Is This the End of Ad-Free Apple Podcasts App?

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Apple is planning to expand advertising to more of its native apps, and it looks like this will include Apple Podcasts.

According to a report from Bloomberg, Apple already generates $4 billion in advertising revenue annually. But this year, they have big plans to boost this number to “double-digit” billions. Yikes.

Currently, iOS users only see ads in the app store, News and Stocks apps. But plans are already underway to bring ads into Maps (like you see already with businesses advertising in Google Maps). Mark Gurman from Bloomberg predicts that apps with storefronts – in other words, Apple Books and Podcasts – will be next.

But the irony is, Apple just added App Tracking Transparency (ATT) last year. This privacy feature gives iOS users the option to block third-party apps from tracking their data to deliver personalised ads.

This move resulted in big companies like Facebook and Snapchat losing billions of dollars, while Apple’s advertising revenue reportedly grew 238% in the same year. So while Apple is cashing in on the ATT feature, everyone else is left scrambling for new advertising strategies.

Screenshot of Apple's ATT feature update
Apple recently added ATT, which allows users to turn off personalised ads from third-party apps.

But the important question remains: will bringing ads into the Apple Podcast app be a bad thing for listeners and creators? And what will advertising within the app look like?

What Will Apple Podcast Ads Look Like?

Judging by how Apple already handles advertising in native apps, Podcasts app advertising could take a few different forms:

  • Creators might pay to have their shows appear higher in search results
  • Apple might link podcast subscriptions up to adverts
  • Brands (not just podcasters) could pay for display ads to appear within the podcast app.

In the app store, developers can currently pay to have their apps appear higher in search results when a user searches for a relevant keyword. So, for example, if I search for “meditation” in the app store, I see this ad for the Headspace app:

This kind of advertising would be beneficial to both parties in podcasting. Creators get more visibility, and listeners find more relevant podcast content faster.

Listening app Overcast already offers advertising options like this within its search, and it’s good for podcast discoverability. Creators can bid for advertising space by podcast genre to increase their visibility with target users. And when we tested it out, there were ways to make it inexpensive too.

But if you use Apple News, you’ll know that ads are different in this app.

The screenshot below shows a large display ad I saw when I opened the News app (full disclosure: I haven’t even been shopping for solar panels):

Screenshot of display ad in news app
A display ad in Apple’s News app.

There have been rumours that Apple plans to bring display ads into the Today tab of the app store.

If delivering irrelevant display ads like this into podcast feeds is the direction Apple is going, this is where things could get a bit ugly.

Apple Podcast Ads: Good or Bad News?

We’ll only know if Podcast app ads are good or bad news when we see how Apple handle them within the app.

As long as the ads aren’t too intrusive and are actually relevant to podcast listeners (in other words, they’re not trying to sell gas boilers to people who just want to listen to true crime podcasts), then the change shouldn’t shake things up too much.

And if Apple adds search advertising options to Podcasts, this could even improve discoverability (which we all know needs improvement in the Apple Podcast app anyway).

But of course, this will only benefit creators who have an advertising budget to play with. Ads in the Apple Podcasts app will make it harder for smaller independent podcasters to compete for visibility.

There’s no indication of exactly when Apple plans to expand advertising within its native apps. Were I a betting (wo)man, I’d put my money on the iOS 16 update due out this fall.