What is the most popular podcast in America? Is it The Daily from the New York Times? NPR News Now from National Public Radio? Crime Junkie by Audiochuk? MANslaughter from Wondery/Amazon? Joe Rogan (exclusively on Spotify)? Or, maybe, Lost Hills by Western Sound and Pushkin Industries? Could it be all of the above?
Sure! Since there is not a single authoritative, inclusive, “official” ranking/rating for podcast audiences, then, depending on what you consult, it can be! For podcasts, there are no Nielsen overnight TV Ratings, no Arbitron, no Billboard Chart, and no Hollywood Box Office.
In terms of popularity, there are a handful regularly published rankings including:
Given differences in methodology and inclusion/participation, notable leadership differences are easily spotted between each of these lists from top to bottom.
**Note that rankings are different from third party analytics for individual podcasts. For detailed podcast level data, there are a growing number of interesting tools. For more on that - check out this week’s Sounds Profitable by Bryan Barletta, where he covers podcasts prefix analytics. It is also different from third party data that connects demographics, interests, purchase behavior, or other qualitative measures to podcasts, like Nielsen’s Podcast Buying Power service.**
The differences in rankings result in large part from: which podcasts are included (Triton, Charitable, and Podtrac require opt in participation), the criteria for chart position (downloads, survey, or custom algorithm for example) and time period covered by a ranking (daily through quarterly). That said, some standards, or at least guidelines, do exist -- specifically the IAB’s Podcast Measurement Technical Guidelines which addresses measuring downloads in detail.
Understanding the methodologies of the rankings makes each more significant, and allows you to compare the lists to draw further conclusions. Beyond chart position however, public and freely accessible data is slim — there are no projected audience sizes, no subscriber or follower counts, no demographics, and no user engagement details.
James Cridland of Podnews wrote a nice summary about rankers and their methodologies (recently updated). As he points out each list has its own flaws and should be viewed critically.
In the end, ranking lists serve a couple of purposes very well:
A signal of popularity and relative popularity for potential advertisers
A discovery tool for podcast listeners and relatedly a promotional vehicle for podcasts
So what Podcast is #1?:
Apple: Lost Hills by Western Sound and Pushkin Industries
Spotify: The Joe Rogan Experience (of course)
Chartable: Crime Junkieby Audiochuck
Podtrac: The Daily from The New York Times
Triton: NPR News Now from NPR
Edison Research: The Joe Rogan Experience (#1 for 2020)
This week, Podstruck is focused on February’s top U.S. podcast ranking from Triton. Triton measures weekly downloads. Triton describes their method as “directly integrating with podcast hosting platforms and Content Distribution Networks.” Triton measures podcasts who integrate with them and record download requests podcast hosts and central CDN’s (log files). They call this “census based log file methodology.”
Because of the way podcast apps fetch episodes, a download often is not a human initiated request and is only a very loose indictor of plays. For example, if the download request is from Apple, or most podcast apps, it will often be auto generated by the initial user act of subscribing or following a podcast. It doesn’t mean the user actually listened to the podcast, or even made a decision to download that particular episode.
In the end, that’s the most disappointing aspect of the rankings in general -- that they are not directly based on user activity and do not indicate true activity and engagement.
Thanks for reading!
Notable News since Podstruck #4
Apple data reveals that we have crossed the line of 2 Million active podcasts (h/t to Podnews for the link).
Attribution and podcast data company Podsights announced an additional $4M capital raise.
Magellan AI released it’s February 2021 podcast ad spend report, and, like January, Better Help was #1 with a spend of $4.3M across 386 podcast episodes. Also notable in the top 15 as indicative of the growing mainstream appeal of the medium: NBC Universal advertising their new Peacock subscription video service, and McDonalds hawking it’s new crispy chicken sandwich. The categories attracting the top ad spenders include Society and Culture, Sports, News, and Comedy. So, while the True Crime genre is strong for drawing an audience, it is absent from this list of top ad dollar magnets.
Triton Top 10 Compared to Other Rankers
Triton’s top ten U.S. podcasts in February 2021 appear below. Triton’s monthly rankings are based on the average of the weekly measurements they record during the month. I’ve added columns for Apple, Spotify, Podctrac, and Chartable for comparison.
What jumps out?
The difference in the ranking for NPR News Now on Triton (#1) and others vs. Apple (#111). This seems due to both the frequency of the NPR News Now podcast (the 5 minute podcast downloads many times per day to subscribers/followers) and the difference between Apple’s ranking formula vs. the others. Since Triton’s ranking is based on downloads, a podcast with a solid number of subscribers/followers, and many episodes, has an advantage. Since Apple’s ranking centers on recent subscribers and actual engagement, NPR News ranks highly, but not at the top. In Triton’s top ten, only Crime Junkie has just a single weekly release - measuring raw downloads advantages those with multiple releases. Also, all of the NPR podcasts rank lower on Apple vs. Triton. Since NPR has been long established in the Podcast space, top status in the Apple ranking algorithm is more of a challenge.
Many of Triton’s top 10 podcasts are not included in Podtrac (missing 3 of Triton’s top ten) and Chartable’s (missing six of Triton’s top 10) rankers as they require participation and integration (as does Triton).
The Dan Bongino Show ranks lower on Spotify (#175) vs. others. This ranking could be due to less of a match between the Spotify demographic and Bongino’s audience (i.e. Dan Bongino’s audience has less overlap with Spotify’s based on age, and/or political leanings, or, more simply, age related political leanings).
Podcast host Buzzsprout provides player app stats which is a good proxy for the overall market. Apple Podcasts remains 2%+ above Spotify (30.5% vs. 28.1%).
Until next time!