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Apple kicks out a republisher of 'top 5' podcasts from Apple Podcasts

June 1, 2018 · Updated September 30, 2018 · By James Cridland

New podcast navigation company OwlTail hit on a new way to get into Apple Podcasts, as well as advertise its own service. They bundled the top 5 podcasts from many well-known podcasts like Radiolab, The Way I Heard It With Mike Rowe, Storycorps and Code Switch, and submitted them to iTunes, adding an advertisement for their company, which provides personalised podcast playlists.

Apple's podcast submission service appeared to approve these compilations from the company - we found at least eighteen different podcasts, many with original artwork. The podcasts appeared in Apple Podcast search results for the original podcast, and appeared to have ranked in some sections of the Apple Podcasts ecosystem.

While the audio files remained with the original publisher's service, an ad was added as the latest podcast episode. Subscriptions to these "top 5" lists would not have contributed to the original publisher's rankings, nor would listeners have heard the latest podcasts. In many cases, the original artwork was used, with a "top 5" overlay, and the original title for the podcast was also used.

Contacts at NPR and WNYC confirmed to Podnews today that they were unaware of any arrangement with OwlTail. As we prepared to contact more podcasters to confirm any relationship, almost all the feeds were pulled from the Apple Podcasts service yesterday. However, the company's top 5 compilation of Guys we f****d, at the time of writing, remains accessible in iTunes.

Mel Liu, CEO and co-founder of OwlTail, was asked by Podnews whether they had permission from the original publishers for these top 5 lists. "We do not", he replied in an email. "We're basically redirecting everything to the same source as what they have in their own RSS feed. You can think of us as essentially re-tweeting an episode we love. It's redirected to the original content source."

He confirmed to Podnews that Apple had removed their listings: "iTunes unfortunately don't allow you to republish other peoples episodes, so we've been removed by Apple Podcasts."

Speaking at an event last week, the company was claiming over 250,000 downloads in the last six weeks. Liu also shared some of the company's strategy at the event. He declined to share download figures to Podnews today.

Liu added: "OwlTail is basically trying to provide recommendations for the podcasting industry. My co-founder and I are both power podcast users, and we really felt the pain of there being no curation or recommendations in podcasts, especially when you look at almost every other medium, content is always curated (e.g. podcast industry updates are curated by yourself). Like yourself, we think that podcasts and on-demand audio is an incredible source of content and we want to help improve discovery of great content. We're currently manually choosing our favourite episodes for each podcast (which is the top 5 episodes you've seen) and also getting other podcast listeners to provide their favourites for podcasts we haven't listened to before. OwlTail's goal is to make podcast discovery easier and better for both new as well as power podcast users."

For those with a technical bent: here are two RSS feeds published by the company (mirrored here); and some original iTunes URLs.


These "compilations" are possible because of the open nature of podcasting; the redirection within the RSS files to the original audio was an ingenious way of arguably not affecting the audio's copyright, while adding an ad for the company.

However, they may have been confusing for listeners, some of whom might have thought they were subscribing to the official feed. Use of original images and much of the original podcast information could be considered as being misleading.

Credit should go to the Apple Podcasts team, who appear to have acted quickly to remove these compilations and preserve the integrity of their service. However, if submission to Apple Podcasts is a manual process, questions ought to be asked about why these were approved in the first place.


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