Growth of the Podcast Industry, Analytics and RAD

Growth of the Podcast Industry, Analytics and RAD

MPU podcast appears to be thriving. Deservedly so - it is well-produced, timely, informative and entertaining. This MPU forum is a valuable addition. It creates an “MPU community”, engages the audience and provides insight and feedback to the podcast producers/creators.

Life is good in the podcast industry space. It is vibrant and growing. Most podcast producers now are small, “indie” producers, free to experiment with content and with financing models - free, sponsored ads, subscriptions, or requests for donations.

Another healthy feature is the plethora of podcast client apps. Listeners are free to choose which podcast player app to use, most of which are independent from podcast producers.

The increasing presence of paid sponsors and ads is a sign of podcast industry growth. This can be both a good thing … and a bad thing. Ads on internet websites are sometimes good - not overly intrusive or distracting. But they are sometimes bad - intrusive, distracting and invasive of users’ privacy through tracking, selling data, and worse. Ads in podcasts, at least so far, are in the former category - not intrusive, tacky or invasive.

But that could change. Advertisers are demanding and are voraciously seeking metrics of ad consumption. And sometimes for other, more nefarious purposes, such as individual tracking and selling of user data. The ad-tech industry will always want more data, offered up through “analytics” systems that are increasingly sophisticated and capable of being combined with other datasets.

NPR recently introduced, and is promoting, RAD, a podcast analytics standard that NPR hopes will be adopted by podcast producers and podcast client app developers. I hope that adoption will not happen. The RAD analytics standard, if adopted by most podcast client apps, would not be in the interest of the independent podcast producers, the client app developers or the consumers. It would serve the interests only of the large advertisers and the large podcast producers, of which the largest is NPR (link: It’s all about money, growth and control for the large podcast producers, paid for by large advertisers.

Implementation of RAD standards in downloaded mp3 podcast files and into podcast client apps would allow things like dynamic ad insertion at the time of download and tracking of users by inserting data snippets and ad server URLs to be accessed by podcast client apps at certain time stamps in the podcast files. In other words, the client app would “phone home” to ad servers to report listener’s progress throughout the podcast, This, along with the already-known listener’s IP address could be used to effectively create a database of user data, including location tracking over time, that could be sold or used for other purposes.

The above was a very rough summary of a technically complex proposal. This was eloquently described in the excellent podcast “ATP” (Accidental Tech Podcast) #305. Link:
The NPR/RAD discussion begins at time stamp 47:00. I recommend that those interested in the future of podcasting listen to this informative discussion.

Marco Arment, developer of the excellent Overcast podcast app, has already declared that he will not implement RAD in the Overcast app. No one (outside of Apple) knows what Apple will do with its dominant (for IOS users) Podcasts app, but Apple’s privacy policies so far have been good. Other observers more knowledgeable than I have predicted that Apple will not adopt RAD in the Podcasts app.

Maybe podcasters (like the new MPU team) should consider taking a stand against this proposed RAD standard.

How do other MPU listeners feel about this? And which podcast player app do you use?


I use Overcast, and I am in support of Marco’s position on this.


I follow podcasts to avoid targeted marketing messages, and I support podcast providers and developers who do too.

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Overcast here, too, and Like @ChrisUpchurch, I agree completely with Marco.

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If I interpret your comment correctly, this means that you download and listen to podcast mp3 sound files?

If yes, you are correct. In the current environment, podcasts are simply “dumb” or static sound files. There might be ads, but these ads are static - baked into the sound file when produced by the podcast creator. You download the file and then have complete control to listen, free of an internet connection. The only data necessarily given up is your IP address at the time of download. And hopefully your client podcast app is a “good citizen” that does not collect additional data about you.

The RAD standard would change that. Bits of dynamically-inserted data along with URLs are included at the time of download, allowing (or maybe requiring) the podcast client app to access ad servers. Dynamically-inserted ads would vary in length and would “break” certain features of the podcast and the client app, things like sync between your devices and any function that uses time stamps in the podcast (seeking, tracks/chapters, etc.). Also broken would be range requests and features allowing resumption of interrupted downloads.

Targeted marketing is the very essence of the RAD standard. But more disturbing is the potential for additional data collection, which will inevitably be used by the ad-tech industry.

No, that’s not what I said. I don’t mind MPU and others who tell me upfront “this is sponsored, by Acme”.

There are so many reasons to resist RAD type initiatives:

  1. It dumps all over user privacy
  2. It will change content
  3. It will make it harder for podcasters to take risks

Most important, however, I think it is not necessary. Stephen and I are definitely going to resist anything like that.


Let me underscore this as the co-founder of the network. We have no interest in this sort of privacy-robbing technology, and I believe these sorts of things have the potential to hurt the industry in the long-term for questionable short-term gains from big sponsors. No thank you.


Sorry, didn’t mean to misdirect or mis-quote. I was responding to your

comment and just assumed that you downloaded the episodes.

I agree, ads, especially accompanied by disclaimers, are perfectly fine. Hopefully I did not imply otherwise.


My assumptions were correct, that you monitor your (excellent) forum, and you are attentive to your listeners.

I predict continued success for your podcast. Best Wishes.

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This reminds me of SoundScan in the 1990s. Before this technology, which accurately electronically collected album/song sales data, Billboard tracked sales by calling stores across the U.S. and asking about sales – a method that was inherently error-prone and open to outright fraud. When SoundScan debuted the USA finally learned how much more popular Country music actually was … and it affected all parts of the music industry, including reducing the budgets for some types of rock music that were thought to be more popular than they really were. Content ‘changed’ to meet the reality of the listening public, and fewer risks were made in genres that were nichier or less popular than previously thought. But music that people listened to and responded to got more attention (that it deserved).