The Lowdown on Downloads

Apple's OS change continues to ripple through industry statistics.

1 min read
The Lowdown on Downloads

Falling download numbers may be a sign of industry correction rather than internal problems, at least in 2024.

Apple's release last September of a new iOS 17 operating system threw a wrench in download numbers, but the lower totals may be more realistic than the old system. What's still unknown is how long it will take for a new normal to emerge.

The iOS 17 update tweaked the automatic download settings for podcasts on Apple products. With older systems, a podcast subscriber could download episodes A, B, and C, but then ignore the podcast for months. Once they went back to the podcast (now releasing episode N), all of their skipped episodes (D thru M) would automatically download when you downloaded N.

So, as a listener, you got everything you needed to get caught up (possibly at the expense of memory space). Podcasters got credit for downloads of each episode, even if they were never opened. Apple counted those numbers toward platform share. Advertisers, however, paid for views that may have been phantoms. No reliable data exists to suggest how many 'archival' downloads actually reached listener ears.

The iOS 17 update changed the default settings, so that returning to a podcast no longer downloads each episode since a listener's last one. The intervening episodes are still available, but listeners have to choose to download each or all of them.

The result- download numbers dropped like a rock as the archival spigot got closed. What remains, however, likely represents a more accurate picture of listener engagement.

So, when does the storm pass? That depends on how heavily Apple-oriented a podcast's audience is, and on how long it takes those listeners to upgrade to the iOS 17 platform.

Once the dust clears, download numbers should more accurately depict listener habits. In the meantime, podcasters and industry watchers are examining other metrics to determine the health of their products.

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