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Apple Watch Podcasts App Found to Falsely Inflate Listener Numbers

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Original poster
Apr 12, 2001
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The Apple Watch will no longer be counted in podcast listener numbers for Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Tech Lab partners because it has been found to falsely inflate listener numbers.



Currently, when a podcast is automatically downloaded by an Apple Watch user, it is counted as two listeners; one from the Apple Watch, and one from its paired iPhone. Since the Apple Watch and iPhone download the same podcast episode by default, and they both report different device user agents, the podcast appears to be downloaded by two different people. This means that the Apple Watch falsely inflates podcast listener numbers.

Although the Apple Watch makes up only a small proportion of podcast listeners, the IAB explains that "Apple Watch devices enact an inherent behavior that triggers non-user initiated podcast downloads and results in significantly inflated download counts from this source." The issue is only present on Apple's own Podcasts app for the Apple Watch.

The IAB Tech Lab's participating members have agreed that by October 1, 2020, all traffic from the Apple Watch will no longer be counted toward any totals reported for the podcasting industry. While filtering out Apple Watch devices will result in reduced audience statistics for some podcasters, the new metrics will be more representative of actual human listeners.

The IAB says that it has "made efforts to work with Apple to support a means of differentiating automatic downloads from valid downloads coming from Apple Watch devices," and if Apple takes "corrective actions" it will revise or retract the guidance.

Article Link: Apple Watch Podcasts App Found to Falsely Inflate Listener Numbers
 

satchmo

macrumors 68040
Aug 6, 2008
3,157
3,135
Canada
Makes sense. I'm sure podcasters would love to claim higher numbers to potential advertisers.
 
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ArtOfWarfare

macrumors G3
Nov 26, 2007
9,006
4,873
I didn't even realize my Apple Watch had podcasts on it. I knew I could listen to them via it, but I thought I had to manually tell it to sync them or something for them to be there.

Counting downloads seems like a very poor idea to me. I have the same episodes downloaded by Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and the Tesla. I'll only listen to each episode from one device though.

There's also the issue that I have a large backlog that I may never actually get around to listening to.

I'd think whenever I download more episodes, it could just send an update on what I've actually listened to.
 
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iBluetooth

macrumors 6502
Mar 29, 2016
333
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This is such a minor programmers error, that I am sure Apple will fix it. But ofcourse everything about Apple is news now.
 
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jclardy

macrumors 68040
Oct 6, 2008
3,525
2,477
I didn't even realize my Apple Watch had podcasts on it. I knew I could listen to them via it, but I thought I had to manually tell it to sync them or something for them to be there.

Counting downloads seems like a very poor idea to me. I have the same episodes downloaded by Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and the Tesla. I'll only listen to each episode from one device though.

There's also the issue that I have a large backlog that I may never actually get around to listening to.

I'd think whenever I download more episodes, it could just send an update on what I've actually listened to.
That is exactly the problem, download counts are the most reliable way to measure podcast listeners. The issue is that podcasts are federated, there is no central repository that tracks play counts, and then you have to consider what constitutes a "playback" - if you hit the play button? Listen to 5 minutes? 50% of the podcast duration?

But then beyond that, every podcast player would have to agree to implement the analytics - overcast, tesla, apple, spotify, etc.
 
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Northern Man

Suspended
Aug 25, 2013
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Probably not intentional on Apple's part. It sounds more like the iPhone team and the Apple Watch team were not communicating very well. That is a management and Quality Assurance issue, which iPadOS illustrated exists in a big way at Apple.
Yet it is intentional because Apple has full control over how it organises, operates, manages and reviews its management and QA programs and it is failing. It has the resources and technology go do it better but seemingly chooses not to. It has lost the focus required and this is down to Cook. Forget the stock price which is the cause of nocturnal emissions for numerous MR posters.
 
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lederermc

macrumors 6502a
Sep 30, 2014
732
629
Seattle
So the problem is counting downloads not listens... My laptop syncs podcasts every day all year long and I only listen to them when a few times a year.
 
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xpxp2002

macrumors 6502
May 3, 2016
357
573
That's unfortunate. I know TWiT network won't duplicate count any downloads from the same IP within 24 hours. Perhaps that would be a better way to handle this.

I know I can't sync any of my podcasts to the Watch even though I'd like to, since they're all video podcasts. The latest iOS Podcasts app does a great job of allowing video podcasts to play audio-only in the background, but the files are too big to sync to the Watch.

I wish there were a way in the protocol for a podcaster to pair an audio-only version of their videos so that subscribing to a podcast with video automatically linked the appropriate audio version for syncing to the Watch.
 
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z4co

macrumors newbie
Nov 30, 2018
8
5
I don't think any podcaster or podcast distributor would assume that 1 download = 1 listen. There are plenty of other scenarios where a single person could download a podcast more than once. OR they could download it and never listen, I have like 100+ episodes in my Overcast app I haven't listened to. This is why spotify is trying to make a walled podcast garden, they can report accurate listener stats because they can actually track what is played vs just downloaded.
 
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lederermc

macrumors 6502a
Sep 30, 2014
732
629
Seattle
I don't think any podcaster or podcast distributor would assume that 1 download = 1 listen. There are plenty of other scenarios where a single person could download a podcast more than once. OR they could download it and never listen, I have like 100+ episodes in my Overcast app I haven't listened to. This is why spotify is trying to make a walled podcast garden, they can report accurate listener stats because they can actually track what is played vs just downloaded.
This isn't much different from my DVR recording 40 minutes of programming along with 20 minutes of advertising and then I skip over the commercial.
 
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PickUrPoison

macrumors G3
Sep 12, 2017
8,131
10,716
Sunnyvale, CA
Probably not intentional on Apple's part. It sounds more like the iPhone team and the Apple Watch team were not communicating very well. That is a management and Quality Assurance issue, which iPadOS illustrated exists in a big way at Apple.
I was with you to the end. This isn’t a QA issue.
 
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Rojaaemon

macrumors 6502
Aug 27, 2016
253
383
As if podcast download numbers are anything near accurate. My prescribed podcasts have been downloading thousands of unwanted and repeatedly deleted episodes for years.
 
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8thNote

macrumors newbie
Jun 7, 2005
25
9
Cincinnati, OH
The leading podcast-hosting providers reported this years ago and adjusted accordingly. It’s newer and not-so-experienced podcast-hosting providers that are just now catching up, now that the IAB is making this an official part of their standard.
 
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Analog Kid

macrumors 603
Mar 4, 2003
5,661
4,187
Not Apple's problem. They don't need to care about who's using some side effect of their software architecture to intuit some underlying statistic.
 
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Westside guy

macrumors 603
Oct 15, 2003
5,740
2,933
The soggy side of the Pacific NW
Apple needs to totally revamp/fix the watch podcast experience.

Apple needs to totally revamp/fix its entire podcast experience, period. I'm someone who stuck with their app for quite a few years; but, with each major "update", it seemed like Apple was trying harder and harder to actively push people into using third-party podcast apps.
 
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Santiago

macrumors regular
Jun 14, 2002
239
177
Mountain View, California
So the problem is counting downloads not listens... My laptop syncs podcasts every day all year long and I only listen to them when a few times a year.

From the server’s perspective, there’s no way to tell whether a user actually listens to a podcast. It’s just an audio file on a server that your app downloads, and then you might listen to it or not. It’s a dirt-simple open standard consisting of an XML file pointing to a list of audio files, and that’s it, which is great.
 
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