One of the most persistent challenges in advertising is attribution - figuring out what actions (if any) users took after hearing an ad, and measuring how effective it was at changing their perceptions of the brand or product being advertised. It’s a crucial factor for determining the ROI of podcast advertising campaigns, which is similarly key for justifying podcasts as part of a campaign or media plan.
The adtech industry is in a continual arms race to solve this challenge for brands and agencies, and Spotify has this week taken a big swing at it, with the launch of Spotify Ad Analytics, following the company’s acquisition of podcast ad attribution platform Podsights and Chartable last year.
All the features and benefits of Podsights are now included in this tool, and all the accounts that people had for Podsights are now converted over to accounts for Spotify Ad Analytics, but the biggest change here is the pricing structure: there isn’t one.
Previously, Podsights would charge on either a flat fee or a CPM basis for usage of attribution; obviously, the more volume you ran through it, the cheaper it would be. Since the acquisition, the price has continued to go down, and Podsights’ price, in general, was incredibly competitive, but now the understanding is that regardless of who you are, the size of your campaign and where you're running the ads (or who you're paying for them), you can get access to this tool and utilise it for measurement and attribution, for free.
It also now has the ability to track appropriately across streaming podcast ads specifically in the Spotify app, and the streaming music ads across Spotify as well.
For context, when Spotify as an app makes a request to a hosting platform that the company owns, such as Megaphone, Spotify for Podcasters or Whooshkaa, it has the ability to make decisions on ad delivery a little bit differently compared to if it’s coming from a third-party host. Basically, the ad markers stay the same, but at that moment, the app takes control and makes a unique client-side request to their ad server to ask for a live ad.
You can see this example on a lot of their owned and operated ads, and the scroll bar for the title of the podcast will change - because effectively, the MP3 has changed. You can scrub through the ad, but it is a live ad request as opposed to an ad delivered in a download. It’s primarily used for ads sold by Spotify, but the company is beta testing it right now for publishers to sell their own ads using the same system. It's a very, very cool piece of technology that I wish would become an industry standard.
The platform offers attribution based on both RSS prefixes and tracking pixels, and my understanding is that for the RSS-based method, there is no first-party Spotify data added to it - it’s still using TapAd and Experian as the device graph, and Nielsen for the brand lift studies - so the integration to Spotify first-party data is still mostly for direct campaigns served in-app.
When you make an ad buy through Spotify and you utilise the new Spotify ad Analytics tool, you can also do brand lift studies on that campaign - the results of which are viewable within the dashboard - and my understanding is that this too would be included in a direct ad buys with Spotify, for their in-app inventory. I haven't logged into the new platform yet, but I'm sure there's an opportunity for upselling; suggestions to buy through Spotify would make complete sense, and I think it would be a misstep on Spotify's part if it didn't take advantage of that.
It's easy to imagine that this platform will see mass adoption within the industry, and the wider value that brings. More people using pixel tracking for delivery also means more people using it for attribution, which also means more people spending in podcasting - because they can clearly see results.
This is a net positive gain for the space, but I'm especially interested to see the publishers and hosting platforms that either choose to adopt this or not, because being able to fully integrate this free attribution solution with one click on your smaller dynamic-insertion hosting platform could be a major upsell to get publishers to move over to your platform.
However, it's important to highlight that Spotify is a publisher, a podcast player, an ad seller - and effectively competes with every single aspect of podcasting. It’s a business decision that other platforms will have to make as to whether or not they choose to allow Spotify to perform this level of data collection on their ad campaigns and podcasts, and I recommend that every hosting platform and ad seller really reviews the rights to data that Spotify gets here.
On the other hand, I think it's incredibly difficult to argue with the power of Spotify, the longevity of Podsights as one of the longest-established attribution partners out there, and the third-party methodology of the data that they're using. Plus, competing with free is really difficult.
The hard part here is that this feels like the Facebook pixel for podcasting, but a little bit wider. Spotify could earn a substantial amount of goodwill by participating in the IAB to set standards for certification for impression-based pixels, and also open itself up to some form of audit and transparency on methodology, perhaps even leading the creation of a standard on it. I think with those steps, if they chose to take them, it would be really hard for others to compete.
Magellan AI and Podscribe offer this functionality as an add-on to their wider platform, but in podcasting, the biggest names currently left in attribution are Claritas, ArtsAI, Unbounce and Veritonic. I think there are plenty of areas that they can still compete in that Spotify doesn't, though, such as transparency, customer service (which has been a pain point for Podsights over the years) and foot traffic or purchase tracking of consumer packaged goods. I think they have their work cut out for them - but I don’t think that it's the end of the road for pure-play attribution providers by any means.
What I do worry about somewhat is podcast analytics tracking. After Podsights and Chartable were acquired, we saw a big rush to fill the attribution hole, and it felt like a lot of the focus was just on matching Podsights' features - but I think there is a massive gap in terms of the features that Chartable offered.
It would be very easy for Spotify to embrace a lot of the benefits of Chartable, and go that prefix route. The problem is that we continue to hear that Chartable features are being either merged into Megaphone or discontinued, so it doesn't seem that off-platform analytics is the main focus. Analytics and podcast-to-podcast tracking is an area where there are not enough companies that are focusing on. There are companies like Podder and Voxalyze that do try and dig into that a little bit, but not to the extent that Chartable was.
My plea to the technology companies in the space, or those looking to enter it, is that we don't have a solid third-party analytics solution, and we've already gotten feature parity with the things that Podsights had for the industry. We haven't innovated for a while in attribution and pixel tracking in podcasting - and I think there's more than enough data and history for people to do that instead of just copying each other.