Big changes coming to podcasting: Apple is going to let the people who make podcasts learn what podcast listeners actually like â€” and what they ignore.
A new version of Appleâ€™s podcast app will provide basic analytics to podcast creators, giving them the ability to see when podcast listeners play individual episodes, and â€” crucially â€” what part of individual episodes they listen to, which parts they skip over, and when they bail out of an episode.
The reason all of that is important is that up until now, Apple has provided almost no data at all about podcast listening behavior â€” just the fact that someone has downloaded an individual episode.
And since Appleâ€™s Podcast app accounts for the majority of podcast consumption, that means podcast creators â€” and podcast advertisers â€” have almost no idea how people are interacting with podcasts. Theyâ€™ve been creating â€” and paying for â€” this stuff in the dark with almost no feedback.
So this is a subtle but very big change. Hereâ€™s Matthew Lieber, CEO of Gimlet Media, the podcast studio behind hit shows like Startup and Crimetown:
Podcast creators like Lieber (and myself) have been asking Apple for this kind of information for a long time, but prior to yesterdayâ€™s podcasting session at Appleâ€™ developer conference, there was zero indication Apple was interested in providing it.
Apple didnâ€™t make much noise about it yesterday, either. James Boggs, an Apple business manager who works on its podcast team, mentioned the new features briefly at the end of the session, and said the company would have more info later this year. Here are some screenshots from a video of that session:
Other than laying out the basic idea behind the episode analytics, the only other detail Boggs provided was that Apple will provide aggregated, anonymized performance data, not pegged to individual users.
That means a podcaster â€” or podcast advertiser â€” will be able to see general listening behavior, but wonâ€™t be able to create content â€” or ads â€” targeted for individuals, or even groups of listeners.
That kind of precision targeting and analytics is the kind of the thing most digital content creators â€” and advertisers â€” expect from platforms like YouTube and Facebook. But Appleâ€™s pro-privacy stance â€” and general disinterest in the advertising business â€” makes it unlikely the company will ever provide that kind of detail.
But just the rudimentary data Apple says it is going to provide will be a huge change for the podcast world. Now podcast creators will be able to see if people are listening all the way through the stuff they make, or bailing out after the first 10 minutes. And while advertisers wonâ€™t be able to see who is listening to their ads, theyâ€™ll at least be able to see what percentage of listeners are skipping past them.
That second premise has obvious downside for the podcasting business, at least in the near-term: If podcast advertisers learn that theyâ€™ve been paying for stuff no one hears, theyâ€™re likely to stop paying for that stuff.
And as a podcast maker, itâ€™s been a refreshing novelty to make stuff without the instant â€” and often disheartening â€” feedback you get when you work on other digital media: I worked on that thing for that long and no one cared?
In the long run, of course, more data is better: Youâ€™d rather make â€” and pay for â€” stuff people want to consume. And knowing how they consume it gives you the ability to make more of it.