Have you downloaded the new iOS 17 operating system to your iPhone? Congratulations! You’re contributing to an important rightsizing of podcast metrics.
Major improvements and updates to Apple’s podcast app occur within the overall iOS operating system of the iPhone rather than Apple’s podcast app. An enhancement in the recent iOS 17 is the reduction in automatic downloads.
Imagine subscribing to a magazine and discovering the publisher helpfully put two years of back issues in your garage
Let’s say you start listening to a podcast on your iPhone and sign up for auto downloads after following a show. In the past, under certain situations, your iPhone would attempt to download many, many back episodes. Anywhere from the past five episodes or the past 500. The theory was if you want to listen to prior episodes, they would already be on your phone.
Apple recognized while this was helpful to consumers, there were a substantial number of episodes downloaded that were never listened to. Going forward, your iPhone will now download five episodes of a podcast if you sign up for auto downloads. If auto download expires and is turned back on, no additional back episode download requests are made.
Industry collaboration with Apple led to this download enhancement
According to an industry statement signed by 64 podcast advertising entities, “A coalition of industry partners, facilitated in part by Sounds Profitable, consolidated these recommendations (primarily concerning their automatic downloading feature) for review by Apple. These suggestions aligned with Apple’s own research on user behavior, and as a result, changes were implemented to that will help hosting providers further refine download metrics.”
Advertisers were heard: Apple download counts are now closer to listening
Since the dawn of podcast advertising, advertisers have questioned the download metric relationship to actual listening. Why? According to Amplifi Media’s Founder/CEO Steve Goldstein, these “metrics play a crucial role in the ever-evolving world of media, shaping perceptions and driving strategies.” Advertisers inquire: How do we know someone is really listening? Is a download really a listen? Can we really trust the data?
Now, iOS 17 will ensure downloads and listens align more closely. This is similar to the print advertising debate about subscriptions versus readership. Yes, homes get a magazine each week but how many weekly issues did consumers read?
This is why it is vital to have podcast audience measurement services that survey consumers on their listening habits. Edison and Triton ask real people what they listened to in the past week.
Which types of podcasts are impacted by Apples enhancement?
Podcasts with frequent episodes. Podcasts with heavy exposure to Apple. Podcasts with extensive back-catalogs. For these shows, the days of download inflation are over. A new reality is here.
This is a crucial reset for the podcast industry, a much-needed rightsizing of audience data. This is a defining moment advertisers and podcast creators should both welcome.
As hosts look at their downloads and reach for the Advil, they should know Apple is putting the podcast industry on the road to more accurate data. Better audience data inspires more confidence among advertisers and agencies. The timing of this quality improvement is opportune.
Brand marketers insist on reliable and accurate audience measurement
For the first time in the history of podcasting, advertising spend from brands is now greater than direct response spend. According to IAB PwC’s 2023 Revenue Study, brand marketers now represent 61% of total podcast advertising investment.
Brands care about the quality of audience metrics. Their marketing objective is to build memories and create future demand. The greater the reach of their campaign, the more their brand can “be known before they are needed.”
Direct response marketers worry less about the quality of audience measurement as they are naturally more focused on sales effect. A podcast with a small audience might generate more sales than a podcast with a larger audience. To direct response advertisers, sales is the key driver. Everything else is secondary.
The history of media measurement: Improved quality means smaller audiences
Those of us who started podcasting when George W. Bush lived in the White House have yearned for more modern metrics for years. Our wish for more realistic data is starting to come true as podcasting matures into a mass medium.
For podcasters who shudder when they see their downloads, they should find comfort in history. TV and AM/FM radio industries survived similar measurement growing pains.
- At the dawn of cable, local cable sellers portrayed their audience with a metric called “homes passed.” This was a count of the number of homes where the cable had been dug and installed at the street and consumers had the opportunity to obtain cable TV. “Homes passed” was obviously a much larger metric than the actual homes subscribed to cable. At the time, “homes passed” was all the cable industry had to describe its audience.
- In 1987 Nielsen replaced TV set meters and paper diaries with the National People Meter. National TV ratings dropped. The audience was actually the same. It was just the methodology that changed. Ad rates remained the same. CPMs were adjusted upwards.
- In 2003, Nielsen introduced TV People Meters into the top 25 local markets. The higher quality approach generated smaller ratings. Ad rates maintained and CPMs grew.
- In 2008, Arbitron Radio Ratings replaced paper diaries in the top 50 AM/FM radio markets with the Portable People Meter. The higher quality method reduced AM/FM radio ratings by 25%. Ad rates maintained. CPMs increased.
The history of media research reveals the better the measurement methodology, the lower the ratings. This is not a major issue for the podcast industry as the vast majority of podcast revenue is for current and future downloads.
If you’re a creator, use this moment to activate your fanbase:
- Turn your passive fans into active listeners. Urge them to check in on the days you drop episodes. Remind them why your podcast is appointment listening.
- Build your followers on Apple to help offset your download erosion. Got an Apple vanity link? Use it. Followers added today are potential downloads tomorrow.
- Open new frontiers on Spotify and Amazon Music. Promote listening on these Android-friendly platforms now. This could also help you when Google Podcasts goes away later this year.
- Embrace YouTube. The world’s largest entertainment search engine is here to stay as a podcast platform. The looming death of Google Podcasts and the birth of YouTube Music signals a new opportunity to promote your show and find new listeners thanks to YouTube.
For many creators, downloads have eroded. They will continue to do so as consumers shift to iOS 17. But don’t take this personally. Just like the TV producers and creators of days gone past, measurement enhancements always mean smaller reported audiences.
If nothing else, Apple iOS 17 is a fresh reminder that content creators should never take their audience for granted.
Podcast audiences are surging: +42% increase over the prior year
Edison’s just released Q4 2023 “Share of Ear” report, the gold standard study of American audio time use, reports massive increases in podcast audiences. Among 25-54s, podcasts’ ad-supported audience share soared from an 18.5% share in Q4 2022 to a stunning 26.3% share in Q4 2023. That represents a +42% increase in year over year audience share.
While downloads are rightsizing with the iOS 17 update, podcast audiences are exploding. Podcasts are the fastest growing ad-supported audio platform. Apple’s iOS 17 enhancement will inspire advertisers to continue to pile into audio and podcasts.
John Wordock is the Executive Editor/SVP of the Cumulus Podcast Network.
Pierre Bouvard is Chief Insights Officer of the Cumulus Media | Westwood One Audio Active Group®.
Contact the Insights team at CorpMarketing@westwoodone.com.