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Apple watchOS Duplicates Podcast Downloads Resulting in Inflated Reporting: Filtering Guidance

Updated on October 14, 2020 to provide more specific user agent strings.

  • While contributing a small percent of downloads to podcasts overall, Apple Watch devices enact an inherent behavior that triggers non-user initiated podcast downloads and results in significantly inflated download counts from this source.

  • In order to reflect accurate download counts initiated by valid podcast listeners, it is necessary to filter out duplicative automatic downloads coming from Apple Watch devices.

  • Though the outcome of filtering Apple Watch devices may result in the appearance of a reduced audience size and fewer podcast downloads, the filtered metrics are in fact more representative of actual human listeners.

Concerns have recently been raised about Apple’s watchOS Podcasts app. Downloads to an Apple Watch device appear to be duplicative of downloads to a user’s iPhone after the watch performs its synching cycle. This outcome could result in significantly inflated reporting of downloads and listeners. 

IAB Tech Lab’s Podcast Measurement Technical Guidelines describes how most podcast measurement occurs today on the server (due to lack of client-side access), and how it makes it somewhat challenging to discern between a download and an actual listen. The guidelines provide further details on a methodology of filtering that should be applied to server logs in order to generate consistently reliable and accurate measurements of downloads and listeners. Due to the nature of variances in how podcast technical teams analyze server logs, the guidance provided in Tech Lab’s documentation is somewhat broad. When specific instances arise that affect the podcasting industry at large, the Podcast Technical Working Group examines the issue in an effort to provide continually updated guidance. In this case, members of the Podcast Technical Working Group have observed that the majority of watchOS downloads are automated downloads and not user initiated. 

Given the above concerns, the Podcast Technical Working Group is recommending that the following Apple Podcasts app watchOS user agent requests should be filtered out altogether up front and not be counted as unique downloads/listeners:

User Agents:
That begin with atc/ and include watchOS (for example atc/1.0 watchOS)
Or contain (null)/(null) watchOS*

The IAB Tech Lab’s participating members have agreed that by October 1, 2020, traffic from Apple Podcasts on watchOS devices will no longer be counted toward any totals reported for the podcasting industry.

Tech Lab has made efforts to work with Apple in order to support a means of differentiating automatic downloads from valid downloads coming from Apple Watch devices. Should Apple take steps to clearly distinguish those automatic downloads from user-initiated downloads, take other corrective actions, or make other changes that affect this guidance, it  will be revised or retracted.


Mike Midden
Director, Product Management
IAB Tech Lab