Apple podcast spec changes

At WWDC last week, Apple introduced changes to their RSS feed extension for podcasts. Before reviewing the session, I was worried that Apple would be moving to Apple News Format instead of RSS. That would’ve been a major setback for the open web, since Apple News Format is such an app-specific, closed format, controlled by a single company. Luckily the actual changes Apple introduced are pretty minor and shouldn’t upset the status quo much.

There are 2 sets of changes: support for supplementary episode types, like bonus content; and metadata for show seasons, likely influenced by popular shows like Serial, where people new to podcasts might be confused about where to start listening. There are a few new tags for these types of shows under the itunes RSS namespace.

Episode type is the simplest change. It looks like
<itunes:episodeType>full</itunes:episodeType>
and can have values “full, “trailer”, or “bonus”.

For seasons, the episode number and season number can be split into separate elements. It’s compatible with the traditional RSS title, so there’s little downside except extra clutter in your RSS feed. Here’s an example:

<channel>
  <itunes:type>serial</itunes:type> <!-- or "episodic" -->
  ...

  <item>
    <title>S01 Episode 01: The First Episode</title>
    <itunes:title>The First Episode</itunes:title>
    <itunes:episode>1</itunes:episode>
    <itunes:season>1</itunes:season>
    ...
  </item>

</channel>

Jason Snell’s first reaction to these changes was positive:

I’m excited by these changes because, yes, some of my podcasts are seasonal and are best consumed from the first episode onward. I’ll be adjusting my own podcast feeds to take advantage of Apple’s extensions as soon as it makes sense to do so.

Ben Thompson covers the extensions briefly and then focuses his weekly article on analytics and podcast advertising:

The new extensions are a nice addition, and a way in which Apple can enhance the user experience to the benefit of everyone. As you might expect, though, I’m particularly interested in the news about analytics. Problem solved, right? Or is it problem caused?

After reading Ben’s take, I don’t think these changes are significant enough to have much effect right away. That should be a relief to all of us who love podcasts and don’t want a shake-up.

When designing JSON Feed, we resisted adding everything that Apple Podcasts needs to the official spec. Now that more podcast tools have adopted JSON Feed, I expect there to be a discussion among developers about the best path forward for podcast-specific extensions in JSON Feed. That discussion should now include support for show seasons, too.