Downloads vs. streams: What advertisers need to know

Picture this: You notice you're running low on storage on your phone. You check your data usage, and a few gigs are from podcast episodes that have automatically downloaded to your device—95% of which you've never listened to.

Downloads were the original way that content creators and advertisers gauged podcast listenership—but streaming has changed everything. So, what's the difference between these two measurements? Read on to dig in.

A brief history of podcast ad tech

In the past, podcast ads were recorded during (or “baked into") an episode.

Then in 2013, we saw the rollout of Dynamic Ad Insertion (DAI), which made it easier for advertisers to serve different ads to specific sets of listeners. It also allowed advertisers to scale campaigns across multiple podcast episodes or series. But DAI wasn't perfect, and it still used downloads as its primary success metric.

As marketers began looking for ways to make their ads more interactive and actionable, podcast ad tech evolved again. The latest iteration is Spotify's Streaming Ad Insertion (SAI) feature. With SAI, ads strategically appear in podcast episodes while listeners stream them, which provides a more scalable and measurable solution for advertising on podcasts.

What are podcast downloads?

Now, back to our original question: What's the difference between podcast downloads and streams, and why does it matter to advertisers?

Essentially, a podcast download happens when a smartphone or other device downloads audio files. Many apps automatically download podcasts to listeners' devices by default—as soon as new episodes air.

While this provides insight into how many people are downloading episodes or "following" a podcast, it tells advertisers little about whether or not these episodes are actually being listened to.

What are podcast streams?

On Spotify, a podcast stream counts when someone listens to a podcast episode for at least 60 seconds.

Podcast streams are becoming more popular—today, multi-device users stream Spotify for nearly 2.5 hours each day.1 People stream podcasts online as their device receives data in real-time.

With metrics based on streaming, podcast creators and advertisers alike are able to see which content people are actually listening to. This provides a much clearer look at audience engagement.

Downloads vs. streams: Which is better for advertisers?

Although both downloads and streams help podcasters and advertisers understand how many listeners a show has, the two paint a pretty different picture. Downloads are a great way to gauge a podcast's overall reach, while streams help us see the number of times listeners actually play podcast episodes.

Streaming metrics also help podcasters discover:

  • Which episodes are resonating
  • Which episodes aren't
  • What the general listening trends of the show look like

Ultimately, podcast streaming benefits all parties engaging with podcasts, including listeners, creators, and advertisers. Listeners don't use up valuable storage. Creators get stronger audience analytics. And podcast advertisers get a clearer picture of how their campaigns are performing—and who they're actually reaching.

How Spotify approaches streaming metrics

Streams are the main metric we think about at Spotify. Although listeners are still able to download individual episodes (or entire shows) if they want to, we're a streaming service at heart. This means advertisers can gather accurate insights into how many people are listening to various podcasts, along with the demographics of those users. With Spotify's SAI, podcast advertisers can use this information to decide where their ads are the best fit.

This is especially true given Spotify's Audience Network. When advertisers access Spotify Audience Network through Ad Studio, our self-serve ads manager, they can choose to target SAI ads to specific audience segments spanning multiple shows. For instance, instead of buying ads on one specific podcast, a brand can use the Spotify Audience Network to reach "women ages 18-34"—and run their ads across many different podcasts that reach that audience segment.

At Spotify, I receive crucial and key streaming metrics that measure how effectively my podcast is reaching my listeners.

Alex Cooper

Host of Call Her Daddy

Alex Cooper, who hosts the popular podcast Call Her Daddy, agreed that streaming data provides a great snapshot into listenership in a recent interview on For the Record. "At Spotify, I receive crucial and key streaming metrics that measure how effectively my podcast is reaching my listeners and what their listener habits look like," she said.

Because brands are able to see who is really listening to podcasts—and how often—they have better insight into targeting, audience habits, and how to scale their campaigns. Being able to select placements based on impressions, reach, and frequency creates a completely different advertising experience than baked-in ads that appear in podcast downloads.

Learn more about how you can start creating and promoting podcast ads with Spotify's SAI.

  1. Spotify First-Party Data, global, based on daily content hours / daily active users, free users multiplatform, May 2019

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