Wizzard Media, owners of the Libsyn, Switchpod and Blast Podcast networks, will announce tomorrow that it passed the 1 billion download mark in 2007. While online media consumption numbers are notoriously hard to verify, Wizzard’s have some serious merit. They are ten times what several competitors claimed earlier this month.

Wizzard raised $7.5 million in funding this summer. With multiple major ad campaigns in the works, including one by a branch of the US Armed Forces (the ultimate brand!) – Wizzard’s biggest challenge now may be meaningful monetization of an already growing audience.

The company claimed 85 million downloads for the month of May, which put it on a pace to hit 1 billion in a year. In their year-end calculation they determined that the Wizzard servers were receiving an average of 2.75 million requests for podcast episodes per day in 2007, up 300% from demand in 2006. That number is dwarfed by TV and radio viewing numbers but none the less demonstrated strong growth and contradicts the perception that podcasting has failed to live up to its promise.

Key moves this year

In August the company acquired Libsyn, long the most visible vendor in the podcasting community, and hired Rob Walch of the popular show Podcast411 as its VP of Podcaster Relations.

Alex Williams, founder of the Podcast Hotel conference, told me that while the numbers were large, the news of Libsyn and Wizzard’s momentum was not a big surprise. “They were first to the market and they executed,” he said. “This demonstrates the value of that. Plus they have strong, stand-up people.”

It was also last August that Libsyn announced a partnership with Nielsen Netmetrics to certify downloads. Walch told me today that the Libsyn part of the network’s downloads since August were the only part of the 1 billion number that was certifiable by Nielsen. Wizzard announced in September that the entire network of more than 8,000 podcast publishers would use Nielsen/NetRating’s SiteCensus product to certify downloads in the future.

Muddy Waters

In addition to the challenge of verifying downloads, it’s an entirely different question to ask how many users actually consumed the media they downloaded. Download and view numbers are generally believed to be widely inflated.

None the less, Wizzard’s numbers were more than 10 times what competing networks have reported for 2007. Revision3announced last week that it had played over 100 million “clips” and 25 million “shows” last year (with “an unprecedented 100% unaided sponsor recall” says the sales guy), whatever all that means. Video meta-network NextNewNetworks rode the fast cars and big boobs formula to more than 100 million claimed views in just 10 months of 2007. Podshow hasn’t announced any numbers for 2007, which can’t be good, but it did manage to spend a lot of money and lose Natali Del Conte to CNet. Perhaps it too topped a billion but was concerned that no one would believe them.

Libsyn love

Libsyn is widely appreciated but has in the past been criticized for some spells of down time. The company’s own support blog reports a lot of problems with stats collection, but perhaps those are reports of problems solved and thus good news.

Libsyn charges podcasters a monthly fee for storage and delivery. When I asked people what they thought of Libsyn, almost everyone told me it was good and cheap. Further proof that you can charge people for online services today and they’ll thank you for it.

Note: If you like podcasts, check out ours too. It’s called ReadWriteTalk and even if you listened to it a billion times you’d still want more.