalism struggles to find a new model of legitimacy

Cindy Royal   J-school grads maintain their optimism and adaptability

Cory Haik   Be essential

Kevin D. Grant   Parachute journalism goes away for good