Generally, the podcasting industry uses the "download" to measure how many people are listening to a given show.

Podcast download charts

Every time someone plays, streams, or downloads the MP3 from the Transistor server, that counts as a download.

Does "play" or "stream" get counted when someone hits the play button, or do they need to listen to the whole episode?

Different podcast players count this differently:

In Spotify, it needs to be at least 60 seconds.
In Apple Podcasts it's the "number of unique devices that have played more than 0 seconds of an episode." Apple's data doesn't include all Apple devices! It only includes newer devices running iOS 11 or iTunes 12.7 or later (and Homepod). Also, their data can be delayed by up to 72 hours.
In Google Podcasts it's the "number of times a user listened to this show for at least 5 seconds on that day."

Is there a way to see how long people listened or dropped off on an episode?

Apple Podcast stats

In addition to Transistor's built-in stats, you can also see analytics inside Apple Podcast Connect, Spotify's Dashboard, and Google. They can give you more detailed analytics on listener drop-off.

Spotify's Podcaster Analytics
Apple Podcasts Podcasts Connect
Google Podcast Manager

You can view a case study on all the podcast stats available here.

How are Spotify streams treated?

Spotify re-hosts the audio from your RSS feed on their servers. Therefore, Spotify streams do not count against your monthly download limits.
Spotify streams are displayed in the podcast analytics you see on Transistor. However, Spotify has a one-day delay on how we receive stats. So your download count from Spotify will lag slightly. If you want up-to-date Spotify stats, you can use their dashboard
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