What is the Difference Between Podcast Streams and Downloads?

While it can seem like streams and downloads refer to the same thing, someone listening to your podcast. But, there’s a stark difference between how podcasting platforms count a stream compared to a download.

So, let’s start with the basics. Streams are the number of listeners who play a podcast directly from an app or website. Downloads are when a listener saves episodes to their device for offline listening.

What is a Podcast Stream?

Podcast streaming platforms like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts are the gateway for new listeners to discover your show with just a tap or click. No downloading is required – they can start listening immediately over an internet connection.

This convenience makes trying a new podcast frictionless. For you as the podcaster, it’s an amazing opportunity to get your show in front of fresh ears and grow your audience. Streaming opens the door wide for potential new fans.

The catch is streamed episodes stay on the platform. If a listener goes offline or loses cell service, it interrupts the episode. So streaming can hook new fans, but it poses some retention challenges if they can’t listen consistently.

What Counts as a Podcast Stream?

It’s also important to understand how streams are counted on different platforms since their methods vary. Here is an overview of how the three most popular podcast streaming platforms count your number of streams:

Apple Podcasts:

  • Counts a listener when someone reaches 60 seconds of playback
  • Also include plays that count the number of times listeners press the play button.
  • Only counts unique listeners, so the same listener streaming multiple times only registers once
  • Useful for gauging whether you hook listeners within the first minute


  • Counts a stream as a listener that listened to at least 60 seconds of audio playback
  • Tracks total aggregate playback time
  • Tallies the total minutes listened across all listeners and episodes
  • Good for optimizing episode length and listener retention

Google Podcasts:

  • Counts unique listeners who pass 30 seconds of playback
  • Useful for tracking reach and adoption by new listeners

Other platforms like Pandora also have proprietary streaming counts focused on overall engagement time rather than individual streams.

Given the way streaming counts prioritize hooking the listener immediately, optimizing your episode intros and titles can help improve your stream counts. Hook them in the first 30-60 seconds so each play registers as a stream. Understand each platform’s metrics and listen for patterns in drop-off rates. With smart streaming strategies, you can ensure each listen translates into audience growth.

What is a Podcast Download?

Giving fans the option to download episodes directly to their device unlocks a whole new world of committed listening. Downloaders can binge-listen to their heart’s content, whether they’re online or not.

For podcasters, it means more infrastructure on your end to store and host audio files. But for diehard fans, the benefits are priceless. Downloading transforms casual streamers into loyal listeners who take your show anywhere.

What Counts as a Podcast Download?

With downloads, listener engagement is clearer to track – you can see directly how many times an episode is downloaded. However, you can’t see if a downloaded episode is listened to offline. The download is just the first step for a listener to consume your content.

Stream vs. Download: Finding the Balance for Your Podcast

So should you focus on streaming, downloading, or both? The answer is absolutely both. Use streaming to cast the net wide and reach new ears. Then transition those listeners into devoted downloaders for habitual listening.

Leverage streaming platforms to get discovered by new fans outside your current orbit. But also make downloading easy so casual streamers turn into lifers. Meet listeners where they’re at while expanding your options.

The Tech Side of Streams and Downloads: Hosting, Formats, and More

Offering downloads and streaming to your fanbase requires a few key technical considerations. Understanding how to effectively provide both options helps you maximize your podcast’s potential audience.

Enabling Downloads

If you’re ready to venture into downloading, here are some key technical steps:

  • Shop around for an affordable podcast host that can handle your storage and bandwidth needs as you scale up downloads. Compare plans and pricing.
  • For talk podcasts, you can use lower MP3 bitrates. For music-focused shows, use higher bitrates for better quality.
  • List clear download instructions on your website. Don’t make fans hunt for the option.
  • Promote new downloadable episodes on social media and email. Get the word out.
  • Consider hosting costs. Downloads require more storage and bandwidth versus streaming-only shows.

Streaming Efficiently

You can also use a few tips and tricks to optimize your podcast on streaming platforms:

  • Submit your podcast to all major streaming platforms like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, etc.
  • Ensure your podcast’s title, description and artwork meet each platform’s specifications.
  • Use hosting platforms that distribute your show to multiple streaming platforms.
  • Consider a podcast analytics service to track streaming numbers across platforms.
  • Optimize your episode titles, descriptions, and tags to be discoverable on streaming services.


At the end of the day, podcast streaming and downloading serve different but complementary purposes. Streaming provides broad exposure to gain new listeners through popular platforms. Downloading caters to devoted fans who want unlimited access.

Ideally, podcasters want to use both distribution methods. Leverage streaming to grow your audience reach, then offer downloads to double down on retention. This lets you meet listeners where they’re at giving them options to engage with your show how and when they want. With the right balance of streaming and downloading, you can expand your podcast’s fanbase while keeping them hooked.

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