James Cridland

The “Open Downloads” suggested standard for podcast metrics: good or bad?

Podsights this week announced “Open Downloads” (oDL), a new method of calculating podcast downloads. On Facebook, and privately over email, podcast hosting companies have expressed frustration at another new standard. Are they right?

On the face of it, it’s absolutely correct to voice concerns about a competing specification. This may confuse the marketplace at a time of growth for podcasting: and confusion is not a good thing. The oDL specification appears to have been unilaterally designed by one company without any collaboration, and presented as a fait d’accompli.

However, the IAB guidelines (they’re not a standard, they’re just guidelines) are not perfect. Having read the oDL standard, it appears to offer three things that the IAB guidelines do not offer, it would seem to me:

First, oDL figures will be 100% reproducibly consistent between different podcast hosts. IAB figures aren’t, since the guidelines can be interpreted in different ways, and each host uses different blacklists and bot lists. A Libsyn IAB figure won’t be the same as a Blubrry IAB figure, and that should fundamentally concern all of us — because if the IAB guidelines don’t provide identically comparable figures, what is the point of them?

Second, oDL offers portability of logfiles (with IP hashing to maintain privacy), which allows any advertiser to double-check that the figures are right by simply requesting the site logfiles. Some podcast hosts refuse to give publishers access to logfiles altogether. The portability of logfiles is fundamental to the health of oDL, since it allows anyone to check the figures they’ve got from their own podcast host are actually correct by running them through a second reference implementation of the code.

Third, oDL removes any requirement for “certification”, and therefore doesn’t cost $45,000 to be involved. This $45k fee from the IAB destroys the level playing field that podcasting has historically used to succeed: and cedes control of podcasting to the bigger podcast hosts. This isn’t good for the health of the industry.

I remain unsure about whether oDL is “a good idea”, and I’d have preferred this to have been a more collaborative effort. It shows the immaturity of an industry which doesn’t, yet, have its own association. However, the above points are, I think, welcome attempts to improve on work.

As to the future, what I suspect we’ll see is a concerted effort from larger podcast hosts who’ve spent $45,000 on IAB “certification”: they will work together and blindly disparage any work that seeks to make that investment less valuable; and I think that is disappointing.

Most podcasters would do well to view any such pronouncements as self-serving and necessarily biased; and instead, to do their own due diligence to understand the issues involved. There may be more at stake than just another standard.

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