National / International News

Land a job with help from virtual reality

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-05-01 10:01

Albert "Skip" Rizzo is a pioneer in virtual technology. His newest program is the the Virtual Interactive Training Agent, or VITA.

It was developed by the USC Institute for Creative Technologies, in partnership with the Dan Marino Foundation. The interactive aims to help people navigate a job interview. For people on the autism spectrum, Rizzo says, job interviews can be particularly daunting.

VITA helps people practice questions with a virtual interviewer.

"We can set them to have three different behavioral dispositions. They can be that really nice, light-touch job interviewer, the neutral interviewer or the real stress interviewer — the real son-of-a-B," Rizzo says. "We can have people practice how they will respond to these types of characters under a range of conditions."

Aaron Brown-Coats went through the VITA program as part of the curriculum at the Dan Marino Foundation, and says working with the virtual characters helped change the way he interacts at his own job.

Play vital for children, says Hunt

BBC - Fri, 2015-05-01 09:45
Children are arriving at school unable to speak properly because parents are not playing and talking to them enough, Labour's Tristram Hunt has said.

Baltimore Mayor: 'No One Is Above The Law In Our City'

NPR News - Fri, 2015-05-01 09:37

As Stephanie Rawlings-Blake spoke, people in west Baltimore celebrated. The mayor also instructed her police chief to suspend all officers facing felony charges.

» E-Mail This

Army to hand over 'rescued' Nigerians

BBC - Fri, 2015-05-01 09:20
The Nigerian military is expected to hand over nearly 300 people rescued from Boko Haram camps, so they can receive treatment and see their families.

VIDEO: Election deal or no deal?

BBC - Fri, 2015-05-01 09:19
The parties' red lines on post-election deals and other campaign happenings

Congo bans Islamic face veil

BBC - Fri, 2015-05-01 08:58
Congo-Brazzaville bans people from wearing the full-face Islamic veil in public places, saying it is to counter extremism.

Pillars Of Creation May Be Gone In 'An Eye Blink In Cosmic Time'

NPR News - Fri, 2015-05-01 08:56

That, in case you're wondering, is another 3 million years. Astronomers made that calculation after producing the first 3-D view of the pillars made famous by the Hubble Space Telescope.

» E-Mail This

UKIP man suspended over Jewish slur

BBC - Fri, 2015-05-01 08:50
The UK Independence Party suspends a parliamentary candidate over a Jewish slur sent to the Labour candidate from his Twitter account.

10 things we didn't know last week

BBC - Fri, 2015-05-01 08:26
How many trees would be needed to print out the internet?

Is it better to have leaders who are too old or too young?

BBC - Fri, 2015-05-01 08:15
Is it better to have leaders who are too old or too young?

Bodies found in Thailand jungle camp

BBC - Fri, 2015-05-01 08:12
Police in Thailand have found dozens of graves in an abandoned jungle camp in southern Thailand, on a route regularly used by people smugglers.

Ex-MP Joyce guilty of teen attacks

BBC - Fri, 2015-05-01 08:06
Former Falkirk MP Eric Joyce is found guilty of assaulting two teenage boys in a north London shop.

Head warns of schools' cash crisis

BBC - Fri, 2015-05-01 08:01
A London head teacher had written to parents warning them of a looming "financial crisis" in secondary schools in England.

Tour de Yorkshire win for Nordhaug

BBC - Fri, 2015-05-01 07:59
Team Sky's Lars Petter Nordhaug wins the first stage of the three-day Tour de Yorkshire in a sprint finish in Scarborough.

Messi: The goal that started the legend

BBC - Fri, 2015-05-01 07:48
Ten years ago, Lionel Messi scored the first of his 403 goals for Barcelona. BBC Sport looks back at his goal-den decade.

Law catches up with ketchup squirter

BBC - Fri, 2015-05-01 07:47
A chef frightened staff at a chip shop in County Kerry by squirting tomato ketchup, a court is told.

Evans Cycles changes hands for £100m

BBC - Fri, 2015-05-01 07:30
Evans Cycles has been sold in a deal thought to value the retailer at about £100m.

UN denies CAR troop abuse 'cover up'

BBC - Fri, 2015-05-01 07:29
A United Nations spokesman denies allegations of a child abuse cover up in the Central African Republic, calling them "frankly offensive".

Police probe new Tower Hamlets claims

BBC - Fri, 2015-05-01 07:19
Five new allegations in the case of the corrupt ex-Tower Hamlets mayor are been identified by the Met Police.

Inside the weird world of podcast advertising

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-05-01 07:10

This story was produced in collaboration with FiveThirtyEight. Audio for this story is forthcoming.

The most listened-to podcasts come mostly from public radio: Serial, Invisibilia, This American Life. But the ads? 

"Many of our advertisers are the same ones that you hear on Howard Stern," says Lex Friedman, who heads up ad sales at Midroll. "Literally, you hear Casper mattresses and Audible and Squarespace and ZipRecruiter." 

But this is something people like Friedman are trying to change. Ask about his dream advertisers, and he talks about categories like major movie studios, car companies, clothing companies — household name brands that you'll find on prime-time TV.


"Here's the crass answer: they have deeper pockets, right?" says Friedman. "So, if you can get Coca-Cola or car companies or studios...they have big budgets."

Big budgets that let those advertisers buy in bulk — spending less per ad, but buying more ads overall. 

To see why that's desirable, you can look at the data set put together by FiveThirtyEight data reporter intern Hayley Munguia. She spent two entire days listening to the latest episode of every single podcast in the iTunes top 100—and writing down all the ads. There were 186.

But more than a third of the shows she listened to had no ads. And on the other two thirds, the median number of ads was just two. That's a relatively low "sell-through" (as the percentage of ads sold is called) for shows that have the six ad slots. Lex Friedman says  is common on Midroll's shows. 

“If a show gets 50 or 60 percent sell-through, we’re happy with that,” he says. “But we’re not satisfied with that." 

The FiveThirtyEight databsase reveals that the vast majority of today's podcast ads are, indeed the "Howard Stern" ads: host-read scripts for mid-sized companies selling online.

"For the most part I would say they all blended together, but yeah," says Munguia. "There were a few that stood out for being particularly ... terrible."

For instance: Bill Burr's pre-Valentine's Day endorsement of Sharri's Berries—chocolate-dipped berries you can order online. 

"Show her you thought of something unique and different this year, and get her the gift she is sure to love: Sharri's Berries," Burr says near the beginning of the ad on his Monday Morning Podcast. "Yeah, get her something unique. Get her something you and f**king four million other people are going to get."

When Munguia heard this ad, she wondered: has anyone from Sharri's Berries ever heard this ad?

The answer is yes. I played the ad over the phone to Sharri's Berries' acquisition marketing director, Nick Fairbairn. 

"I mean, does that fall within our brand standards? Probably not," he says. "Is it authentic to Bill Burr the comedian in a podcast space that's not nationally regulated for language? Yeah, it's right on brand for him. And gosh it was ROI positive, too."

ROI as in "Return On Investment" — as in, that ad actually sold a lot of berries. Fairbairn credits the ability of the endorsement (or endorsement-style) "native ads" that are typical on podcasts to blur the line between content and commerce.

"Keep it authentic, don't force it," says Fairbairn. "I think that's the key to doing this stuff."

And they know the ads work, because of a different part of the ad — something Bill Burr repeated at least three times: 

"Go to, click on the microphone and type Burr," he says.

These coupon codes are the norm for today's podcast advertisers. They give listeners an incentive to become customers, and they also give advertisers a handy way to track ads' effectiveness. (Especially useful, because data on podcast listening is less than solid.)

But the question is: by proving that podcast ads can move berries, do they also prove their value for companies that don't count coupons — like, say, Coca-Cola?

"By no means is it perfect for anybody," says Derek Lu, a senior strategist at the Media Kitchen, which buys ads for companies including Goldman Sachs. 

"It's hard to measure engagement; it's hard to measure and track the user journey," he says. And advertisers get relatively limited reach in exchange. "[Companies that advertise on podcasts are] there because they can reach a very niche audience where they couldn't otherwise have reached them," he says.

One possibility, according to Sherrill Mane, SVP of industry services for the Interactive Advertising Bureau, is that they will remain niche. 

"It's a craft, almost," she says. "And in the craft business sometimes if you get a high enough unit price you don't need to sell mass."

In other words, as long as the top podcasts can charge high rates—for host-read ads with coupon codes; selling berries, websites and stamps—they may be just fine without Coca-Cola.