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The Impact of Podcasting on Ratings

A No-Nonsense Marketing Smart Tip November 29, 2005

Podcasting is the creation of subscribable audio content from your station or other source that can download automatically to your computer or mp3 device. Due to licensing rules podcasting generally does not include music content. Podcasting is time-shifted, choice-directed programming; it’s to radio what TiVo is to television – attractive content is recorded automatically for playback at the listener’s convenience.

Podcasting makes huge sense as a marketing tool to spread the word about and interest in your station’s content. In TV, research has shown that folks who use TiVo watch MORE TV than folks who don’t (which makes sense if you think about it). The same will likely be true in radio.

But radio functions first and foremost in the world of ratings. While podcasting presumably can indirectly lead to ratings by stimulating trial, is there a direct ratings-based argument for your station to podcast? That is, will you get Arbitron credit for listening to your podcast?

Probably not. Not now.

Here are some realities of Podcasting and Arbitron measurement, based on an exchange I had with John Budosh, a Senior Policy Analyst at Arbtiron.

How much Diary recording of Podcasting is there?

“Very few diaries have been received in which the diarykeeper reports listening to a podcast,” Budosh says.

In Summer 2005 there were barely more than a dozen diaries containing podcast listening, says Budosh, and all of those were thrown out because they didn’t meet Arbitron’s measurement criteria.

But does the Arbitron Diary ask listeners to record Podcast listening specifically?


“The diary instructions ask Diarykeepers to record listening any time they can hear a radio, whether the station is of their choosing or not,” says Budosh.

Since hearing a podcast is not, per se, hearing a radio – even if the podcast is content from the radio – this instruction is ambiguous but seems to suggest that podcast listening “doesn’t count” and shouldn’t be recorded.

Does all of a listener’s Podcast listening get recorded by Arbitron when they write it down?


The diary entries must contain “identifiers which refer to an FCC-licensed radio station,” says Budosh. Thus, if you listen to the Ebert & Roeper podcast (like I do) or the BBC Radio 4 podcast, Arbitron throws out that listening, even though it likely substitutes for listening that would have otherwise been given to local radio.

In other words, Arbitron throws out listening to radio competitors and alternatives, shrinking our pond and obscuring radio’s true share of the listening universe.

A syndicated show, for example, will not be recorded as valid listening by Arbitron unless it actually runs in the local market on a local station and is recorded with reference to that local station. If I’m listening to a Loveline podcast but Loveline doesn’t run in my market, my listening does not exist.

How does Arbitron treat a podcast of, say, a morning show, when I listen to that morning show in the afternoon? Does the credit go to the morning or the afternoon?

As Budosh says, “Arbitron edits diary entries according to the start and stop times as the times are recorded by the Diarykeeper.”

This is another way of saying that if I listen to a morning show in the afternoon via podcast and write that listening down in the diary when it occurred, the diary credit goes to afternoon, not morning.

In other words, under the diary methodology, distributing podcasts of your morning show content which listeners actually hear (and record) throughout the day has the potential to lift your ratings all day long, despite the fact that all this content can be sourced to one daypart.

How will all this change under PPM?


In fairness to Arbitron, the diary methodology wasn’t designed to cope with the wide variety of competing audio alternatives which exist today. Under PPM, many of the precision problems will be solved.

For example, a podcast (like a stream) can be encoded with the station’s code and time stamp, says Budosh. Thus it will be credited to the station on the “right” day and time (as long as it is played back within seven days).

This means the precision of the instructions will be irrelevant. And it also means that ratings will be “lifted” only for that content which is most listened to. Meanwhile, if the podcast is not lifted from a radio station’s terrestrial signal, then it could be encoded with a unique code of its own. This means less listening “thrown out” because it can’t be properly understood or ascribed. It also means more competition to your station will be recorded in the ratings.

So what should you do today?

– Definitely podcast any (legal) content worth hearing purely for the marketing benefits, if for no other reason. – If you podcast content from your station, make sure you label that podcast with your station name. If listeners aren’t incentivized to write down the station name that listening is as good as lost. – Remember that if listeners write down that podcast listening, it can “lift” your ratings all day – theoretically – Support PPM, since electronic measurement is the only hope of even remotely accurate measurement in the future. The measurement process should be as passive as the listening process

A PPM world will be a scary one. But in the long run, the measurement of radio and its various alternatives will give our industry a more accurate sense of where our stations stand in the constellation of listening choices. And invariably, this precision will be what your clients demand.

Just don’t be surprised if the number one station in your market eventually turns out to be “other.”

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