Powered by a growing portfolio, the iHeartPodcast Network hit new record highs for downloads and unique U.S. monthly audience during October, gains that lifted the company to the top of Podtrac’s monthly ranker of top publishers. Podtrac says iHeart had a monthly U.S. audience reach of more than 27.8 million listeners with downloads and streams topping 266 million, both showing growth from a month earlier. That pushed iHeart ahead of NPR which saw its reach and download numbers drop last month. The two companies had split number one in September among the publishers and shows measured by Podtrac.
This year has seen iHeart and NPR swap the top spot several times and during a recent Interactive Advertising Bureau event, iHeart CEO Bob Pittman said he believes there is a good reason that two legacy radio companies are by far the biggest podcast platforms each month. He said podcasting is a “natural evolution” for expanding their existing relationship with listeners. “The pandemic was an opportunity for us to reach people who had not sampled podcasts or hadn’t listened to many, to sample them and to get interested in them,” said Pittman.
According to Podtrac, Tthe top seven podcast publishers remained unchanged in October among the shows and publishers it measures. The New York Times remained in third place last month with Podtrac reporting its unique monthly U.S. audience declining by two percent. ESPN/ABC remained at No. 4 with a three percent decline in its total reach. PRX held fifth place with a seven percent drop in its monthly audience, followed by Wondery, which had a 12% drop, and Barstool Sports, which had a nine percent decline versus a month earlier.
Warner Media rode a 15% jump in its unique monthly U.S. audience to a No. 8 finish, up two spots from September. That pushed NBC News back to No. 9 as its reach shrank three percent. And rounding out the top ten was Cumulus Media/Westwood One, which saw its audience reach grow four percent.
Podtrac says the average U.S. unique monthly audience for the top ten publishers slipped one percent from September to October. That was in part due to an industry decision to remove Apple Watch listening from downloads. At the urging of the IAB Tech Lab, Podtrac and dozens of podcast companies agreed in August to remove Apple Watch numbers after the IAB team confirmed that users of the smart watch trigger automatic podcast downloads that result in “inflated” figures.
Podcasters had raised concerns about Apple’s watchOS Podcasts app, telling the IAB that downloads to an Apple Watch device appeared to be duplicating downloads to a user’s iPhone after the watch syncs with the phone. The IAB Tech Lab’s Podcast Technical Working Group then investigated further and discovered the majority of watchOS downloads are automated downloads and not user initiated.
The result was only three of the top ten publishes had month-to-month growth in their download numbers – iHeart, WarnerMedia and Cumulus Media/Westwood One. The removal of Apple Watch numbers may wind up to be temporary. The IAB Tech Lab has said it is trying to work out a fix with Apple to differentiate between automatic downloads and valid downloads coming from Apple Watch devices.
Podtrac said six of the top 20 podcast publishers saw an increase in their U.S. monthly audience from September. And ten of the top 20 had increases in global download numbers.
Among the top ten publishers, the average U.S. unique monthly audience was up three percent month-over-month. And on a year-to-year basis Podtrac said there was an average nine percent increase from September 2019.
In terms of downloads, the top ten publishers had an average three percent growth rate between September and October, and a 46% increase last month versus a year earlier.