How to understand podcast stats
· Updated August 26, 2020 · By
Podcast statistics can be confusing and complex: but it’s always nice to look at the numbers to see how your podcast is doing.
Here are some details about how the different figures work, and how to read them.
There isn’t a Billboard chart for podcasts
There is not a simple chart that shows your podcast’s downloads against others. The Apple Podcast “Top Shows” charts doesn’t measure downloads (see below); and even if it did, many people don’t use Apple to listen to podcasts.
There are some podcast rankers that do seek to compare total downloads. These only count podcasts from participating publishers: and are not representative of all podcasts in all countries.
In August, Spotify supplied Podnews with a list of top podcasts in each country measured by total audience. While this only measures podcasts consumed on Spotify, this is the closest we have to a “Billboard chart”.
There aren’t any subscriber numbers either
Podcasts are available on many different apps and devices, and because of this, there are many different ways you can “subscribe” to a podcast. Some platforms keep a number of subscribers to a specific podcast, but many don’t (including some of the largest apps like Apple and Google).
Some platforms work by telling a listener’s phone to check your RSS feed, while other platforms work by checking your RSS feed on a central server, and then telling a listener’s phone when they spot a new episode: so there isn’t an easy way for your podcast host to know how many subscribers your podcast has.
The equivalent of “cume”, “reach” or “readership” - how many people subscribe to a podcast - isn’t available to podcasters.
Some hosts or services will measure a device’s IP address and its useragent, to estimate a total number of subscribers. This may significantly over-estimate audiences. As one example: a listener on their home wifi, who then travels to work listening via cellular, and while at work connects to wifi in the office, may appear as three separate people.
How the Apple Podcast charts work
Apple do not publish the way they compile the Apple Podcast “Top Shows” charts, but they are generally understood to be based on recent subscriptions. Libsyn’s Rob Walch claims they are “the total number of new subscribers in the past 7 days, with a weighted average for the last 24, 48, and 72 hours.” We uncovered Apple’s patent, which says similar.
An appearance on the Apple Podcast charts, therefore, reflects a podcast’s ability to attract a larger number of new subscriptions to their podcast over recent days. It is not related to downloads.
You can appear very highly on the Apple Podcast charts by planning all activity around your podcast release on one specific day, and encouraging as many subscriptions on that one day as possible. A couple of hundred new subscriptions is all it takes to ensure you are top of the chart in most categories, according to Walch.
Other charts within Apple Podcasts, particularly New and Noteworthy, are believed to be hand curated by Apple. Despite what you may have heard, there is no proof that ratings or reviews have any effect on appearing in the charts: and some evidence that’s not the case, too.
The Apple Podcasts chart is designed to help surface new podcasts to listen to. It isn’t a reflection on total downloads, nor total subscriptions. Every podcast (should) slowly fall out of the chart, even as its total downloads increase.
Like any other service, the Apple Podcasts charts can be manipulated, either by companies or by individuals.
Understanding Apple Podcast Analytics
You can see analytics for your podcasts by logging into Apple Podcasts Connect. However, this only tracks listens on recent versions of the Apple Podcasts app, and users can opt out of being tracked. Apple is responsible for about 68% of global podcast downloads, so Apple Podcast Analytics perhaps only measures 50% of your downloads at best.
Because the numbers aren’t a total view of your podcast’s performance, many people recommend you ignore the numbers that you see in Apple Podcast Analytics; instead, use it for the consumption graph that shows you how people are listening to your podcast; where they skip, and where they stop listening. You can also use it for trends - is the number generally increasing?
Apple Podcast Analytics only report a sample of your audience. They are an incredibly useful tool to help you understand how people are consuming your podcast. They do not give you the total numbers for your podcast, and will always be different to your podcast host.
Understanding your podcast host’s statistics
Your podcast host probably offers statistics about downloads. Be aware of the following:
- Spotify, Gaana and in certain circumstances Amazon Alexa devices, may cache your podcast (they take a copy and host it on their servers). Your podcast host may not see individual plays on these services. Make sure these numbers aren’t elsewhere on your podcast host’s dashboard, or hidden altogether.
- All podcast hosts measure downloads differently. Ones using the standard (they may describe themselves as “IAB v2 compliant” or “IAB Certified”) are roughly comparable: but even these podcast hosts do not have identical measurement mechanisms. Ones that don’t use the standard, most notably Soundcloud, may appear to give you four or five times the amount of downloads. They’re not: they’re just counting them differently. When switching hosts, you won’t get the same numbers: they may go up or down. For more on this, read this story about Jimmy and the magic pizza shop, which helps explain more about IAB certification through the medium of pizza.
Understanding the difference between plays, streams and downloads
Many podcast apps download a podcast automatically; and don’t report back to your podcast host if it’s actually been played. However, the default for some podcast apps, notably Google Podcasts or Spotify, is only to download the audio for a podcast if you press the play button. (This behaviour is typically known as “streaming,” though technically it’s a progressive download - and looks like a download to your podcast host).
A “play” normally means that there’s a human being listening. A “download” doesn’t always mean a podcast was ever listened-to. 32% of respondents to this UK survey say they listen to half their downloaded episodes or fewer. Or, consider how you listen to, say, The Daily - some poeple say they look at the latest episodes and choose a story that sounds interesting: only listening to one out of every two downloads.
Unfortunately, in most cases a podcast host can only measure total downloads - and is unable to know whether a downloaded podcast was played. Caution, therefore, when comparing different podcast apps.
You could argue that a play within Google Podcasts or Spotify, which both normally only “stream” a podcast on-demand, is more valuable than an automated and speculative download from Apple Podcasts or Overcast. In a blog post, Simplecast compare different podcast app behaviour.
Apple Podcasts does stop downloading podcasts you don’t listen to. Many other podcast apps just keep on downloading them, forever.
Understanding Spotify analytics
Spotify does not measure downloads, but listens. Spotify supply two numbers. They say:
Starts measure any listener who clicked on a podcast episode. There is no minimum time limit to be counted as a start on Spotify. Starts align to a download used by other podcast listening platforms.
Streams measure any listener who listened to at least 60 seconds of your podcast. Streams align to the IAB definition of a download, an industry-wide accepted metric.
Because Streams are a stronger representation of a person who listened to a meaningful section of your podcast, we recommend you use them to better understand your audience and their behavior.
Unlike other services, the Spotify for Podcasters portal gives you some data regarding the demographic breakdown of your listeners: and even what music they like listening to. Just like Apple above, treat these numbers as a sample of your audience.
Understanding Podtrac analytics
Podtrac is a free service for podcasts. It measures downloads in a consistent way, whatever the podcast host or app used.
You can use Podtrac to compare numbers for any podcast: but the numbers for individual shows aren’t made public.
Podcasters need to sign up with Podtrac (free) to measure a podcast. Most producers don’t; so the Podtrac numbers will always only show an incomplete picture of the podcasting landscape.
Caution: Podtrac actually measures a request for a download, and doesn’t know how much of the podcast is actually downloaded. There are technical ways to adversely affect the numbers which may give very high figures. Podtrac is IAB Certified, but their figures may be markedly different from other IAB Certified podcast hosts as a result.
You can discover if a podcast is using Podtrac by searching for it in Podnews. We’ll show, next to the podcast host, if Podtrac is measuring it.
Podtrac release some monthly data. See the latest from our daily newsletter archives.
Understanding third-party services like Podkite, Chartable and others
There are some products out there which might claim to show podcast analytics. However, unless they are directly built into your RSS feed or you’ve given them access to your hosting account, they do not know podcast download numbers.
These services mostly work by storing the Apple Podcast charts, and other similar services, and then making this historical information available in the form of a chart or table.
They are therefore a useful record of trending charts: but they do not offer a way of comparing a podcast.
You can get a taster of Chartable’s information for any podcast by searching for it in Podnews, and then viewing its technical information.
Chartable has a service called Trackable, which works the same kind of way as Podtrac, and is also IAB Certified. Podnews uses it.
Understanding podcast rankers
Apart from Podtrac, there are podcast rankers in Norway, Sweden, Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Latin America and the US. They’re run by different companies (though Triton Digital run many of them), and these work by looking through podcast log files to calculate a figure of total downloads.
Individual country podcast rankers only count downloads from that country, not from others: and they only count downloads from publishers who want to appear in the ranker (and, in most cases, paid to be there). They are not a complete view of the podcast industry.
The Podcast Consumer Tracker ranker
From Edison Research, this study periodically releases top 30 lists, based on total audience. It is US only, and is produced by interviewing 8,000 people about the podcast they say they have listened-to. From this, Edison Research compile a list of shows.
This list is based on recall, and not actual data. There are 1.3m podcasts available, so asking a sample - even a weighted sample as large as 8,000 - may not accurately reflect total audience.
However, as a snapshot into popular shows, they’re a valuable tool to understand what people say they’re listening to.
An example of why trending charts like the Apple Podcasts chart doesn’t measure a podcast’s popularity
Podcast 1 has spread by word of mouth. It has three new subscribers every day, and has existed for three years. It will never appear on the Apple Podcast chart, since that is worked out using recent subscriptions. It now has 3,000 subscribers (and almost as many downloads per episode).
Podcast 2 launched in a blaze of publicity three days ago. It got 200 new subscribers in one day, but has trickled away to very few new subscribers. It has a total of 230 subscribers. Because it did very well in its launch, it appeared at #20 in the charts.
While Podcast 1 has never appeared in the Apple Podcast Charts, it is over ten times larger than Podcast 2.
Podcast measurement vs radio measurement
You might hear some people compare podcast measurement with radio measurement. Here are the differences:
- Radio is measured by recruiting a sample of listeners, monitoring what they listen to (electronically or via a paper logbook), and then multiplying this number up to produce total audience figures. This is normally a statistically valid process (and station figures are relatively stable, which underlines this). However, sample sizes and the research process can cause unpredictable figures. Radio measurement isn’t, therefore, perfect.
- Podcasts do not use samples, and are typically measured by actual total downloads. However, total downloads aren’t the same as total plays. Podcast measurement isn’t, therefore, perfect.
- Radio research uses demographic information from the sample of listeners, so they’re able to claim certain stations do better with female listeners, or a 15-34 audience, or so on. This helps advertisers know where to advertise. Sample sizes may make this unreliable, though.
- Podcasts can use IP addresses and other data to give some geographical data; but they don’t have demographic research from their download figures, and have to undertake further research. That is often made up of super-fans of the podcast, a self-selecting group which is potentially unrepresentative of the total podcast listenership.
In short, therefore, all research is flawed. Be cautious about comparisons.