Well, it finally came - years of prayers to the podcast gods (aka Apple) have been answered. Apple is re-investing in podcasting in a big way, to the benefit of listeners and podcast creators everywhere. This news is big enough that it's the focus of my entire blog this week.
Why do I call Apple “podcast gods”? Because somewhere between 55-70% of all podcasts worldwide are accessed and/or listened to through Apple’s iTunes and Podcast App. They’ve been in the game since the early days, and introduced the world to a little something called an “iPod”, which was a game changer in the world of portable audio. So they’re pretty special. Further proof offered below.
There’s lots to unpack about the Apple podcast update, which was squeezed in among the many higher-profile announcements made at the annual WWDC (Apple Worldwide Developer’s Conference) held in San Jose, CA last week. I’ll lay it out in sections, and you can watch the announcement or read up on Apple’s website if you want more detail. They also made their presentation slideshow available on their site.
Before we dive in, here are a few interesting-but-broad tidbits of info from Apple about their podcast offer:
- they’re on track for more than 20% growth in 2017 (with equally impressive growth trends in the past two years)
- there are 400,000 different podcast shows available in iTunes
- there are 1,000 new shows submitted each week (wow!)
- there are 14 million episodes (!) in the catalog (mostly audio)
- podcasts are offered in more than 100 languages
- podcasts are distributed by Apple in 155 countries
If that doesn't convince you that Apple is the dominating force in podcast distribution, I don’t know what will.
Now to the enhancements - there are three basic “buckets” of updates that Apple announced:
ANALYTICS - LISTENING DATA, FINALLY!
This is the one that’s received the most buzz, and with good reason. Apple’s finally catching up to some of the more innovative listening platforms out there to offer insights about audience listening. This is extremely helpful to two (often overlapping) sets of folks - the ones that want to make great content, and the ones that want to generate revenue from podcasts.
Up until this year, Apple only offered publishers metrics about the number of downloads and streams, and very limited info about subscriptions. But the key question - What did people actually listen to? - has been a blind spot. Apple is now claiming they will lift the curtain, sharing very specific (aggregated to protect privacy) information about what people listened to, for how long, where they skipped or stopped listening, etc. This will make it easier for creators to know how effective their programming is, when people are getting disinterested, etc. And it will also help advertisers understand if their ads are being listened to. The massive data gap that seems unique to podcasting will finally begin to be addressed.
Having said that, Apple says all this is still in development, and that it will be available sometime “this year”. This leaves us to make assumptions about the specifics. For example - does this mean that Apple will now be gathering analytic data when we listen to podcasts offline? Is there some info that’s only available to us if they’re pressing play while connected, or will it all be aggregated together? Will we know about what they listened to before and after the podcast? Will they offer a revamped interface that lets publishers dig deep into archival data to look for trends?
So many questions … we’ll have to wait to find the answers. Nonetheless, an exciting step forward.
REVAMPED iOS11 PODCAST APP
This is the first update to the Podcast App since they first launched it, years ago. It’s now much closer to Apple Music, and it offers a simplified nav along with some new functionality which makes it easier to sort your podcasts, read show notes and pick up where you left off.
They also have redesigned how they display episodic and season info, to align with the new podcast specs they’re releasing (see next “bucket” below). This is excellent.
Personally, while I think this is all a step forward in design, and I totally understand why they’d want to leverage the UX they’re developing through Apple Music, I still think there’s lots of work to do to make a great user experience inside that app. Frankly, I feel the same way about Apple Music. People use these services in very different ways, and with a small screen it’s a huge challenge to reduce clutter, keep things simple and still offer lots of functionality that people need. This will move the functionality piece forward, and in some ways does simplify things - but I look forward to further design enhancements. I see some great work being done by newer entries to the podcast app world around discoverability and playlists (RadioPublic, 60db, etc). Hopefully the competition will do us all some good, and Apple will continue to step up its game.
NEW PODCAST SPECS (sounds boring but it isn’t!)
Stay with me here - I’m not going to get too technical, although some of this stuff is what turns off people from the world of podcasting.
The good news is that these spec changes have been made to create a better experience for podcast listeners. Thanks to these changes, podcast publishers can now submit information that will identify podcast shows by season and episode, which will then display in the app for users. They can order the episodes however they want, which is something that makers of serialized, narrative episodic podcasts have been wanting for a while. Who wants to see the final episode of S-Town at the top of the list and have to scroll through to the bottom to listen to the premiere episode? And who wants to see “S01E6” at the beginning of a podcast title? It’s been a pet peeve of mine for years, so I’m glad to see Apple request that people STOP naming their podcasts with these codes at the beginning, which allows for clear and concise titles while still displaying season and episode info. Another good step forward is the identification of “episode types” - these will allow for special treatment for trailers and bonus content, as opposed to regular podcast episodes.
These are going to be great changes for everyone, although they will require new work to be done by podcast producers, and I have a feeling it’s going to be a bit of a rocky ride before they’re fully and properly adopted.
Also worth noting in the presentation, Apple Podcasts Business Manager James Boggs walks us through the creation of a podcast, from idea to launch, with some broad info about business models, the importance of artwork and metadata, and some marketing suggestions.
Hopefully you now have a better idea about what’s to come. New Podcast App when iOS11 is released in the fall, new specs to go with it - and new analytics, coming sometime this year.
Better late than never, Apple - kudos. Here are some links for a deeper dive:
- Apple Podcasts Overview, with video, of the new changes:
- The presentation slideshow:
- Some details about the iOS11 podcast spec changes
- iTunes Connect Resources and Help:
That’s it for this week. If you have any comments, please let me know. I’d love to know if this is helpful to you, or if you’d like to see other kinds of podcast info roundups in the future!