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Are Podcast Downloads the Same as Listens

Written by Nathan Lands

If you're a podcast creator or advertiser, understanding the difference between podcast downloads and listens is crucial. While they may sound like interchangeable terms, they actually refer to two distinct metrics that provide valuable insights into your podcast's reach and engagement.

Podcast Downloads

Podcast downloads refer to the number of times an episode has been successfully downloaded onto a listener's device. This metric measures the initial interest and potential audience size of a podcast episode. However, it doesn't necessarily indicate whether or not those downloaded episodes were actually listened to.

Many factors can influence podcast downloads. Some listeners might download multiple episodes at once for offline listening, while others download but never actually get around to listening. Additionally, downloads often include automatic updates from subscribers who may not have actively chosen to listen to a specific episode.

Actual Listens

Actual listens, on the other hand, reflect the number of times an episode has been played or streamed by listeners. These metrics provide a more accurate representation of actual engagement and popularity among your audience.

Unlike downloads, actual listens are tracked when someone starts streaming an episode on their device through platforms like Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts. This metric accounts for when listeners press play and actively consume the content.

The Disconnect between Downloads and Listens

For many podcasts, there is often a significant gap between the number of downloads and actual listens. This gap can be influenced by various factors such as listener behavior patterns and technical issues that prevent accurate tracking.

Listeners might download episodes with every intention of listening but end up never getting around to it due to time constraints or changing interests. Technical glitches can also result in incomplete tracking if media players don't report back when an episode has been fully played.

Importance for Creators & Advertisers

Understanding the difference between downloads and listens is essential for both creators and advertisers in order to accurately gauge their content's impact and make informed decisions.

Podcast creators need to evaluate both download and listen metrics to assess their podcast's popularity, identify episode trends, and refine their content strategy. By leveraging this data, creators can tailor their episodes to cater to listener preferences, increase engagement, and attract new subscribers.

Advertisers rely on actual listen metrics to determine the number of impressions received for ad placements within podcast episodes. It helps them accurately measure the success of their advertising campaigns and ensure they are reaching their target audience effectively.


While podcast downloads indicate potential reach and initial interest, actual listens provide a more accurate picture of engagement. Understanding the difference between these two metrics is crucial for podcast creators looking to refine their content strategy and advertisers aiming for maximum ROI.

So remember, while downloads might give you an optimistic perspective on your podcast's popularity, actual listens provide the real insights you need for continuous improvement. To explore more about generative AI, visit Gen AI or Generative AI.