What's the Difference Between Streams and Downloads?

5 min read

Observations and implications of how podcast apps deliver audio

by Simplecast's Chief Technical Officer, Stephen Hallgren.

[Update] In this article I use the word streaming to simplify the concept, but it is technically called a “progressive download.”

Do you know if your podcast app is streaming or downloading your show’s episodes? Should you even care? You may be surprised to know that not all apps are created equally in how they serve up audio by default. You may also be surprised at the implications of what streaming versus downloading an episode are, and what that means for your show. We’ve been running these metrics internally (and will be bringing them to our Professional customers soon) so let’s dive right into the numbers.

The Numbers 🤓

We wanted to investigate Simplecast’s most trafficked listening apps to see how they compare to each other. I wanted to know how audio is being delivered to the end user, but also how these apps present the various audio delivery options to the listener. Here’s our top 5 apps:

  1. Apple Podcasts
  2. Spotify
  3. Castbox
  4. Overcast
  5. Stitcher

From these apps, I studied the data on how users are listening to episodes within the apps and grouped them together by either a download or stream. I then investigated each of the apps on my phone to see what kind of audio delivery defaults were being used and what kind of additional options are available for users to choose from.

Apple Podcasts

Downloads: 13.7% | Streams: 86.3%

Available Options [updated]

  • Streaming
  • Single episode download
  • Download only new episodes [default]
  • Download all unplayed episodes


Downloads: 0%† | Streams: 100%

Available Options

  • Streaming [default]
  • Single episode download

Spotify does have users who download episodes, but statistically the percentage is so small that I’m considering it a 0.


Downloads: 32.1% | Streams: 67.9%

Available Options

  • Streaming [default]
  • Single episode download
  • Download episode playlist


Downloads: 87% | Streams: 13%

Available Options

  • Download new episodes [default]
  • Streaming


Downloads: 84.6% | Streams: 15.4%

Available Options

  • Download favorites [default]
  • Download episode playlist [default]
  • Streaming

Observations 🧐

[updated] Looking at these numbers, it is obvious that the audio delivery method an app uses by default is a big factor in how the user ultimately consumes the audio. Though it cannot be confirmed, one can assume most users stick with the default method that was given to them in the app.

Implications 🤔

Does it matter one way or the other if an app is streaming or downloading audio? I think it does, but it depends on where you look with the various people involved.


Analytics about their show is one of the most important tools a creator can have. The way an audio file is delivered makes a huge difference in the depth and quality of data that can be revealed to the creator. When it comes to gathering analytics, streaming audio, as the delivery method,  is far superior to downloading.

Why is that? Well, since streaming audio is provided on demand, when the listener is actually listening, analytics for streaming audio convey an active listener. While downloading an audio file can indicate that someone downloaded the file, it is impossible to know if the listener listened right then, at a later date, or even at all.

Another benefit to streaming audio is that it is requested in smaller chunks. These smaller chunks of audio are streamed as the user listens and can reveal how much a listener listened and when they stopped. Downloading audio gives no indication as to how much audio was listened, or if it was even listened to at all.


Aside from personal preference, I’d love to know of other reasons why it matters to an app developer whether they stream or download by default. I thought that maybe there were features that could only be achieved with a download, but any feature I could think of was available to both delivery methods. (App developers, let us know!)


Based upon the numbers, the default streaming or downloading method makes little difference to a listener. The majority of users stick with the default. But, it does seem to matter that an app gives the user the ability to change their method of delivery. When given a choice, a user will make a change if they need or want it.

Ultimate Conclusion 🏆

As long as a listener is given the ability to download episodes (because no one wants to be stuck on an WiFi-less plane with no podcasts), I think that podcasts apps ought to default their audio delivery to streaming. Streaming greatly benefits the podcast creator with better data and much deeper analytical  insights for their shows.

If streaming benefits the creator, it also makes sense that the creators should promote apps that stream their audio. Better data being provided to creators will help them make more informed decisions about what does and doesn’t work for their show. With Simplecast's analytics, they will be able to accurately see when their audience is listening and for how long and will be able to create a better show for their listeners.