Now, however, Apple’s position as the top platform for podcast listening is being threatened as the company faces heated competition from tech and media giants including Spotify, Amazon and SiriusXM. In the years since it first added podcast support, Apple also has placed an emphasis on its growing services business, through which it already offers subscription products for music, television, video games and fitness videos.
But Apple will have to proceed carefully as it explores introducing subscriptions to podcasting, a business that has long been funded largely through advertising sales. Many longtime podcasters are vocal supporters of keeping the medium free and widely accessible, and listeners have yet to show a strong appetite for paid podcast services like two-year-old startup Luminary. Even Spotify, which has a robust music subscription business with 144 million members, has refrained from putting any of its podcasts behind a paywall. And analysts at Citi recently questioned whether Spotify’s podcast investment can pay off, noting Jan. 15 that the company’s cadence of Premium subscriber additions and download data “do not show any material benefit.”
Ives says Apple might have an easier time selling a podcast subscription if it offers a curated selection of exclusive and original shows from in-demand talent, much like it does for video programming with Apple TV+, which launched in 2019 with drama The Morning Show starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon. Apple has released a handful of in-house podcasts and discussed making podcasts that serve as companions to its original TV shows, sources say, but it has yet to go after high-profile projects or talent the way Spotify has. Last fall, Spotify paid handsomely to bring The Joe Rogan Experience, regularly the No. 1 show on the Apple Podcasts chart, exclusively to its platform.
Apple currently bolsters Apple TV+ sign-ups by offering a free subscription to people who buy new devices. It also encourages people to pay for multiple Apple subscriptions by offering discounted Apple One bundles. LightShed’s media analysts recently wrote that they “believe Apple can be successful” with a subscription podcast product if it leverages its new bundles with its “leadership position in podcasting.”
Membership platform Patreon has shown that podcast subscriptions can work on an individual level, with fans paying for exclusive or ad-free content from their favorite personalities. Apple could employ a similar feature, in which it allows people to pay à la carte to listen to shows without the advertising. But in order to entice podcast partners, Apple’s deals would need to cover any lost advertising revenue.
“It’s not like this is a layup,” Ives says, “but given how aggressive Spotify in particular is going after this market, they have to do something.”
This article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.