Why Your Stitcher Downloads Will Probably Sink

Stitcher just sent out an email stating that they are going to be changing the way podcast download numbers are tallied. Does this mean you will see a decrease in download numbers in your Stitcher partner portal?

In October, it appears they are going to stop counting pings and “front page impressions” as downloads which will likely cause the numbers to be more accurate.

Wait, weren’t they accurate before?

According to Stitcher, no. They’ve been counting pings in their download statistics making it appear that a podcast was receiving more downloads than it actually was. These pings were used to emulate downloads so that they would supposedly come close to matching what other podcast media hosts were reporting. There is no explanation why they felt the need to emulate downloads.

Two years ago, I asked Stitcher to not download my individual episodes so that Stitcher listeners could listen to each show in full quality (Stitcher downloaded then compressed each episode, so the sound quality was terrible). They happily complied and stopped streaming my show from their servers but unfortunately as a side effect of doing this, my rankings in the Stitcher top 100 dropped to the bottom 2000. After countless chats with their technical support team, they always avoided my question as to why my rankings dropped.

That mystery has now been solved! It appears that my Stitcher partner portal was reflecting actual statistics, not inflated, or “emulated” statistics. What this means is that I’ve probably been seeing more accurate data than most shows because other shows were still using the inflated “emulated” numbers; hence, my show’s abysmal rankings in Stitcher (in iTunes, it’s a top 20 Self-Help show).

What this means for you is that if you have been relying on podcast statistics from Stitcher, you will likely see a significant decrease in downloads after October (unless they started streaming directly from your RSS like they did with mine). The bright side is that after October Stitcher will provide more accurate information it can.

The good news for those of us who’ve had their shows streamed directly from our media hosts is that perhaps our Stitcher rankings aren’t as low as they appear. In fact, maybe after October 2nd, or show will suddenly rank well as those who were being downloaded by their servers tanks!

Here’s the email I received from Stitcher on August 28, 2017: 

Hello Stitcher Content Partner,

We want to bring to your attention a change in the download metrics you will see from Stitcher in the coming weeks.

Work Done To Date

Last year, we began a process of implementing changes to the way Stitcher communicates with podcasters’ hosting providers. We started by moving all podcasters to direct streaming from the source — the Stitcher apps now make a direct file request to your hosting infrastructure whenever a user chooses to play or download an episode of a show.

This change, which we previously made on an ad-hoc basis for podcasters who requested it, gives you better insight into your overall download metrics and better facilitates server-side dynamic ad insertion.

Latest Changes (taking place 10/2/17)

To give podcasters more standardized, accurate and granular data about their shows, we will be making additional changes to align Stitcher’s downloading definitions with some of the emerging standards put forth by the IAB (learn more about the IAB and their proposed standards here).

As a historically streaming-focused app, Stitcher has implemented various server pinging behaviors over the years designed to emulate downloading where similar actions would be expected by other apps like the Apple Podcasts app. Some hosting providers filter these 1 kb pings out of download statistics, but others do not. In order to more closely match what some partners see in their hosting metrics, we have included these pings as “downloads” in our Stitcher Partner Portal metrics.

On October 2, 2017 we will remove this pinging behavior. This will provide clarity for all of our partners and it will support the IAB’s measurement initiatives. We will:
• Make downloading new episodes in user Favorites the default app behavior
• Record as a download any playback that downloads at least 200 kb (standard put forth by the IAB)
• Present a separate “Front Page Impressions” metric in our partner portal.

What This Means For You

Depending on how your hosting provider’s filtering mechanisms work, you may see an increase or decrease in the downloads attributed to Stitcher. The Front Page impressions will be removed from our downloads statistics and will no longer appear in your hosting provider metrics, while the new download behavior outlined above will continue to be reported in our Partner Portal as downloads. Note that within our Portal, actual listening metrics — a statistic you don’t get from your hosting provider — will be unaffected.

For more information on the specifics of these changes and how they might impact you, please see the FAQ below. You can also contact us with questions at content@stitcher.com and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

Best,
The Stitcher Team

FAQ

Q: How do downloads get counted after this change?
A: We are making several key changes to the Stitcher app’s behavior with respect to downloading. Specifically new episodes of shows that users have favorited (“subscribed to” in Apple Podcasts terminology) will be downloaded by default. This is a user-configurable setting, however, and some users may choose to stream by default or download only individual episodes. In addition, given the IAB’s 200 kb file retrieval standard as the threshold for a download, when users are streaming episodes on Stitcher, we will record a download (and which will subsequently be shown in your Partner Portal metrics).

Q: Will my download metrics change all at once or gradually?
A: On 10/2/17 you will likely see a significant change as we turn off the old system and shift to the new. We will be releasing new versions of our apps to support these changes. As users update to these new versions, you will consistently see changes until the new versions are adopted by the majority of the Stitcher user base. Most of this adoption will happen in the first 2-3 weeks and then reduce to a gradual rate for several more months.

Q: Does my hosting provider already filter out 1KB pings like these?
A: Unfortunately Stitcher does not have insight into the methodologies for download counting across hosting providers. Please check with your provider directly if you think you might be affected by this change. Anecdotally we have heard some hosting providers do and some don’t.

Q: Do these changes have any impact on the other metrics you provide via the Partner Portal?
A: No, all other metrics will be unaffected by this change. Only Download metrics will change (and Front Page Impressions metric will be added).

Q: Can I see my old Stitcher download metrics as well?
A: Yes, you can access your old download metrics via a link in the Partner Portal.

Q: I always thought downloads = listens. Is that not the case?
A: Downloads are not listens though hosting providers are unable to tell the difference because they don’t have information from the apps that download the audio files. Stitcher, as an app creator, does have this information and has provided it in our Partner Portal since well before we provided a Downloads metric. The actual listening metrics for shows, including those featured on the Front Page, are unaffected by this change.

Q: My content is regularly featured on the Stitcher Front Page. What does this change mean for me?
A: This change will eliminate the counting of Front Page pings as downloads on your hosting provider. These Front Page impressions will be reported as a separate metric in the Stitcher Partner Portal.

Q: Will my downloads increase or decrease as a result of these changes?
A: In the Stitcher Partner Portal, your download data will likely decrease as Front Page Impressions will be reported as a separate metric. Data you view via your hosting provider varies greatly across providers, and may include variables such as the popularity of your show on Stitcher, frequency with which episodes have historically appeared on the Front Page, and whether or not your hosting provider already filters out 1 kb pings. As a result, what you see in your own hosting provider may or may not change, and unfortunately, we do not have insight into that.

Q: What exactly is a Front Page Impression?
A: The Stitcher Front Page is updated automatically when users visit it or manually when they pull to refresh. In these cases, new content delivered to the user is counted as an impression. Currently there is no “view tracking” to guarantee the content was seen by the user, only that it was sent to them and put into their Front Page feed.

Q: I have more questions. Who can I talk to?
A: You can contact us at content@stitcher.com and we will do our best to get back to you promptly.

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Note: Corrections were made to this article on 8/29/17