Apple didn't invent the podcast, but it certainly made it an actual thing people listen to -- largely by providing a platform that lets anyone create and share content with millions of listeners on their computers or portable devices.
In fact, "podcast" even borrows its name from Apple's iconic music player, the iPod. But Apple is slowly losing its edge to competitors like Spotify, which now boasts a faster-growing podcast listening audience (Apple still has more total listeners worldwide). And podcasts represent a pretty big audience, with more than half the population of the U.S. saying they listen to at least one of the over 750,000 podcasts available today.
Apple is making moves in a big way.
Now Apple is trying to lay claim to the podcast again. Just this summer the company announced a new podcast app for the Mac, mirroring the versions available on the iPhone and iPad. It's also making a serious move into content by looking at purchasing or licensing exclusive rights to stream certain podcasts, according to a report by Bloomberg.
All of this comes in response to streaming rival Spotify, which has moved recently to expand by spending as much as $400 million to scoop up companies that produce podcasts in addition to funding its own.
In a sign of how big a deal podcasts are, the same Bloomberg story reported that Spotify's stock was down 2.5 percent on the news that Apple was looking to lock in popular podcast content.
Apple's moves follow a similar road map to its recent AppleTV+ service, paying for original content exclusive to the platform in order to attract viewers.
Podcasting is a viable platform for brands.
One difference is that podcasting has always been a relatively decentralized medium, compared to television or film. It has also been far more accessible, considering the barriers to entry are much lower. Anyone with the right gear and software can start a podcast and make the feed available across a variety of platforms.
That has made them an extremely valuable tool for companies to connect with their existing customers, and expose their brand to new ones through creative content and regular programming.
Apple's recent moves change that dynamic. If podcast content goes the way of streaming video, where content becomes exclusive to individual platforms, that's a very different model and it would change things for content creators, listeners, and even advertisers.
For example, one of the most attractive features of podcasts for users is that they are largely available free for listeners. There are some premium services and networks, but most of the vast number of podcasts are available to listen to at no cost in players like Apple's app.
Still, it's not hard to imagine a world where Apple offers exclusive content as a part of its Apple Music subscription, or a separate service. If you're a creator, that could be a revenue boon.
If you're an advertiser, it could help provide you with better data about who is listening and how to better target your audience. In fact, podcasts generated over $479 million in advertising revenue last year, according to IAB, as brands look to target engaged customers in new ways amid a world of ad-blockers and privacy concerns.
It isn't clear that Apple's planning to launch any such service yet, but whatever the ultimate goal, what's clear is that Apple has largely ignored podcasting for long enough. The company is back and appears to have big plans to own the industry it helped create.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the relative sizes of Apple and Spotify's podcast audiences.