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NEW: podcast companies are buying millions of listens through auto-playing episodes populated in free mobile games. iHeart, the top podcast publisher on Podtrac, has bought around 6 million unique downloads per month since 2018
Podcasters Are Buying Millions of Listeners Through Mobile-Game Ads
Podcasters have sowed free games like Subway Surfers with ads for auto-downloading podcast episodes—and reaped major benefits.
97 replies and sub-replies as of Sep 27 2022

one company, called jun group, powers these ads by allowing podcasters to load a website with a podcast player that auto-plays. gamers are incentivized to stick through the seconds-long episode plays to win extra in-game loot. from jun group's ceo:
here's what the ads look like / how they work with an episode playing for 20 required seconds in this case
though these plays only last for seconds, they still count as a valid IAB download, which requires one minute of content to be downloaded (which usually happens quickly)
as always, my dms are open and my email is in bio if you have a tip or thoughts to share. and pls do sign up for my newsletter…
Can this be explained to me in plain English? @DKThomp @craighorlbeck
Ultimately this just hurts podcasts though. If no one is listening to the ads that is going to kill ROI for the podcast ad buyers. Stupid metrics make stupid decisions.
Ah, at least that two hundred hours of unlistened podcasts I have in my player is good for something.
I'm curious, @benhiggi and @ashleyiaco, were you aware that your podcast listens are being artificially bumped by being served in predatory ads like this?
Seems like IAB standards need to shift to more than a minute for episodes over X length, yeah?
Buying listeners or buying downloads?
Revisit the thread, she explains that the answer is "yes" to both.
This is incredible and why we spend a lot of time looking at the data and filtering our fraud. This should have been caught by who is measuring and certifying the data. We have had a fraud prevention system in place since 2006. We have seen it all, call me not surprised.
Could you share what in the useragent would have flagged this as fraudulent in your detection methods?
Downloads. You can buy listeners/downloads, but it takes a persona-based ad that is not this cheap.
As a consumer I feel like podcasting is in a much worse state than it was in like 2005.
The Internet has been getting worse since about 2005. It was best before everything was about generating revenue, when newspapers promoting their print editions for free, hobbyists and academic libraries provided most of the content. All print and still photos, but i prefer that.
Whoa. “Counts as an IAB download.”
This is why podcast measurement platforms have to have robust fraud protection for this. We have seen it all since 2006.
Last time I looked at a podcast chart of 'top' shows it featured all the same grifters that churn out books that magically end up on the NYT list
This article needs a comment from @libsyn. Rob Walch?
Ashley - GREAT article. From the article "Larry Chiagouris, a marketing professor at Pace University. “I’m not saying [this tactic is] not ethical..." He might not - but I will - It is absolutely un-ethical if you are using those downloads in Ad campaigns. PERIOD!!!
Algorithms are ruining our society in so many ways, including corporations (and weirdo stans) gaming them.
The podcast medium is dead. It was fun for like 10 years and then all the big media companies started sniffing around. Of course we are now at this point. There is nothing that megacorporations and their arrogant executive teams will not wreck for profit.
This is all Conan’s fault
How so? 5 years ago hardly anyone I knew listened to podcasts other than maybe Serial/crime podcast. Now everyone I know listens to them as just a regular part of media consuming life. Like radio in the 80s.
Corps like iHeart saw untapped $$$ potential and destroyed what was fun about podcasts, via tactics like the one described in the article above.
Then don't read shit about the industry if you don't want it to bum you out. There's more amazing podcast content available today then a person could listen to ever, even in 4x. And creators are actually making money and not just doing it as a side hustle
You asked me a question and I answered it. Continue to enjoy your generic audio slop, podcast biz expert who didn’t know anyone who listened to podcasts 5 years ago.
You got me there podcast elitist 🤣🤣
Ok, have a great day.
I was just about to send this to you.
Great article! Tactics like this will both ruin podcast advertising and make the industry accelerate tech around attribution.
the industry continuing to show us it will be the industry now matter the platform.
Thank you for reporting this out @ashleyrcarman
we have had fraud prevention in place since 2006, which is why we go well beyond the IAB spec in qualifying data. We have seen it all! Sadly some will do everything they can to pump the numbers.
If a user watches at least two minutes of a movie, TV show, or original series, Netflix counts it as a view. So what's the difference between Netflix and this effective podcast strategy? It's the same thing.
On Netflix you're actively choosing to watch a show. If they think 2mins is sufficient to count a view then fair enough. But; if podcast co's use predatory ads to trick people (most likely kids) into playing them and counting it as a listen, that's a completely different thing.
It's all the same business practise like the skippable ads on Youtube. Most of us skip em and watch the video we're there for in the first place but it still counts. The era of organic growth is long gone; no online numbers are authentic or accurate anyways.
Different practise, the goal simply isn't the same. Youtube's targeted ads want to sell you something. These podcast ads are just to count plays. Appearing on kids games, you telling me children are in anyway relevant to this show?
‎The Ben and Ashley I Almost Famous Podcast on Apple Podcasts
‎TV & Film · 2022
The goal is always profit. This practise like buying Spotify streams seems to be effective. It's not a matter if a show is relevant to kids; it's the nature of the internet. Once something is online it's available to everyone. But like YouTube ads most people will skip it.
You see 5 seconds of a youtube ad before you skip. It's a genuine view. These ads are placed, sure, but it's unlikely in the extreme that 20 seconds listening will get your far enough into an episode to experience them. Yet the advertiser thinks they've been heard.
I guess we'll agree to disagree at this point @mypalsammy - but you wouldn't pay for an advert like that because it's utterly pointless, and we both know it.
For a short window of time? It'd be worth it. You get the magic number that make advertisers happy and off you go. And simultaneously you still work to connect with real listeners and form a community. What I "want" is always gonna be different from what advertisers "need."
The ads from the podcasts are not being seen/heard though. It's not that ad that gets passed through. That's why it's fraud.
Right. It’s charging an advertiser for ad impressions you know you didn’t deliver. That’s the opposite of YT skippable ads, where the advertiser is aware of what was delivered.
Yeah, this is fraud. If I'm an advertiser and you've given me numbers that are based on a marketing tool, not genuine engagement, you've lied to me about what I'm paying for, or at least willfully misrepresented it.
Ok but that also sucks
cause Netflix doesn't turn around and sell commercials I'm forced to sit through or skip with that data. incomparable
Netflix will launch a cheaper ad-supported tier for its streaming platform at the start of November. Where do you think the data from the ads is gonna come from?? Exact same thing. Disney+ is also has an ad-supported tier. They're newer so they'll have less data on us.
in November feel free to compare them
Then use Peacock then. Or Hulu. It's all the same. S'no different.
we weren't discussing peacock or Hulu. you said Netflix.
Hear me out playa, I hate both things
I noticed this recently, IGN is doing it for video/ad views as well!
It's crazy to me that @IGN is just buying page views and ad views now. This "ad" keeps coming up in a mobile game I play where it'll just have you sit on an IGN article for at least 10 seconds watching an autoplay ad before you can click next, then do the same thing 2 more times.
I will pretend this is the reason my podcast isn’t massively successful.
I used to have ads pop up like this in Best Fiends and honestly it makes complete sense now.
Sadly it happens everywhere even most notably music streams. But for an art form such as podcasting, creators must ensure that listeners are purely organic. Buying listeners defeats the purpose tbh.
I listen to podcasts all the time, but if a mobile game started playing an episode of a podcast on me, I’d set fire to it.
Not surprising. Kinda had an inkling all along this was happening all along with big players to goose numbers. iHeart was Clear Channel, old habits die hard.
This is incredible. I don't see how they could possibly reach any kind of relevant audience through this kind of activity, just kids. Trying to think of what the positive would be or is it all just about scamming advertisers because if so it could be hugely damaging.
Just about scamming advertisers.
Controversial opinion: If just one of those mobile game listeners ends up learning about the 1944 Democratic primary VP drama, it will have all been worth it.
So...they're basically fooling advertisers.
The podcast bubble
Soon enough you will get bought out by a more succ podcast. Successful. Thats what i meant
Very disheartening to those of us who play by the rules.
If you deliberately manipulate a chart or a statistic and use that information to sell ads - then it is fraud. It erodes trust and hurts us all.
Maybe they can buy listeners, but they can't buy integrity.
Just today seeing a company do something that feels similar. Not mobile games, but a service many podcasters use. Interested to see if it turns out to be a similar methodology.
Oh wowwwww this is straight fraudulent They’re suppressing independent podcasts and artificially deflating ad spend per download across the entire industry because their conversion rates have got to be crazy low
You gotta get in on this mane!!!
JFC omg thank you for this @ashleyrcarman but also WHAT IN THE LITERAL HELL 💀💀💀
So this is just blatant fraud against their own advertisers, right?
Been happening since day one. It's how companies launch their big-name talent shows so that they chart quickly. They NEVER do this for non-celebrity shows.
It's also doesn't make sense when the RSS feed company who should be monitoring this is OWNED by the big companies.
This not only hurts independents but other podcasts on those networks who RARLEY get this treatment. Just the big-name shows are done by celebs.
This really makes me think. Great article Ashley. Paying for ads for your podcast is fine. Even making people listen to 20 seconds is fine. But the questionable part is all about whether those ad listens should be counted as plays and whether sponsors should pay for those.
thought you might find this interesting 💜
boy oh boy do I ever 😬
They just need to hire Merlin to do ad reads. Rotl is only podcast I actually listen to the ads
You're the nicest, Jennifer.
has been using this for the @kirkminshow YouTube for months
How is this not radioactively illegal?