Pay-For-Play On Apple’s Podcast Chart?
Last week a story broke about third party manipulation of Apple’s new podcast popularity ranker within its iTunes Charts. I held off on covering the story to see if anything else developed with this. Nothing more has happened, but I still think it’s useful to explain what’s been alleged.
In 2017 Apple added a podcast category to its iTunes Charts as a way to rank the most consumed podcasts. It quickly became the de facto industry popularity tracker since the podcast landscape is so disparate. Then in early 2018 rumors began circulating that Apple’s podcast chart could be manipulated by third parties who charged podcast publishers to move them up. The smoking gun of this story came out last week in an extensive report featured in Podnews They uncovered a Newark, OH based company called Podcast Influencer who has been actively selling chart placements for $5,000-15,000.
So how could Podcast Influencer deliver these results? The theory is that they’ve set up a bot farm to download and/or live stream podcasts, which creates artificial listening and drives targeted podcasts up the charts. Since podcast consumption is still relatively low compared to music listening it wouldn’t take more than a few thousand fake listens to create a podcast hit.
It’s also easy to understand why podcast publishers would be tempted to buy into this offer. Charts are self-reinforcing cycles – once you’re at the top it lures new listeners to tune in and find out what all the buzz is about, which keeps you at the top. In full disclosure, nobody is naming names about which podcasters may have used Podcast Influencer to manipulate the charts.
It’s also important to note that Apple isn’t accused of doing anything wrong here. It looks like a case of a third party manipulating a system they’ve created and effectively killing the credibility their podcast charts were supposed to bring to the industry in the first place.