What Nielsen’s Expansion into Podcasts Means for Creators

What Nielsen’s Expansion into Podcasts Means for Creators, Illustration by Michelle Kondrich
What Nielsen’s Expansion into Podcasts Means for Creators, Illustration by Michelle Kondrich

At long last, podcast listening data is starting to improve. Are you keeping up?

Traditionally, when you think of TV ratings, you think of one company: Nielsen. Even in an age of streaming, many television shows live and die by Nielsen’s “ratings.” And TV audiences aren’t the only thing the company measures; they also compile stats on radio, films, even video games. Now they’re moving into podcasts. But don’t worry about competing on a cross platform "podcast ratings" chart—at least not yet, anyway (Nielsen SVP Bruce Supovitz has said that's not out of the realm of possibility).

Instead, the Nielsen Podcast Listener Buying Power Service (announced in a press release in July) will gather data from a sample of nearly 30,000 listeners, who will answer questions about podcast genre, buying habits, and relationships with specific brands. The data, which will only be available to Nielsen subscribers, could be helpful for creators, podcast networks (some heavyweights have already signed on), and marketers in targeting listeners during a time when podcasts are becoming more and more lucrative and attractive for advertisers.

This is welcome news. For years, the industry’s ability to gather listening metrics has been limited by a number of complicated technical factors (e.g. podcasts were mostly downloaded in the early days, and are still delivered via RSS feed). But things are changing. Today, podcasts are increasingly consumed via streaming platforms, and with services like Nielsen entering the market and analytics tools like Spotify for Podcasters coming online, data will become more accurate and focused.

So what does this mean for you, the podcast creator? Potentially a lot. While Nielsen’s service is primarily geared toward larger podcast networks, the impact on the industry at large will trickle down to independent creators, as well as inspire other podcast networks and media companies to develop cohesive strategies for capturing listener data. NPR recently addressed the issue with a platform it calls RAD, which “measures podcast listening across a range of participating clients and platforms, aggregating the data in an analytics endpoint.”

Taken together, these developments point to a not-too-distant future when, for the first time ever, podcasters will be able to develop the kinds of nuanced reporting tools their counterparts in TV and Internet advertising have come to depend on. Pretty soon, both advertisers and podcast creators will have an expanding sense of listener demographics and trends. This will lead to better targeting, better ads, and a more effective advertising ecosystem. If you’re not already paying close attention to your listening data, now would be a good time to start.