Long happy to be the pipeline between podcasters and listeners, Apple is reportedly looking to expand its efforts in the medium to include developing content with media partners. Bloomberg reports Apple has reached out to executives at several media companies, expressing an interest in buying exclusive rights to podcasts. The move appears to be aimed at defending its position in the podcast business which has seen a number of deep-pocketed rivals taking aim at the roughly 60% of listening that remains on the Apple Podcast app.
The tech giant has not yet spelled out a clear podcast strategy to potential partners yet, according to the report, suggesting Apple may still be determining what role it seeks to play in the podcast industry—and whether a move into content deals would jeopardize the perception among podcasters that the company isn’t giving some show producers an unfair advantage. Apple isn’t commenting on the report.
Apple rethinking its strategy seems as much a defensive move as anything else. Other streaming services, including iHeartRadio, Pandora, Stitcher and Spotify, have been making inroads on Apple’s more than a decade of dominating podcast consumption. There are also fresh upstarts like Luminary, which is testing American’s appetite for subscription podcast content.
But there’s also an offensive reason for Apple to look at podcasts to grow its bottom line. Unlike the early days of podcasting, the medium has doubled its monthly listener base during the past five years, according to Edison Research. And the Interactive Advertising Bureau projects podcasting advertising revenue will top $1 billion in the U.S. by 2021.
The past few months have brought several signals from Cupertino, CA that Apple has been taking a keener interest in podcasting, to the delight of most in the industry. During the company’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference last month it announced that it would launch a dedicated desktop app for Apple Podcasts as it began to wind-down iTunes for some users of iOS devices.
Apple also announced it would begin using its technology to help tackle the growing issue of how to help listeners find their way through what are now more than 700,000 podcasts on Apple Podcasts. “Now we use machine learning to index the spoken contents of podcasts so you can search that content and find the podcast with just a few clicks in the app,” announced Craig Federighi, Apple’s Senior VP of Software Engineering.
In a move that will make it easier for podcast listeners to start a show at home and then take it with them on the go—or vice versa—Apple is bringing its Handoff feature to the HomePod. It means someone can start listening to a podcast in the car and then continue where they left off simply by bringing their iPhone closer to their HomePod.
Apple is also making it easier for podcasters and streaming music companies to find users of the Apple Watch. The company said the device is now getting its own App Store. It means users won’t have to rely on their companion iPhone to find or download apps.
Apple also sent a signal that it is paying more attention to podcasts when, after years of essentially listing the same shows on its “What’s Hot” and “New & Noteworthy” tallies, the two features sprang back to life in May.