Podcasts are a growing form of entertainment, whether they’re factual or fictional. However, with thousands of podcasts ranging from true crime phenomenon Serial to surreal horror-comedy Welcome to Night Vale, it can be hard to stand out from the crowd.
Now, it appears that some podcasts are quietly boosting their download and listener numbers through the use of free-to-play mobile games.
Bloomberg reports that podcast publishers are employing a company called Jun Group to automatically set podcast episodes to download when players view ads, either to skip a tricky level or win in-game currency.
"Every publisher, every content creator, has invested in marketing to promote themselves since the dawn of time, and this is just another way of doing it," said Jun Group CEO Corey Weiner.
Although downloads are always an important metric for success, it’s worth noting that the vast majority of podcasts rely on advertising for monetisation. More downloads can lead to artificially inflated metrics which can result in more money for the publisher as listening to a part of the podcast can result in the ad impression being counted.
“Not all impressions are created equal,” said Pace University marketing professor Larry Chiagouris. “I’m not saying [this tactic is] not ethical or illegal, but it raises issues. If someone is trying to play a game and that’s the purpose of this interaction, they may just be eager to play the game and are not that interested in the information being shared.”
A Deepsee study into the act published in August, highlighted Subway Surfers in particular. To date, the game has been downloaded more than three billion times. Over a two week period in August, multiple publishers used the game to rack up downloads, including names such as the New York Post and IHeartMedia Inc. Representatives for both companies declined to comment when approached by Bloomberg.
At present, this practise isn’t illegal, but as Chiagouris notes it does raise ethical issues.
“I think that the standards bodies, the people who are involved in deciding what a play of a podcast is, could decide to raise the bar on what constitutes as a play of a podcast,” said Weiner. “Even if you raise the bar, [the ad] is still going to exceed the bar. So, in fact, I actually suggest let’s raise the bar because we can hop right over it.”
We host our own podcast here on Pocketgamer.biz, delving into the mobile gaming industry.