A change to the way Apple’s iOS operating system manages automatic podcast downloads may impact a key performance indicator for advertisers.

For years, Apple Podcasts automatically paused episode downloads when a follower’s device storage was full or when she hadn’t played any of the last five episodes for more than 15 days. Then, when the follower (i.e., subscriber) resumed, Apple would download all unplayed episodes.

But no more. In an October 2023 notice to podcast creators, Apple stated iOS 17 would not download unplayed episodes automatically once a follower removed a pause.

Screenshot of Apple's blog post announging the iOS 17 download change.Screenshot of Apple's blog post announging the iOS 17 download change.

Apple announced a change in how it would automatically download podcast episodes.

Storage and Reality

The update has at least two advantages over Apple’s previous practice of downloading all episodes.

First, the new iOS 17 automatic download procedure preserves device storage. Episodes won’t automatically download if a follower has not played any of the last five episodes for 15 days.

Second, download counts will more closely reflect listens, improving the value of a “download” as a marketing metric.

Advertising

This iOS 17 update may also impact how podcast advertisers measure performance.

For many advertisers, the number of times an episode is downloaded indicates how many people listened and therefore the campaign’s reach.

What’s more, downloads are among the easiest podcast metrics to track and are frequently quoted along with others that include:

  • Subscriber counts,
  • Subscriber growth,
  • Rankings,
  • Reviews.

For businesses running brand or awareness campaigns, downloads are a key metric. Thus, if the goal is to get impressions — actual listeners — then the primary KPI just got better on the Apple platform.

On the other hand, the download metric is less meaningful for performance advertisers — those looking for specific outcomes, such as signups or sales. Even with iOS 17, some (or even many) downloaded episodes are not listened to. Say a podcast is…


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