Apple has been reported as the #1 podcast app since the inception of podcasting — after all, the "pod" in podcasting comes from the iPod. But Spotify has been catching up fast in the last few years.
Two separate sources recently claimed that Spotify beat Apple for the top slot. A report from MIDiA research claimed that Spotify had surpassed Apple Podcasts as the #1 podcast app, as did a private investor memo from Morgan Stanley. Both were based on listener surveys, and both stirred controversy in the podcasting community given Apple's long dominance.
Because most industry-wide stats are reported on the total number of downloads rather than the total number of users or listeners using each player, we thought it would be interesting to compare the two metrics to see if Spotify truly has surpassed Apple.
Out of a dataset of more than 200 million downloads recorded by Chartable in January 2020, we saw just over 40 million unique devices.
Apple Podcasts remains #1 in terms of unique devices and unique downloads, but Spotify makes a strong showing at #2. When looking at unique devices rather than unique downloads, Apple falls from over 60% of market share to around 43%.
This gap can be explained by a large difference in the average downloads per unique device. Apple Podcasts automatically downloads episodes from podcasts that a listener is subscribed to (and listens to on a regular basis), while Spotify only begins downloading when a listener presses “play.” Unless Spotify changes the app's behavior, it's likely that Spotify will always average fewer downloads per unique device.
To compare this behavior across more podcast apps, here are the top 10 players with their corresponding device share and download share. Note that Google Podcasts shows a similar gap between unique devices and unique downloads, as the app also doesn’t automatically download new episodes:
|Player||Unique devices||Unique downloads||Average downloads per device|
|Other (primarily web browsers)||12.12%||6.76%||2.82|
Other players with smaller audiences that appeared in the results include: various apps using Android libraries; iTunes desktop software (ie, iTunes versions before the recent introduction of the desktop Podcasts app); Podbean; Player.fm; Podcast Republic; Castro; Podkicker; Downcast; BeyondPod; Amazon Echo devices; RadioPublic; Breaker; and Podkicker, among several others with very small market share.
I examined Chartable’s dataset of downloads from January 1 through midday EDT January 20, 2020. Chartable’s data comes from an RSS prefix integration with thousands of podcasts.
We define a “device” by the Internet Advertising Bureau’s “listener” metric — a unique combination of IP address and user-agent. (Privacy note: we did not examine either of these directly for this analysis; Chartable stores a hash of the combined IP and user-agent for analysis, which we call “device ID”).
We define a “download” as a unique device downloading a podcast episode in one calendar day. This is in-line with the IAB Podcast Measurement Guidelines V2, as Chartable is in the final stages of IAB V2 certification.
Spotify does not actually deliver downloads directly from all podcasts’ RSS feeds — they cache the audio files unless the publisher has “pass-through” enabled. For this analysis, I only included podcasts that had at least one download from a Spotify listener in January 2020, because that implies that pass-through is indeed enabled for that podcast.
It’s worth noting that Chartable’s dataset is biased towards US sources because the largest publishers we work with are US-based.
Further research is needed to establish trends on this metric over time. It’s also likely worth breaking out data by country, as consumption patterns in markets where iOS is not the dominant platform are very likely to differ from these US-centric results.
Founded in 2018, Chartable builds world-class podcast measurement tools for publishers, agencies, and brands. We're trusted by Wondery, Vox Media, and thousands of other publishers to handle hundreds of millions of downloads per month. Top agencies and brands rely on Chartable's innovative SmartAds podcast advertising attribution to assess the effectiveness of their ad spend. The company is backed by top investors including Initialized Capital, Greycroft, and Naval Ravikant. To learn more, visit chartable.com.