The Download on Podcasts is a weekly feature sponsored by PodcastOne.
Podcasting goes back to 2003, with its technology underpinnings stretching back even further. But for iTunes, which added shows in 2005, and therefore for most of the podcasting listenership, the category is 10 years old this summer.
Apple is right to celebrate with a splashy graphic in iTunes. Podcasts got their name from iPods, though it might have been more accurate to call them RSSpods. In the pre-broadband consumer realm of 2000-2003, downloading audio files was not quick for many people. Podcasts were invented as extensions of blogging, which was distributed (and still is for many readers) via RSS headline feeds. Podcasts were designed to be “enclosed” in the feed, and auto-downloaded in the background for later listening. iTunes inserted itself in the discovery, downloading, and management of podcasts.
Ten years later, iTunes remains dominant in podcast distribution, even as the iPod has faded in the shadow of iPhones and Android phones. As this column has noted (see “The Android podcast problem“), Apple extended its leadership onto iOS phones and tablets with a native podcatcher app (appropriately called Podcasts), which carves out the Podcasts section of iTunes into a dedicated search, discovery, download, and streaming app. Android has no such native embrace of podcasting. Third-party apps exist, but Android users must seek them out, implying an existing familiarity with the category.
Apple’s dominance is documented in a recent research report by Clammr, which revealed that 82% of mobile podcast listening happens on iOS devices, and 78% of that listening occurs via the native Podcasts app. Podcast consumption in 2015 is two things: mobile, and Apple.
It is not only distribution where Apple’s influence creates a proprietary gravity well. Because iTunes (which includes the Podcasts app) delivers most podcasts to consumers’ ears, Apple knows more about listening metrics than any other distributor. Podcast networks like PodcastOne (sponsor of this weekly column), Blubrry, Panoply, Midroll Media (recently acquired by Scripps), and others can track their own direct distribution, and basic server calls made by iTunes, more granular statistics such as download vs. stream are privately held by Apple. Lack of unified third-party audience and usage metrics is regarded by some as an industry crisis, making it difficult to tell the best story to advertisers, or measure effectiveness.
Both Adswizz and Triton Digital (with Edison Research) are working on that solution. In the meantime, it’s a happy 10th podcast anniversary for Apple and iTunes, which inspired and has led podcasting awareness for a decade.