When to Use Trailer, Full, and Bonus Episode Types

A while back, Apple introduced the <itunes:episodeType> RSS tag to let you mark individual episodes as “bonus,” “full,” or “trailer” types. Here's what each type means and how you should use them in your podcast-publishing tools.

“Full” episode type

A “full” episode is a normal episode of your podcast. Any episode is assumed to be the “full” type if you don't indicate the type. Thus, you will probably never need to explicitly define the “full” type because doing so is redundant and unnecessarily bloats your RSS feed.

I also recommend the “full” episode type for special episodes, like an interview, an in-between episode (one that is not a trailer), a special format, and such. Some people might call these “bonus” episodes, but I prefer the word “special” to better distinguish them from the more specific “bonus” type.

Generally, unless your episode definitely fits in the “bonus” or “trailer” types, it should probably be a “full” episode. And that's what most podcasts publish exclusively.

“Bonus” episode type

The “bonus” type is supposed to be a bonus to something—usually content that already exists. For example, think about the bonus content you get when you buy movies: behind-the-scenes content, interviews, deleted scenes, bloopers, and more. All this content makes sense only in the context of the other, probably already-released content.

Thus, “bonus” episodes would use the same season and/or episode numbers as the already-released “full” content because they're bonuses for that “full” content.

How does using season and episode numbers affect the bonus? Apple explains the potential situations well, which I'll expound on:

  • “No season or episode number: a show bonus.” This applies to your whole show, like if you have a podcast (not about podcasting) and you want to talk about how you produce the podcast. That could be a “bonus” episode with no season or episode number.
  • “A season number: a season bonus.” So this could be behind-the-scenes for a particular season, or a bonus interview relevant to the season. And since seasons will include multiple episodes, you can release the bonus anytime you want within that season—you don't have to wait for the season to end.
  • “Episode number and optionally a season number: a bonus episode related to a specific episode.” So this could be followup questions and answers for a particular episode, like when How Did This Get Made? has an episode dedicated to feedback about a previously discussed movie.

You would almost never use this “bonus” episode type for special episodes that merely break from your normal format. For example, if you normally host a solo show but you have a special interview between episodes. Even though you might consider such to be “a bonus episode,” if it's not attached to any other specific content, it should probably not be marked as a “bonus.”

Instead, the Podcasting 2.0 spec might someday offer a “special” or “extra” episode type for these kinds of special/extra episodes as I've proposed.

But if the interview in my example is a follow-up interview for other content, then it could be marked as a “bonus” type. For example, you might have one episode about a movie, and then you have a follow-up episode containing an interview with a cast or crew member, or sharing after-episode feedback from your audience (again, like How Did This Get Made? does). That would be a good use of the “bonus” type.

Long-separated bonuses?

Yes, you can attach a bonus episode to something you released a long time ago. For example, maybe you already published a movie review a year ago, but you have new feedback about that movie or an interview with the cast or crew from that movie. This would be a good time to publish that episode with the “bonus” type, but give it the episode number of the original episode (if you use episode numbers—and this could be a good reason to do so, even if you never speak the episode numbers).

Most podcast apps, however, will probably play this bonus episode in chronological order according to its publish date. But Apple Podcasts and a couple of others will group together all the episodes that belong to the same season, still probably sorted by publish date.

“Trailer” episode type

We're mostly familar with trailers; they're a preview of something to come. A “trailer” type episode is attached to something, similar to how a “bonus” episode functions. But trailers are most likely for content that's not yet released. The trailer could be for a specific episode, a season, or your entire show.

Again, Apple offers some concise explanations that I'll expound on:

  • No season or episode number: a show trailer.” You could make or replace the trailer for your whole podcast at any time. It's great as the first thing you put in your RSS feed when you submit to the podcast catalogs. You can also add a whole-show trailer at any time and many podcast apps will prominently feature the trailer.
  • “A season number and no episode number: a season trailer. (Note: an episode trailer should have a different <guid> than the actual episode.)” So this is the trailer that builds hype for a season. And since seasons include many episodes, you could publish your season trailer at any time, but it's best to publish the trailer before the season starts.
  • “Episode number and optionally a season number: an episode trailer/teaser, later replaced with the actual episode.” Note that Apple seems to recommend removing episode trailers once the actual episode is released. And I think that makes sense.

A trailer doesn't have to only preview upcoming content, it could also lead into it. For example, your “trailer” could be a call for feedback to be included in the upcoming episode, like what Mark Des Cotes does with what he calls “double take” episodes for his podcast, The Rings of Power Podcast – Tales From Middle Earth, which—as you can probably guess from the clearly communicating title—is about Amazon's The Rings of Power show.

So while “bonus” episodes come after content, trailers come before.

Should you leave a trailer online?

Since trailers come before the content, you might be unsure whether you should keep the trailer online after the promoted content has been published. The answer depends.

I think trailers for seasons or whole shows should definitely stay online, especially since many podcast apps will give special prominence to these timeless trailers.

And that's the keyword: “timeless.”

But if your trailer is time-sensitive, then you should probably remove it when it's no longer relevant. For example, I released a trailer to announce when The Audacity to Podcast was returning from its long hiatus. Once the show returned, the trailer was no longer necessary because of its time-sensitivity, so I removed it.

Here's another example. Going back to The Rings of Power Podcast – Tales From Middle Earth, Mark releases short episodes he calls “double takes,” where he shares some very brief thoughts and proposes questions his audience (and I'm among them!) can answer before his next episode. He then includes that feedback in longer episodes a couple of days later. These “double take” podcast episodes would be a good fit for the “trailer” type, and if all Mark did was share the questions he wants his audience to answer, he could delete these short “trailer” episodes after he publishes the “full” episodes.

But if Mark's episodes also share some unique content, which he may later reference in his full episodes, then it might be best to keep those “double take” episodes online.

In other words, if the only purpose of the “trailer” episode is to essentially say “you'll get this content soon,” then you can probably delete it after publishing the promised content.

But if your trailer is for a season of episodes, or for the whole show, I recommend keeping those big-picture trailers online. (And you might even want to replace your whole-show trailer/promo every year or two.)

“Bonus” and “trailer” types are bookends

Think of “bonus” and “trailer” types as opposites of each other. They're both supposed to be attached to something: an episode, a season, or the whole show. But the “trailer” comes before the thing as a teaser or promotion, and the “bonus” comes after the thing as a followup.

More types in the future?

“Full,” “bonus,” and “trailer” are the only three types that Apple Podcasts supports at this time with their proprietary <itunes:episodeType> tag, but I've proposed for Podcasting 2.0 to have its own <podcast:episodeType> tag with some extensions that would give at least an episode type of “special,” and maybe more, like “miniseries” and “rerun.”

Don't obsess and don't worry

The decision between episode types should not be a difficult one. I hope this explanation helps distinguish the episode types and their uses.

And while you don't have to update all your old episodes with these types, doing so would make your podcast look much better in apps that support episode types. Plus, Apple really likes seeing shows leverage these episode types, so you might even increase your chances of getting featured by Apple when you use these added episode types.

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About the Author
As an award-winning podcaster, Daniel J. Lewis gives you the guts and teaches you the tools to launch and improve your own podcasts for sharing your passions and finding success. Daniel creates resources for podcasters, such as the SEO for Podcasters and Zoom H6 for Podcasters courses, the Social Subscribe & Follow Icons plugin for WordPress, the My Podcast Reviews global-review aggregator, and the Podcasters' Society membership for podcasters. As a recognized authority and influencer in the podcasting industry, Daniel speaks on podcasting and hosts his own podcast about how to podcast. Daniel's other podcasts, a clean-comedy podcast, and the #1 unofficial podcast for ABC's hit drama Once Upon a Time, have also been nominated for multiple awards. Daniel and his son live near Cincinnati.
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