Spotify’s latest acquisitions expand its podcast analysis and attribution capabilities – here’s how the tech works

Spotify has once again taken a bite out of the podcast pie.

In February, Spotify bought two attribution and analytics companies – Podsights and Chartable – the latest in a series of acquisitions that have made it a dominant player in podcasting.

First the content: In recent years, Spotify has signed exclusive deals with Michelle Obama, Joe Rogan and call her daddy host Alex Cooper, as well as purchased properties like The Ringer and Gimlet Media, giving him more premium content to sell ads.

Then came ad tech: Megaphone was absorbed by Spotify in November 2020, followed by Whooshkaa, giving it tools to sell more targeted ads on a larger scale.

Spotify’s latest acquisitions will help the company further demonstrate to advertisers that their campaigns not only reach listeners’ ears, but also inspire them to take action.

“Our advertisers have always told us that measurement is one of the biggest issues with scaling their audio campaigns,” Khurrum Malik, Spotify’s global head of ad marketing, told Marketing Brew via e-mail. mail.

Podsights and Chartable are among the most prominent companies offering measurement solutions. Spotify could potentially do the same thing on its own, but “it’s kind of a heavy, time-consuming job,” said Robert Freeland, founder and chief technical officer of Podtrac, a podcast analytics company that attack on measure since 2005. Spotify has therefore chosen the path of acquisition. .

As is the case with other aspects of podcast advertising, like its programmatic ecosystem, the technology that powers ad tracking and attribution works differently for podcasts than it does for other digital mediums. Below, we describe how companies like Podsights and Chartable accomplish these tasks.

Really Simple Syndication Gets Complicated

To understand how podcast ads are measured, you first need to understand a bit about the inner workings of the RSS feed.

RSS, which stands for “Really Simple Syndication,” is fundamental to podcasting. It basically organizes a podcast’s episodes into a feed and updates it automatically, explained Grant Durando, director of marketing firm Right Side Up.

“[RSS] is what makes podcasting great,” said Mike Kadin, founder and CEO of podcast hosting and monetization platform RedCircle. “That’s what makes it widely available. This is what allows different podcasting companies to exist and compete with each other. This is why no app or directory completely controls the ecosystem like YouTube does,” because RSS feeds can be easily connected to hosting platforms, allowing creators to publish wherever they want.

But the RSS feed is also a fairly old form of technology that distributes content down a one-way street to the listener, with no easy way to send information back to a podcast publisher or advertiser, Durando explained.

“We’re so used in modern advertising infrastructure to two-way streets, where you’re constantly passing information back and forth,” he told Marketing Brew. “With podcasts, the media goes to the people, and that’s it. You cannot go back. So how to solve this problem? »

For a while, the answer has been direct response campaigns tracked via promo codes and vanity URLs. This type of advertising was “the backbone of the podcast industry”, according to Durando. It’s still pretty common, but for some advertisers it’s “too much guesswork,” Kadin said.

This is where Podtrac, followed by other analytics companies like Podsights and Chartable, comes in.

Make measurements

Podsights leans more on advertising, while Chartable focuses more on audience metrics for publishers.

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Chartable has always offered ad measurement through its SmartAds product, but has become more of a pure analytics company than an ad attribution company. SmartAds will be deprecated within the year and customers will have the option to switch to Podsights, according to Malik.

Podtrac’s Freeland claims his company created “the first redirect measurement system” in podcasting – the same solution that Podsights, Chartable and other companies have gone on to replicate, according to Freeland.

“The idea was that when someone goes to download or play a podcast episode, the request first comes to our server, and then we respond with an HTTP redirect,” Freeland said.

The redirection is done using a prefix URL, the response of the RSS feed to the pixel, which indicates that an episode has been downloaded by sending the download request through the analytics company’s server so that she can save it.

This information is valuable for podcast publishers, as well as advertisers running sponsored episodes or running campaigns embedded directly into podcast episodes.

But prefixes aren’t all that useful when it comes to dynamically inserted ads, according to Bryan Barletta, founder of podcast-ad-tech publication Sounds Profitable, who previously worked at podcast advertising companies including Megaphone and Barometric. .

To track dynamically inserted ads, Podsights and Chartable rely on ad serving URLs rather than prefixes. These URLs are associated with individual ads as opposed to entire episodes, Barletta explained.

If an ad is inserted in the middle of an episode, for example, the hosting platform will send the ad delivery URL to the analytics company halfway through the episode to indicate that this ad particular has been streamed to a device.

One-two punch

Companies like Podsights have also separately created attribution systems that allow advertisers to track actions across platforms, Freeland said. If someone goes to a website to make a purchase after hearing a podcast ad, for example, the advertiser will know.

That capability was likely also particularly attractive to Spotify, Freeland theorized.

Podsights co-founder and CEO Sean Creeley explained this in a Spotify ad blog post: Before a campaign begins, advertisers place the “Podsights pixel” on their website, he said. Next, Megaphone adds the “Podsights impression tag” to each ad served, allowing Podsights to attribute a website visit to a podcast ad exposure.

Podsights and Chartable aren’t the only companies offering these services, but, according to Barletta, they are currently the only companies offering publicly available prefixes, ad serving URLs, and attribution systems for publishers and advertisers.

Other ad analytics companies are working to create similar solutions in-house. Claritas, for example, can track dynamically inserted ads and is “actively working on” an RSS prefix, vice president of sales Omer Jilani told Marketing Brew via email.

Now that Spotify has both Podsights and Chartable under its umbrella, it can offer more enhanced ad measurement on sponsored episodes, in-app ad plays, and dynamically inserted campaigns. But taking these capabilities in-house could mean third-party data provided by these two companies will now become Spotify’s first-party data, raising concerns in the industry.

Keep an eye on Marketing Brew for part two of this story.