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6 December 2023

Why your podcast downloads dropping recently may not be a bad thing

When you next log into your podcast hosting platform to take a peek at your audience data you may be in for a bit of a shock… but, don’t panic yet!

When you next log into your podcast hosting platform to take a peek at your audience data you may be in for a bit of a shock. It is likely that your worst podcasting fears have been realised and your download numbers have dropped but, don’t panic yet. 

There is a very simple reason why this has happened and, in the long term, it’s probably a good thing.

Why have my download numbers dropped?

The latest iOS 17 update for Apple devices has changed the way that automatic downloads are handled.

Automatic downloads for shows will now be paused when a listener hasn’t played/listened to a show they follow for either the last five episodes or the last fifteen days. This remains the case until a listener resumes playing that show or manually changes their download preferences to start automatically downloading episodes again. Apple say this is to help preserve device storage.

Obviously, this change doesn’t impact the number of people listening to your show via Apple devices but, as the market share for Apple Podcasts is so large, these changes can have a pretty heavy impact on your numbers. Earlier this week, for example, Buzzsprout reported that Apple downloads had fallen by 24%, largely down to this change.

Why isn’t this a bad thing?

I can understand that the first reaction to the news your downloads are going to drop is mild panic but it’s important to remember that the “listeners” never existed in the first place.

Sure, your content was being downloaded onto someone’s phone or tablet but it was never reaching anyone’s ears. Yes, your download numbers may appear smaller than before but the number of people hearing your content remains the same.

There was a similar impact on downloads in 2017-18 with the introduction of IAB Tech Lab Podcast Measurement 2.0 (the industry standard for measuring podcast audience). 

Previous to this podcast downloads/listens were measured by the number of times an RSS feed was “hit”. However, each feed could potentially be “hit” several times during a single listening session meaning that one listener was being counted multiple times.

The new IAB standard meant that listening was measured within a 24-hour window meaning that one person’s multiple listening sessions within 24 hours would count as one listen.

It resulted in some podcasters “losing” up to 60% of their “listeners” overnight.

The introduction of the IAB standard had a very different intention to the Apple Update. Whilst Apple are in pursuit of improving user experience, IAB wanted to improve reporting and give advertisers more confidence. The outcome however could be similar, and that’s why this may not be all bad.

In terms of the media landscape as a whole, podcasting is very much still the new kid on the block and as such has to work a little harder to attract the advertising pound.

Whilst it could be argued that the accuracy and transparency offered by podcasting far outstrips that of some of its competitors (radio and RAJAR for example) anything that can be done to increase advertiser confidence and attract more business into the sector is a positive thing.

Although it wasn’t their main intention, by making this switch, Apple is giving podcast advertisers more reassurance that the baked-in ads they are paying people to hear are reaching genuine pairs of ears. It’s worth noting that dynamically inserted advertising already gives advertisers this confidence as advertising impressions are only counted when an advert is consumed in its entirety.

As Acast CEO, Ross Adams pointed out, it’s short-term pain for long-term gain:

“In the long-term, the change will mean a more accurate picture of the listening frequency for each podcast which is a positive development for the industry as a whole. In the short-term, we expect a decrease in the number of overall listens and an increase in the average revenue per listen.”

Whilst the expected drop in numbers may be painful for many right now, more confidence in reporting data means more advertisers. Also, as Ross suggests, having more genuine listeners hearing adverts should lead to increases in ad effectiveness.

Both of these things will result in higher ad value and higher ad value means more money in podcasters’ pockets.

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