Free mobile games are helping juice podcast listening numbers

Mobile games often take a moment to stop players from presenting an ad so that the player can try to skip it or earn in-game currency. According to Bloomberg, getting that coin automatically sets up a podcast for download on a player’s device, quietly increasing a podcast’s number of listeners and downloads.

Almost all podcasts feature ad breaks, with episode downloads serving as the primary metric for ad sales. Ads are inserted into an episode once it’s downloaded, which is then counted by an advertising company’s sales team.

What remains unclear about all of this is whether or not mobile developers are aware that ads in their games are being used to download podcasts. In August, Google Play developers received guidelines prohibiting “unexpected ads”, which arguably this applies to to some extent.

In August, ad fraud detection company DeepSee published an investigative article detailing how podcast publishers use gaming as a way to rack up downloads. Using the mobile game subway surfers, DeepSee determined that during that month, the game was used by various companies, including the New York Post and iHeart Media.

subway surfers is an ‘endless runner’ from 2012 for iOS and Android whose inclusion draws attention. It was reported as the most downloaded mobile game of the 2010s and has been downloaded over 3 billion times.

Those podcast networks and others, Bloomberg said, are employing games through a third-party company called Jun Group, which specializes in consumer awareness of products, brands and podcasts. For CEO Corey Weiner, “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.”

Whether this tactic violates any kind of ethical code (let alone legal ones) is difficult to determine, as this question has never been asked before. Larry Chiagouris, who works at Pace University as a marketing professor, told Bloomberg that while this isn’t really illegal, it’s also not a victimless crime.

“If someone is trying to play a game and that’s the purpose of this interaction, they may just be eager to play and not as interested in the information being shared,” he said.

DeepSee co-founder Rocky Moss added, “No one really asked questions about this or what the experience is like for users.”

With the podcast industry expected to grow to more than $4 billion in revenue by 2024, the methods used to generate ad revenue will warrant further scrutiny. Continuing the practice of silently downloading episodes onto a gamer’s phone, particularly as there has been talk of specific podcast content and how it affects young listeners, risks going down a path that these companies may not like.

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