Apple Podcasts vs AppleCoreMedia downloads, before and after iOS 16.4

Apple made a change under the hood, did it make a difference?

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As of iOS 16.4, released on March 27th, 2023, the Apple Podcasts app now sends a User-Agent that looks like:

Podcasts/4022.610.1 CFNetwork/1408.0.4 Darwin/22.5.0

…when streaming a podcast episode, instead of a more generic one that looked like:

AppleCoreMedia/ (iPhone; U; CPU OS 16_3_1 like Mac OS X; en_us)

Since Apple Podcasts is responsible for the most podcast episode downloads, and downloads are still used across the industry to measure listenership for ad campaign purposes: any time Apple changes something, it’s worth measuring the impact.

We’d expect to see a rise in Apple Podcast download share, now that these requests can be properly attributed, in whatever portion of downloads are streamed in Apple Podcasts (i.e. the listener hit play without the file already being downloaded, typically a fraction of overall downloads).

Since we are midway through June, I used data from OP3 for the first 15 days in June, and compared it to the first 15 days in each of May, April, and March (before 16.4 was publicly available).

OP3 is a free podcast download measurement service, measuring a wide variety of shows - some of which have a high proportion of Apple Podcasts listeners, some that don’t. For the first 15 days of March, OP3 measured 2.3 million IAB-style downloads, increasing to 2.9 million downloads for the first 15 days of June.

One tweak I made to the Download calculation for this analysis was to include Apple Watch speculative downloads (the atc/ user-agent) as a separate item - so we can see if those changed over this period as well. Normally these are excluded from podcasting stats reporting like OP3, but they’ll be useful to see here for this custom analysis in relation to the others. Broken out below as ‘Apple Podcasts (Watch)’

This shows the apps with the highest share of OP3 downloads (those above one percent share) for the first 15 days each of March, April, May, and June 2023.

AppleCoreMedia is broken out as a separate item, as it can be sent from any iOS app that uses AVFoundation for audio streaming (which is most of them except Spotify).

You can see the share for AppleCoreMedia start to fall in the May and June periods, after 16.4 was released - from 11.87% of all downloads in the first 15 days of March down to 5.34% of all downloads in the first 15 days of June.

Similarly, Apple Podcasts’ share rose from 26.32% in March to 30.34% in June.

Note: Apple Watch speculative downloads remained relatively constant, which is good news: this means Apple is not mixing these these up with the main app and should continue to be excluded from any podcast download reporting stats. Any user-initiated download or play on the Apple Watch is tagged with the normal Apple Podcasts agent and included in that number.

Let’s keep going!

One of the cool things about OP3 is that it can track these streaming downloads vs normal downloads on Apple platforms, so we can limit our focus to streaming requests and see if we find a similar migration from AppleCoreMedia to Apple Podcasts.

The switchover is more dramatic here, and exactly what we’d expect to see. Bear in mind these iOS streaming requests are a small fraction of overall downloads across all devices and platforms, about 16% in this OP3 data.

Although AppleCoreMedia is down to 32.92% of these downloads, and 5.34% of overall downloads, there are still a handful of popular apps that haven’t bothered to change it, I’m keeping track of those apps here, the required change looks something like this.

It’s remarkable how quickly a change to Apple Podcasts can have an effect on the overall podcasting ecosystem. Thankfully the change landed in the 16.x line, this means it will remain available to older Apple devices that cannot upgrade to the upcoming iOS 17 later this year.

Let’s quantify how quickly podcast listeners update their iOS by looking at the same OP3 data, but this time focusing exclusively on downloads from Apple Podcasts and which OS version they used.

The cumulative share of Apple Podcasts users on iOS 16.4 (the bold red bar) or higher quickly grows from 1.43% percent in March (beta testers) to 71.84% only a few short months after release.

Any change Apple makes is quickly metabolized.

Data collected and visualized by John Spurlock

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