The real crime podcast of Justin Drown, Obscura, always seemed to collect positive reviews. For the first year he organized the show, Drown says it "overwhelmingly" scores five stars from fans. That changed in July.
Suddenly, Obscura was flooded with hundreds of one-star reviews on Apple Podcasts. His overall rating dropped from five to four, to about three and a half stars when reviews came in. Most of them, he noted, didn't even have comments about what they didn't like. "Then I realized:" Okay, something's wrong, "says Drown.
Drown had a guess about what happened: coordinated sabotage. Earlier that week, the Tampa Bay Times profiled him and briefly called his criticism of real crime podcast host Mike Boudet, from Sword and scale. This may have prompted Boudet to take revenge in & # 39; an attempt to decimate my podcast & # 39 ;, says Drown. He states that Boudet could have hired an automated service to bombard his show with one-star ratings. Boudet did not respond to a request for comment.
Podcast reviews can be easy to play and Apple Podcasts has become the main target for angry fans interested in knocking down a show. Apple's service is the biggest name in podcasting and it is one of the few important platforms that allows listeners to leave public reviews. While hosts used that feature in the past to beat the system with fake positive ratings, others used it to flood hosts they didn't like with a barrage of one-star brands, making the shows look like a failure .
These negative assessments can reject new listeners, but hosts on the receiving side say the even greater impact is on themselves. An attack makes them feel deflated and discouraged and sometimes they want to give up their show completely. "The first impact is crushing," says Drown. “You work so hard to build your show and then see that asterisk shoot down. It is a lot to deal with. "
Many podcasts that appear to have been bombed, or at least have attracted a large number of negative reviews, already involve controversial hosts. One star review accounts for more than 70 percent of Bill O & Reilly's podcast reviews, according to data from podcast marketing company Chartable, and more than 40 percent of election podcast ratings from former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton With her are a star. In those cases, negative assessments probably served as a political explanation.
In other cases, however, evaluation bombing is coordinated and targeted. Bar stool Sport fans seem to have once directed the podcast of actor Michael Rapaport after he & # 39; losers & # 39; called. It currently has more than 34,000 one-star reviews on Apple Podcasts. Luminary now distributes its show exclusively and the app does not allow public reviews.
Nobody cares about Podcast reviews
– MichaelRapaport (@MichaelRapaport) February 21, 2018
Fans will use negative ratings to defend or attack anyone they deem worthy. Two former Bachelor education Attendees were focused earlier this year when fans decided that they had kicked another co-host and Bachelor education alum from a new show they launched. When their new show, Mums & # 39; s tell everything, launched in March, fans of their previous podcast immediately bombarded it with negative reviews.
One of the hosts, Jade Tolbert, said in a Facebook post that the reviewers "broke her (heart) with the hatred and the meanness that you all leave."
The situation was also, she said, a misunderstanding – the third Bachelor education alum agreed to leave the show and was not kicked out. "I am really crushed by some of the reactions people have left behind and try to be so strong, but I really feel defeated," she wrote in a Facebook group. "You win, if you're really not a fan anymore, you've left your review, so it's the least you can do to leave the group."
More than 40 percent of the show's ratings are one star, according to Chartable data. The members of the Facebook group later tried to make a separate attempt to give the show five-star reviews, and it now has a rating average of three and a half stars.
Last year a similar one-star campaign was organized on Facebook to remove the podcast of two journalists. Fans from various Instagram pages & # 39; s now bombed the show, hosted by Taylor Lorenz, from The New York Timesand Julia Alexander, who is now with my colleague The edge, after Lorenz wrote critically about this the women behind the bills.
"There is no story with such a thing," Lorenz says. "There is nothing we can do, so we just stop doing the podcast shortly thereafter. It is certainly when I have just given up podcasting emotionally."
The podcast producer, Ross Miller, a co-founder of The edge who works with it now Polygon, says he has reported the harassment to Apple with a support email. Apple said it was "investigating the problem," and never contacted it again.
Apple confirmed that it checks reviews for unusual activities and that it will take action if necessary. It also confirmed that people can report concerns about reviews via the Apple Podcasts app on the desktop or his website. After The edge contacted Drown & # 39; s show, Apple modified the reviews of its show and removed more than 300 one-star brands.
Most platforms do not offer podcast reviews and it is unclear how useful the existing reviews are. Only two major platforms, Apple Podcasts and Castbox, offer listeners the opportunity to leave public reviews. The Castbox system functions more like a commentary that it tells The edge is targeted and designed as a & # 39; community tool intended to enable conversations instead of reviews & # 39 ;. The company says that negative reviews do not affect the & # 39; findability, ranking, or relevance of a show; although & # 39; popular responses with high user engagement are the top social listeners feeds. "
Castbox also says it doesn't encounter much spam or bombing, but if podcasters are concerned about unfair or inaccurate information, they can contact the company and "assess each case internally".
Apple Podcasts is very different. First, it is the most popular podcast listening platform, according to about 52 percent of podcast listeners, according to a 2018 survey by Anchor. The company also maintains podcast charts that rely on a secret algorithm that takes into account statistics such as new subscribers. Apple does not say whether reviews take the rankings into account. Podcasters, such as Drown, often check their reviews on the platform and generally monitor the performance of their shows. Positive ratings can only help them, while negative ratings, even if they do not affect the charts, can scare off potential listeners.
However, according to Sean King, executive vice president of operations at Veritone One, a large podcast advertising agency, the ratings are not relevant to advertisers. He says that advertisers and advertising agencies attach more importance to & # 39; consistency & # 39 ;, or how well hosts interact with their audience.
"We are looking for a great, consistent audience that has a loyal following where the topic is in line with the brand," he says. "Those reviews are really just one of the many measures of how that involvement can be with the host and the content."
A controversial host does not mean a lack of public. King mentions SiriusXM host Howard Stern as an example. "There are people who absolutely despise him, but still go back to listen," says King. "He would be one of those people who would really have a lot of involvement or high downloads, who have consistency there, but maybe have a low score. What I would almost say is," Sure, they have a low score, but the last 15 episodes they launched, have all had more than 500,000 downloads. "We'll look at that."
King has never heard that an advertiser has contacted the agency because of negative reviews about shows he advertises on. Peter Vincer, CEO of podcast production and distribution company HiStudios, also says he has not heard advertisers worry about negative ratings. HiStudios sells ads for the Drown show and Vincer worked at Castbox when the company implemented comments.
"I really don't see reviews as having a major impact on anything that is important," he says. It would be & # 39; quite rare & # 39; are, he says, when a company is ready to buy an advertisement, view the reviews with one star & # 39; and therefore not assume that it comes from some sort of shadow campaign. & # 39;
This then leads to the real question: what function do podcast reviews have and how would a fair rating system work? Other industries have already addressed this problem. For example, Rotten Tomatoes implemented verified reviews and reviews that require confirmation that users actually bought tickets for a movie. Steam introduced product changes, such as monitoring reviews during a certain period in which review bombing could happen. Review bombing affects most industries, but in the case of podcasting, the problem lies with Apple Podcasts, the most popular platform of the medium that intentionally obscures its algorithms.
When reviews are real, they can be useful to potential listeners. But in an industry that lacks a large number of professional critics, user-generated podcast reviews may be too difficult to manage and not worth preserving.