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Apple’s split of the classic Mac application iTunes into separate Music and TV apps came after it decided to offer subscription audio and video services; now another former piece of iTunes — podcasts — is reportedly set to get its own special reason for being. According to Bloomberg, Apple is planning to fund a set of exclusive podcasts that will set its own iOS and macOS apps apart, a surprisingly belated decision given the company’s 14-year history with the podcasting medium.

Today’s report says that Apple’s goal is in part to “keep competitors Spotify and Stitcher at bay” by identifying and funding specific podcasts from media companies, making exclusive deals that it has previously shied away from. Positioning itself as a modern alternative to live radio, streaming leader Spotify has notably funded pre-recorded shows from celebrities and newsmakers, wooed independent podcasters, and invested hundreds of millions of dollars in podcasting companies. By contrast, Apple Music has offered live radio-like programming by hiring music deejays, but hasn’t used podcasts to acquire subscribers.

Apple joined the then-nascent podcasting world back in 2005 by adding a podcast directory to iTunes 4.9, radically increasing the potential audience for what were then almost exclusively amateurish audio recordings — but not sharing in their costs or profits, which came from advertising. Since then, reports have suggested that podcast listeners are atypically likely to actually listen to in-line advertisements, and the number of monthly podcast listeners has doubled in the last five years. Growing interest enabled podcast ad revenues to climb to $479 million in 2018, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

Today, Apple’s Podcast apps on iPhones and iPads are reportedly responsible for 50-70% of most podcasts’ listeners, while Spotify is said to be responsible for 10-20% of all podcast listeners, in some cases bringing 50% of the audience to non-exclusive shows. The heightened visibility of the new standalone macOS Catalina Podcasts app (shown above) may increase Apple’s numbers, as iTunes’ podcast directory was all but hidden within its massive interface.

It’s unclear what types of podcasts Apple will back financially, and whether it will begin to “pick favorites” by supporting certain broadcasters over others. But as the company rolled out podcast analytics tools to help content creators measure their audiences and performance, it will likely focus on exclusives that are likely to attract large numbers of listeners, including the sorts of celebrity- and luminary-backed content it has already targeted for its subscription TV service, Apple TV+.

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