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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Apple makes major podcast updates

Today at the Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple made some major announcements about improvements to its offerings to the podcast world.

As mentioned in Monday’s keynote, the Apple Podcasts app—which is almost certainly the most popular method of listening to podcasts in the world—is getting an overhaul in iOS 11, including a new interface as well as some changes to how podcasts can be structured. This comes in the way of extensions to the feed format podcasts use to list their available episodes.

New extensions to Apple’s podcast feed specification will allow podcasts to define individual seasons and explain whether an episode is a teaser, a full episode, or bonus content. These extensions will be read by the Podcast app and used to present a podcast in a richer way than the current, more linear, approach. (Since podcast feeds are just text, other podcast apps will be free to follow Apple’s lead and also alter how they display podcasts based on these tags.)

Users will be able to download full seasons, and the Podcasts app will know if a podcast is intended to be listened to in chronological order—“start at the first episode!”—or if it’s more timely, where the most recent episode is the most important.

I’m excited by these changes because, yes, some of my podcasts are seasonal and are best consumed from the first episode onward. I’ll be adjusting my own podcast feeds to take advantage of Apple’s extensions as soon as it makes sense to do so.

The other big news out of today’s session is for podcasters (and presumably for podcast advertisers): Apple is opening up in-episode analytics of podcasts. For the most part, podcasters only really know when an episode’s MP3 file is downloaded. Beyond that, we can’t really tell if anyone listens to an episode, or how long they listen—only the apps know for sure.

Apple said today that it will be using (anonymized) data from the app to show podcasters how many people are listening and where in the app people are stopping or skipping. This has the potential to dramatically change our perception of how many people really listen to a show, and how many people skip ads, as well as how long a podcast can run before people just give up.

While Apple’s Podcasts app is the most popular one around, it’s not the entire market—so statistics from Apple can’t be used as the source of truth for how all podcast listeners behave. But I suspect it will be used as a proxy for the larger podcast world, since it will be the largest source of listener data around.

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