Apple Watch upgrade increases podcast listening

Steve Ahern examines emerging Apple Watch listening trends

The latest Apple Watch version was introduced in September last year with an embedded podcast listening app.

After just 4 months in the Australian market, indicators show that the watch is likely to bring significant new developments in audience listening habits, especially to podcasts.

The new Series 4 Apple Watch, using the watchOS5 operating system, has more options for streaming and podcast listening than previous versions. The operating system has also delivered upgrades to earlier models of watches, with similar improvements, depending on the series model.

I spoke to several broadcasters and podcast producers who all indicated they are noticing an increase in listening on watch devices since last September. Few of them wanted to be identified at this time, while they evaluate this new trend, but one thing is clear… there’s something new happening here.

Two podcast platforms have confirmed to me that they have seen podcast consumption via watches growing since the Series 4 Apple Watch was introduced. One reports a second spike after December 25, presumably as more people activated their Christmas presents.

As well as podcasts, one commercial network has seen about 10% of its mobile live-to-air station stream listening migrating to watch devices over the past four months.

There are other watch models around, but everyone I spoke to reported the uptick was on Apple Watch devices, not other brands.

Sydney community station 2SER was willing to go on the record, with the example of its Think Business podcast showing gradual increases in Apple Watch device listening since September.

Stats for the month of December showed that 15% of listening (450 listens) to the Think Business podcast was happening through Apple Watches. Whooshkaa hosts and distributes 2SER’s podcasts.

Program Director Anthony Dockrill told me: “This has happened very fast… we can see the trend in all our podcasts, but this show is the biggest indicator. We are speculating that business people who listen to the podcast are probably early adopters of this technology.”

Whooshkaa’s Rob Loewenthal confirmed the trend across many of the podcasts on his platform. “That’s definitely what we are seeing, however closer to 5-10%.”

The new trend is a combination of several factors:

1. The latest watch operating system comes with a pre-installed podcasting app.

When you upgrade to watchOS5, the Apple Podcast App now appears as one of your options. The watch has had the Apple Music App for some time, but the Podcast app is new to this version.

2. Podcast episodes download from your smartphone automatically when the watch is charging if it is in range of your phone and has Bluetooth enabled, making offline listening possible with a minimum of conscious intervention from the user.

3. Spotify, Audible and other podcast companies have also developed apps for the Series 4 watch and watchOS5 operating system. See Spotify’s information here.

4. The latest watches are equipped with an eSIM, enabling audio streaming and downloading, even when the phone is out of Bluetooth and wifi range or not tethered to your smartphone.

The Podcast App does not currently use mobile data to download content while on the move, but it may do so in the future. Meanwhile eSIM data allows improved listening options to radio streams via iTunes.

5. Apple Music and Apple Radio are now mature listening products that are familiar to users. The Apple Music and iTunes apps can use eSIM mobile data to stream content.

6. Watches are increasingly being used by joggers and gym junkies rather than phones because they are easier to access and control.

The earlier versions of watches and the wearing of fitbits has brought back the habit of wearing something on your wrist. Once you are wearing a watch during exercise, it is easier to raise your hand to activate functions rather than taking your smartphone out of your bumbag or unbuckling it from your arm strap.

7. Voice control is easier on a watch than a smartphone and, combined with the spread of unwired Bluetooth headphones, makes the hands free listening option even more convenient.

A recent item in James Cridland’s Podnews reported that Voxnest is also observing the same trend, especially on weekends. 9.4% of all Voxnest podcast downloads are now on the smart watch and the percentage rises to over 13% on weekends.

PocketCast and Overcast are also developing new innovations for smart watches. PocketCast plans to allow users of WearOS smart watches to save podcasts directly onto their watch.

In 2019, podcasts accounted for 4% of all audio listening in Australia, up from 3.2% the previous year. As more people consume audio on smart watches this number is likely to grow further.

eSIM technology is also a factor in the increasing take up of smart watches. eSIM stands for ‘embedded subscriber identity module,’ a SIM card chip permanently mounted inside the device, not slid in and out of a dock, thus minimizing hardware space in the small device.

The eSIM is configured within the device, so there is less user flexibility about which network can be chosen. In Australia, Apple has partnered with three providers, Optus, Telstra and Vodafone with the provider set-up happening through the watch. Details here.

Another element to the spread of smart watches is the added features that are enabled in the Series 4. Wearable fitness monitoring is integrated into the watch, including heart rate monitoring.

Emergency SOS lets you initiate an immediate call for help, the Breathe app can help you manage stress, and you can create fitness routines to remind you to stand and walk around regularly. Calorie measurement and fall detection are also built in to the Series 4, which Apple says retails at about $500, although I saw it at JB HiFi for significantly more.

The current speaker on the Apple Watch only supports Siri, Voice Calling and Notifications, it does not support podcast or music replay, which requires wireless headphones. This is a negative, although the quality of the speakers in watches is not very good anyway, so most people wouldn’t bother to listen to music from them.

Long listening times of course reduce battery life, but watch users I spoke to all reported getting through the day without recharging, even if they listened to several hours of podcasts or music streaming.

How does the interface work?

Once connected with content loaded, the Podcast app opens up to the most recent podcast you’re subscribed to, and you can play it by tapping or asking Siri to play. After an episode has been played, it is removed to make space for new episodes.

If you want to manually choose podcasts to sync, you can do so in the ‘custom’ option in settings. Loading new podcasts directly to the watch is difficult when you are out of range of your phone, it is configured to play what you have already set up via your phone, rather than to discover new podcasts on the watch.

As new technologies develop, users adapt to them to get their favourite audio content in the most convenient way possible. By tracking the changing habits of our listeners, our industry will learn how to adapt content and delivery to give audiences what they want in the way they prefer to consume it.

We will keep tracking these trends as they develop here on radioinfo.

If you have any stats on this trend for your station, please post information in the comments section below, send it to [email protected] or tell us about it via our facebook page.





About the Author

Steve is the founding editor of this website.

He is a former broadcaster, programmer, senior executive and trainer who now runs his own company Ahern Media & Training Pty Ltd.

He is a regular writer and speaker about trends in media.




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