The way that Apple Watch podcast downloads are counted is being changed, to avoid double-counting which occurred with the original approach. The issue only occurs with Apple’s own Podcasts app.

This change means podcasts will see their audience number appear to fall – and, indeed, for Apple Watch listeners to more-or-less disappear altogether …

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) recently announced the problem in somewhat technical terms.

Concerns have recently been raised about Apple’s watchOS Podcasts app. Downloads to an Apple Watch device appear to be duplicative of downloads to a user’s iPhone after the watch performs its synching cycle. This outcome could result in significantly inflated reporting of downloads and listeners.

IAB Tech Lab’s Podcast Measurement Technical Guidelines describes how most podcast measurement occurs today on the server (due to lack of client-side access), and how it makes it somewhat challenging to discern between a download and an actual listen. The guidelines provide further details on a methodology of filtering that should be applied to server logs in order to generate consistently reliable and accurate measurements of downloads and listeners.

AdTech made a better job of turning this into plain English.

“By default, when you charge your Apple Watch, podcasts that you subscribe to sync to your Apple Watch.“ So when a new episode of Podnews comes out, if I’ve touched zero settings on my phone related to the default Apple Podcasts app behavior, then the watch will automatically download the latest episode the next time it charges even though it was already fully downloaded on my iPhone. If I charge my phone and watch overnight and receive an episode update, my host should see […] two device user agents from my IP address trying to download the episode.

In other words, because the default is for both your iPhone and Apple Watch to download the same podcast episode, and because they report different device user agents, that will appear to be two different people downloading the content.

To avoid the problem, the IAB wants to filter out Watch downloads from the official Apple app altogether.

Given the above concerns, the Podcast Technical Working Group is recommending that Apple Podcasts app watchOS user agent requests should be filtered out altogether up front and not be counted as unique downloads/listeners.

AdTech notes that this will now make it impossible for ads to target Apple Watch owners.

Luke Riley of Megaphone quoted in April 2019 that, on Megaphone’s platform, Apple Podcasts on Apple Watch “[…] gets more monthly downloads than well-established apps like Stitcher, Castbox, and Overcast, and more downloads than all smart speakers combined.” That could be a pretty big deal inventory wise for many publishers.

If your podcast host follows the suggestion above to target just the download user agent, realistically you’ll see most of your Apple Watch inventory dry up. Streaming volume on the Apple Podcasts for watchOS will be far lower than downloads. While I haven’t come across anyone specifically targeting this inventory, it’s a good thing to keep in mind that you’ll lose one potential targeting option.

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About the Author

Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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