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Apple’s “next chapter” of podcasting: Paid listening. And channels.

In an announcement targeted mainly to podcast creators, Apple announced two upcoming features that will enable podcasters to earn subscription revenue, and organize channels of content to increase listening.

Starting in May, Apple Podcast  Subscriptions will be a paid listening tier that allows creators to build a premium layer of content around their shows. Exclusive episodes and ad-free listening are two common features of subscription plans in many other distribution apps, both mentioned by Apple as examples.

Here is Eddie Cue, Apple SVP of Internet Software and Services: “We are proud to lead the next chapter of podcasting with Apple Podcasts Subscriptions.” For perspective on the “next chapter” language, global podcast company Acast has been developing subscription programs for creators since 2016, and Patreon has been enabling subscriptions for many years. But Apple certainly has a right of “next chapter” credibility based on its scale and front-runner status in podcast distribution.

Podcasters will also be able to formulate channels of shows to attract more listening — that feature will be located in Apple Podcasts for Creators along with a new suite of analytics. Surprisingly, any episode can be associated with only one channel. (We guess some podcasters will be disappointed by that odd limitation — it’s as if Spotify allowed each song to be associated with only a single playlist, or only be on one album.)

The analytics portion is interesting, and will probably be welcomed by show runners with big audiences. In addition to setting up exclusive content and channels, the new analytics track listening across episodes, show where listeners skip and drop off, manage multiple shows at the same time, count listeners, map listeners around the world, and find reviews and ratings all in one place. Apple will also offer promotional products like badges, QR codes, and embedded players.

Apple has gathered an array of large podcast publishers and networks in support of the announcement. It is not clear whether all of them plan to create subscription carve-outs, or channels, or both. We received a fast note from Tenderfoot TV, whose podcasts have been downloaded 600-million times, expressing that group’s intent to make a subscription tier called TenderfootPlus+. It will contain early releases, ad-free listening, and exclusives — the standard trio of paid podcast benefits.

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Brad Hill

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