Like many podcast listeners, I received an email this week to tell me that Google Podcasts was about to breathe its last breath.
Whilst the news was not a complete surprise (the app has been on life support for some time) and disruption to podcast listening will be minimal (Google never really managed to claim much market share). It does pose the questions as to why Google failed to dominate the podcast market with under 1% of listening via their app when they seemed so well set up to succeed and what happens next in terms of Google’s play in the audio space.
Firstly, we need to decide whether the closure of Google Podcasts is a failure or if it’s a tactical repositioning. Whilst Google Podcasts is closing its doors the tech giant isn’t abandoning podcasting altogether. Instead, it is focusing its attention on YouTube as a podcasting platform which, depending on your definition of “podcasting”, is where many already find their podcast content.
“Over the coming months, podcasts in YouTube Music will be made available globally and we will start rolling out tools that will enable you to transfer your podcast show subscriptions from Google Podcasts.” – Google.
Why should we believe, however, that Google is any better equipped to make podcasting work on YouTube when they have failed to make it work as a Google product?
With 90%+ of global search traffic, you would have thought Google had all the tools it needed to drive traffic to its podcasting platform. Comparing that market dominance to the 1% of podcast listening via Google tells a different story and highlights their failure in this area.
In truth, the user journey was never there.
Google never introduced a Podcast tab within their search engine that would allow people to find audio-related search results easily and separately. They never introduced embed audio in search results meaning listeners always needed multiple clicks even when clearly searching for podcast or audio content.
On the face of it, YouTube is a far better home for podcasts. Largely because it’s already a source for this content for many. 2022 research from Luminate found that YouTube was already the most used podcast platform on the market and whilst podcast purists and producers (amongst which I count myself) may gnash their teeth and bemoan what is and isn’t a podcast, as Matt Deegan, on a recent episode of Voiceworks: Sound Business pointed out, what “we” think doesn’t really matter.
“We have to be focused on what consumers want and sometimes that differs from what producers want. If you are 15-24 you are so super YouTube native that it’s a big part of the way you consume Audio. The challenge for podcasters is that the audio environment and the video environment are very different. Podcasters may need to play content as a YouTuber rather than a podcaster.” – Matt Deegan
What this move does do is further blur the lines between video and audio podcasting. The latter, to date, performs very poorly on the platform and we will only learn how successful audio-only podcasting can be on YouTube once we see the full extent of the rollout. One thing that will put many audio-minded folks at ease though is the platform’s ability to ingest RSS.
There were some concerns that YouTube had no intention to support RSS, the traditional form of podcast distribution, instead opting for their own hosting mechanism and a “walled garden” approach to podcasting. It was announced at this year’s Podcast Movement (as reported in Podnews Weekly Review) that that would not be the case and both public and private feeds would be supported.
That doesn’t mean that video won’t still play a key part in the podcast experience via YouTube however with plans very much focused on both experiences:
“We’ve seen creators and artists embrace Podcasts on YouTube, and its incredible potential to boost audience growth across audio and video formats. Looking forward to 2024, we’ll be increasing our investment in the podcast experience on YouTube Music — making it a better overall destination for fans and podcasters alike with YouTube-only capabilities across community, discovery, and audio/visual switching.” – YouTube
Google has all the tools to make podcasting work on its platform but its inability to make it work within its Google eco-system and harness the power of that search engine does raise questions as to whether they have the required understanding and knowledge of the podcasting space to make it work on the (equally well positioned) YouTube platform.