Changes by Apple have shaved audience numbers for podcasts

Jason Pollock
By Jason Pollock | 14 February 2024

A change by Apple Podcasts to its automatic downloads system has shaken up the industry, slicing audience numbers for some of the big number content series.

The unheralded system update means new episodes no longer automatically make their way to people’s devices.

Previously that happened even if that individual hadn’t tuned into that podcast for a long time, meaning that many of those counted as audience didn't actually listen. 

Podtrac, a podcast audience measurement service, reported downloads fell 19% month over month and 24% year over year among the top 20 publishers.

The drop was “due largely to modified download behaviour by iOS 17 as it continues to be adopted by podcast listeners.” 

According to Semafor, while few users noticed the shift, "some of the biggest podcasts in the world saw their official listener numbers drop dramatically".

"Long-running shows that publish frequently were hit particularly hard," the site said. 

Closer to home and from a media agency perspective, Taylor Fielding, MD at TFM Digital, says that while the move is a negative for publishers, it signals a positive for agencies. 

“It's bad for publishers as podcasts won't auto-download to encourage people to listen unless they are actively engaged with the podcast, thus impacting the overall reach and numbers for publishers,” he says. 

“On the other hand, it’s good for agencies as it means users listening to a podcast on an iOS device need to have a strong desire to listen to that podcast which means ads served will garner high attention.” 

The Australian Podcast Ranker, the main mechanism for podcast audience locally, uses listeners and not downloads as its main metric. 

“There have been some signs of decrease in downloads due to the release of Apple iOS 17 but we have seen sustained strong growth in podcast listening which has not been impacted,” says Ford Ennals, CEO of industry body CRA .

Triton Digital, the publishers of the Australian Podcast Ranker, says that while downloads have decreased related to iOS, “listeners YOY have significantly increased”.  

Guy Scott-Wilson, head of content at Acast AU/NZ, says there is no doubt that the Apple iOS 17 update marks an important moment of maturity for the industry, with a more standardised form of measurement. 

“These changes will create a better listener experience and offer improved metrics for podcasters and advertisers alike,” he says. 

“For podcasters, the number of downloads they see coming from Apple - particularly on back catalogue episodes - may well start to decrease as more users around the world adopt the update.”  

Scott-Wilson says that the unique audience a podcast has should remain consistent, meaning the download numbers are getting closer to actual consumption of content.  

“For advertisers too, campaign measurement will be more accurate bringing enhanced effectiveness to a medium we already know offers great results,” he told AdNews.

“Importantly, at Acast we are seeing unique listens continue to increase across the board, and Edison Research reports that the share of time spent with podcasting has grown 5 X in the last five years, compared to other forms of audio.” 

In November of 2023, Triton Digital and CRA announced the availability of podcast audience profiles via the launch of Podcast Metrics Demos+ in Australia.  

This change meant that publishers in the Australian Podcast Ranker could now access new audience profiles and demographic data, giving insight into not just the number of listeners and downloads, but also the age and gender, purchase history and intent, interests, and media consumption behaviours of their audiences. 

Annual insights showed 946 million podcasts were downloaded in 2023, as measured by the Podcast Ranker, which is a 25% increase from 2022. 

Triton Digital’s most recent Podcast Ranker, for December 2023, showed Casefile True Crime taking the spot in both the Top 100 Ranker and Top 100 All-Australian Ranker. 

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