Last week, during a panel session at the Ad:Tech conference here, CBS Digital Media president Larry Kramer posed the question, "Is anybody out there making money on podcasting?"
At least one startup company is trying to provide the industry with an answer. Podtrac, launched on Friday, is a new service designed to provide third-party audience measurement as well as an ad-sales infrastructure for podcasts.
Podcasts—downloadable audio files that can be listened to on PCs or MP3 players, for the uninitiated—have spread like wildfire over the past year (according to eMarketer, there are nearly 15,000). While some larger podcasts have sponsors, the majority are not ad-supported—since media planners don't always know what they are getting, and find buying dozens of small podcasts far too labor-intensive.
That's where Podtrac hopes to step in. "We want to be able to provide the same information [planners] use for media planning in podcasting," said CEO Mark McCrery, whose agency experience includes time as an account exec at Grey Advertising in the 1990s.
McCrery's team has developed a free Web-based measurement tool that individual podcasters can use to collect demographic and behavioral data from their listeners. To help lend legitimacy to the product, McCrery has partnered with media research leaders Mediamark Research Inc. (MRI) and Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS) to develop an online survey that will allow podcasters to create a virtual media kit. Podtrac will even index its data against MRI's Survey of the American Consumer, expanding the amount of profile info available. But perhaps even more important will be its ability to track hard usage numbers.
According to prominent podcaster Dan Klass, who co-authored Podcast Solutions: The Complete Guide to Podcasting, audience standards are lacking in this area. "The problem has been, there is never a clear-cut way to measure how many listeners you have," he said. "Different podcasters use different metrics."