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Dublin: 16 °C Thursday 13 August, 2020
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We have a wealth of talented podcasters here in Ireland, so why are we not counting their listeners?

As Bressie’s podcast wins an award, Darach Ó Séaghdha argues that it’s high time the JNLR figures took podcasting into account.

Darach Ó Séaghdha Writer

THERE WAS A triumph for Ireland last weekend when “Where Is My Mind”, Niall Breslin’s show about mental health, won the Creativity Award in the British Podcasting Awards, the first Irish winner in the BPA’s history.

This victory arrives at an important moment for podcasting in Ireland as the format enters its third decade. The very broad definition of what constitutes a podcast is both a blessing and a curse: on the one hand, the format has allowed the blurred borders between all or some of journalism, comedy, academia, memoir, activism and storytelling to be explored.

Freed of the time-slot restrictions of traditional radio, a level of specialisation and candour is allowed in podcasting that isn’t always possible on established stations.

rte2 Bressie's podcast 'Where is my Mind' recently won an award. Source: Rolling News

Ireland, in particular, has been successful in creating both genre-eluding shows (such as the Blindboy Podcast and the Fin Dwyer’s Irish History Podcast) and in-depth journalistic investigations (such as West Cork and TheJournal.ie’s own Stardust) that have found a global audience as creators try to find ways to build a career out of their own podcast’s popularity.

Where is the growth?

But how do podcasters demonstrate that popularity to potential sponsors and advertisers? This is where the blessing of a broad definition gives way to the curse, as setting a pace to measure success presents a number of problems.

Later this month, the JNLR figures for radio listenership will be released, and again will not include figures for podcasts – even though 40% of Irish adults listen to podcasts regularly according to a recent report by the Reuters Institute.

So when businesses look at the JNLR stats at the end of July and decide where to direct their advertising spend for the rest of 2020, this large chunk of listeners will not be included.

While a podcaster can certainly share their own listenership stats with potential sponsors, the lack of a like-for-like reference is frustrating: if a show gets eight thousand listeners a week, how does that compare to a local radio station with a small geographical concentration? Does the loyalty of those eight thousand subscribers count for more or less than the larger, passive listenership of a chart show on a large Dublin station?

Like with like

While Apple and Spotify both produce charts based on listenership on those platforms, this information is not transparent: both use a combination of show listens, episode listens, user reviews and new subscriptions which they do not disclose to creators, and the time period over which these factors are measured is not specified.

blindboy-boatclub-mural A Subset mural of Blindboy Boatclub, on of Ireland's most popular podcasters. Source: PA

If hugely popular shows like Reply All or The Joe Rogan Podcast suddenly drop 90 places in the chart, does this represent a dip in their popularity, or just reflect the fact that they haven’t released an episode in a few days? Is it actually informative to include an acclaimed, niche show like Mother of Pod on the same chart as an established giant like 99% Invisible?

Compare this to Ireland’s charts for books or music. Ireland’s bestseller lists take data supplied by Nielsen BookScan for a single week (from Sunday to Saturday). As well as giving an overall top 20, separate lists are given of hardback and paperback non-fiction, original and mass-market fiction, and children’s books.

This gives writers, publishing industry decision-makers and critics a much more accurate insight into audience tastes than podcast charts.

If a new book or single shoots up the charts, the media notices; if a podcaster’s listenership doubles in a week, only the podcaster does.

The fact that music playlists uploaded by users as podcasts (to avoid copyright issues around exclusive music releases) can enter the Spotify top 40 ahead of popular, established podcasts suggests that this measurement system is far from perfect.

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It’s been fifteen years since the first article about podcasts appeared in the Irish media, yet the format is still written about like a strange new fad that readers need to have explained to them for the first time.

Gathering verifiable listenership information and sharing it alongside radio listenership figures, such as the Ipsos MRBI and weekly charts, is long overdue and would serve the development of Ireland’s podcast movement.

Darach Ó Séaghdha runs @theirishfor Twitter account and the @motherfocloir podcast.

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About the author:

Darach Ó Séaghdha  / Writer

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