Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Sometimes it isn't all about the money, but about the data

So now Google is in a fight with someone's aunt.

But it's not about flower arrangement.

Kieran Clifton, who is the Director of BBC Distribution & Business Development, explains why the BBC's podcasts are no longer on "certain Google products - including the Google Podcast app and Google [A]ssistant":

Last year, Google launched its own podcast app for Android users - they’ve also said they will launch a browser version for computers soon. Google has since begun to direct people who search for a BBC podcast into its own podcast service, rather than BBC Sounds or other third party services....

We...want to make our programmes and services as good as they can possibly be - this means us getting hold of meaningful audience data. This helps us do a number of things; make more types of programmes we know people like, make our services even more personalised and relevant to people using them, and equally importantly, identify gaps in our commissioning to ensure we’re making something for all audiences.

Unfortunately, given the way the Google podcast service operates, we can’t do any of the above.

Chris Welch of The Verge further clarifies:

Metrics have been a point of contention between podcast producers and the platforms that bring them exposure.

So, in an effort to see the other side of things, I poked around to see what types of audience data Google provides to podcasters. My survey may not be exhaustive, but I found this:

Types of reports

Listener activity report: plays & downloads

With the listener activity report, you can see playback and download statistics for your podcast or an individual episode.

The play and download statistics can be broken down per day for the podcast series or filtered to see the statistics for individual episodes.

Plays: The number of times a listener started listening to a podcast episode.
Downloads: The number of times a listener downloaded an episode to their device.

Subscriber report

With the subscriber report, you can see the total number of people subscribing to your podcast.

To be considered a subscriber, a listener must have added the podcast to the My Podcasts section of Google Play Music in the app or on the web. Subscribers can also choose to auto-download or get notifications for new episodes.

OK, perhaps there's something I missed, but if this truly IS the be-all and end-all of Google podcast reporting, the audience data that the BBC receives consists of number of plays, number of downloads, and number of subscribers.

That's it.

And we know that Google captures significant additional information about every entity that uses its service. I don't podcast, but I can easily derive all sorts of information about the people who access this blog, including information on the platform they are using to read a post, the geographic location from which they are reading the post, etc. If I were a major British broadcasting corporation, I would certainly want to know how many of my podcast subscribers are located in Manchester, and whether they are accessing the podcast on an old Android phone, a new Android phone, or something else.

And the BBC can presumably get these types of statistics from Apple. As of November 2018, Apple provided a slew of stats to podcasters, ranging from average consumption by episode (how soon do listeners literally tune out of a podcast?) to devices subscribed (people who decided that a particular podcast episode was so good that they chose to subscribe to the podcast). Geographic data is also provided, at least on a national level - I couldn't tell if it could be broken down to more local levels.

Now, The Verge's Chris Welch also raises the possibility that "This could also be seen as another example of podcast makers pulling back their content for the benefit of their own apps and services" - although in this case the BBC, as a public service broadcaster, has to abide by a Distribution Policy (PDF) that ensures that BBC programming is beneficial to the public interest, and not just to the BBC itself.

Of course, the content publishers have bigger issues with social media services - namely, issues about monetization and a "fair" (whatever that is) division of revenue that both acknowledges the social media services' role in publicizing the content, and the content providers' role in creating the content.

But this whole data thing could get important also.

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