Apple broke podcasting for everyone with one simple change in iOS 17

If you're a podcaster and you've wondered why your download figures have plummeted, you can blame Apple and the iOS 17 update from September 2023.

1 minute & 41 seconds read time

Podcasting has gone through something of a golden era thanks in part to the incredible success of shows like This American Life and Serial. The COVID-19 pandemic saw listener numbers boom as well, all thanks to global lockdowns that saw people seeking ways to fill the time. But since then we've seen reports of slowing advertising demand and smaller fees, and things look likely to get worse. Not because the podcasts have changed, nor because advertisers aren't as interested in podcasts as a whole. It's because podcasts around the world have seen their episode download figures plummet, and it turns out they were never right in the first place.

That's following the news that one simple change made in iOS 17 has had a profound impact on the number of episode downloads globally, but it isn't a bug nor is it something that Apple broke as such. It was intentional, and it's better. But it also means that the download figures podcast companies are now receiving are more accurate. And they're much, much smaller.

Apple broke podcasting for everyone with one simple change in iOS 17 02

Semafor reports that prior to the release of iOS 17 Apple's Podcasts app would automatically download all new episodes of any podcast that a user was subscribed to. That meant that if someone subscribed to a podcast three years ago but only ever listened to one episode, their automatic downloads would have counted against download figures regardless. That, multiplied by the millions of iPhone owners, makes for quite the figure of episodes that simply were never being listened to but were being counted. What's more, anyone who started listening again would see all of the prior episodes automatically downloaded which again meant they were counted - whether they were ever heard, or not.

With iOS 17, that changed. Now, automatic downloads stop after users don't listen to five episodes in the last two weeks - impacting those who release daily episodes most. And impact, it has. While Semafor wasn't able to get figures, it says that some big-name podcasting outfits have admitted to falls in download figures of up to low double-digit percentages.

In turn, this change will no doubt mean that while publishers have more accurate numbers, those numbers will not rake in the same level of advertising dollars that the previously inflated ones did. The result could see more podcasts fall by the wayside as companies seek to find a way to ditch those that don't make enough, even after years of proving successful.

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Based in the UK, Oliver has been writing about technology, entertainment, and games for more than a decade. If there's something with a battery or a plug, he's interested. After spending too much money building gaming PCs, Oliver switched to Apple and the Mac - and now spends too much on those instead.

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