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Apple Podcasts is using machine learning to tag episodes and 7 other stories

Apple Podcasts is using machine learning to tag episodes and 7 other stories

The Download

Season 3 • Episode 37

This Week: Apple Podcasts is using machine learning to tag episodes, IAB to require annual recertification, Edison Research shares Share of Ear Q3 statistic, and Headliner announces automated YouTube integration.

Bumper Discovers Apple Podcasts Assigns Topics Automatically.

Manuela: This Tuesday Bumper co-founder Dan Misener posted a new discovery that explains how Apple Podcasts can recommend individual podcast episodes based on topics discussed. The example Misener uses is an episode of Today, Explained which, if one opens the web page source on Apple Podcasts, is tagged with twenty topics ranging from broader concepts like ‘world politics’ to individual names of celebrities and politicians mentioned in the episode.

The catch? Those keywords and topics do not appear anywhere in the episode description or RSS feed. The only way to assign them to that particular episode is a transcript. From the article:

“Here’s my best guess: Apple is using machine-generated transcriptions, then applying natural language processing techniques like topic modeling to generate lists of relevant topics on an episode-by-episode basis.”

According to Misener’s reporting, the current top 250 podcasts on Apple Podcasts consists of 70,094 episodes. Approximately 63.5% of those episodes are currently tagged with topics generated by Apple.

“Here’s my best guess: Apple is using machine-generated transcriptions, then applying natural language processing techniques like topic modeling to generate lists of relevant topics on an episode-by-episode basis.”

The topics are also ranked with a per-episode relevance score and appear to be integrated into the Apple Podcasts search function. Misener tested this by searching the phrase ‘war in Donbass,’ which he had seen as a tag on Today, Explained. Apple Podcasts returned an episode of The Inquiry that discusses the issue at length, but also does not specifically include those keywords in the title or description. This suggests the assigned topics influenced its search ranking.

As Misener says in his breakdown of what this means for podcasters, the implications of this automated topic system are numerous and all signal better relevancy in podcast discovery. SEO now goes far beyond what they chose to include in RSS feeds.

In response to the Bumper article, Podnews has quickly developed an episode topic viewer. Visitors can type in the name of a podcast and choose one of the 20 most recent uploads to see what topics Apple has assigned. That is, if it has been assigned any at all. Unfortunately the Sounds Profitable feed has not been fed through their machine learning, so we don’t know what Apple thinks last week’s episode of The Download is about.

IAB to require annual recertification.

Shreya: Last Thursday Podnews reported the Interactive Advertising Bureau is now requiring annual re-certification from podcasting companies. The information came from a note Podnews editor James Cridland discovered on the IAB website. From the IAB post:

“As podcast listenership increases and the technology to support that listenership improves, the podcast technical measurement capabilities are continuing to evolve at a rapid pace. As such, and to be aligned with other industry auditing programs, IAB Tech Lab is updating its compliance program to require annual recertification. “

The post then cites the fact several complaint companies were certified on the 2.0 version of the standards but have not re-certified under 2.1. As of this podcast 12 of the 25 companies on the IAB list are certified for 2.1. 

For context: version 1 of the Measurement Technical Guidelines was released in September of 2016. Version 2.0 released the following September. Version 2.1 released five years later, finalizing in February of 2022. The bulk of the updates in 2.1 involve guidelines blocking the Apple Watch user agent to prevent duplicate download stats.

Members of the audio committee and the tech lab were not briefed on the upcoming changes prior to Cridland’s reporting on this story. Using numbers available on the IAB website, the original Podnews report cited the cost for annual recertification at $45,000, split between a $35k certification fee and $10,000 annual membership fee.

The page has since been updated to reflect previously un-announced, cheaper certification prices. Now the cost of initial certification is $17,500 for non-members and $12,500 for members. Recertification will cost $8,750 and $6,250 for the same respective categories.

Reducing the price for certification is a step in the right direction, creating more competition and reinforcing standards that others are likely to flaunt when compared against those who decide to merely be IAB compliant instead of IAB certified.

An issue remains the recertification itself, as the process has had a life cycle of six years between 2.0 and 2.1 with no commitment whatsoever to improvements in the certification process to drive interest into certification. Third party solutions like Podtrac have been shown to receive special accommodations that allow them to uphold questionable behaviors. The most recent example of such behavior being Podtrac’s honoring of downloads for iHeartRadio podcasts generated by auto-playing web players into video game ads, classifying them as legitimate.

Going forward, we hope the IAB standard is applied consistently, updated with more regularity, and accessible to as many companies in the space as possible.

Podcast reach with people 13+ growing, Share of Ear shows. 

Manuela: Last Thursday Edison Research published a bit of data from the Q3 Share of Ear that shows good news for the growth of podcasting. The issue of Weekly Insights opens with fond recollections of Cliffhanger, a popular price-guessing game segment on the game show The Price is Right. The game featured a model of a mountain climber making his way up a cartoon mountain based on correct or incorrect bids made by the contestant.

A mountain not unlike the positive trending growth represented in the graph

“In 2014, the first year of the Share of Ear survey, podcasts reached 5% of those in the U.S. age 13+. As of our most recent data, Q3 2022, podcasts now reach 18% of those age 13+ in the U.S. — a 20% increase in the past year (Q3 2021), and over three times the reach of 2014. The years in between show a steady growth in reach. There have been some fluctuations in podcast reach from quarter to quarter as we saw the beginning and end of quarantine restrictions, but this graph that shows the climb of podcast reach should be encouraging for the podcast community.”

Headliner Releases YouTube Auto-Upload

Shreya: This Monday the Headliner blog posted a video and short article announcing their newest feature.

“YouTube has become one of the hot ticket items in podcasting, and for good reason. Each month over 2.6 Billion people go to the site and watch videos. YouTube is a great place to get your podcast in front of new audience and increase your listenership. If you want to get your podcast on YouTube, but have a bunch of older episodes that you’d like to upload, this feature will save you tons of time.”

In addition to Headliner’s normal offerings that allow podcasters to generate animated video clips for social media from their podcast audio, Headliner subscribers at the Pro and Enterprise level can now create a template that will then automatically generate a full-episode video and upload it to the podcast’s YouTube channel.

This automation comes at the perfect time as YouTube pushes its interest in podcasting and podcasters, small and large, comes to terms with sizable backlogs of audio-only content.

Fundraiser Roundup

Manuela: Occasionally when there have been a few stories involving fundraising in podcasting and podcasting-adjacent companies, we graduate them from Quick Hits into their own small segment. Today we have two success stories to round out our coverage of news from the past week:

Last Wednesday Swedish audiobook and ebook subscription service Storytel announced they have raised 400 million krona,  equivalent to 37 million US dollars.

Then, on this Tuesday, French digital audio and podcast monetization startup Audion announced they have raised six million euros in Series A funding. 

Quick Hits

Shreya: Finally, it’s time for our semi-regular roundup of articles we’re calling Quick Hits. These are articles that didn’t quite make the cut for today’s episode, but are still worth including in your weekend reading. This week:

Alex Blumberg is leaving Spotify. A tweet from New York Times reporter Ben Mullin last Tuesday announced the Gimlet Media and Startup star has left Spotify, where he has worked on Gimlet since its $230 million dollar acquisition in 2019.

Goodbye Podland, hello to Podnews Weekly Review. On November 4th the Podnews Weekly Review published its 100th and final episode, technically. The feed has been rebranded to Podnews Weekly Review, starting with its first episode last Thursday.